In the first battle of Mortal Kombat 11‘s story mode, Cassie Cage fights her mom while her dad watches the bloodshed. Cassie is made Special Forces commander by Sonya Blade, her mother and commanding officer. But the promotion comes with a tradition that Sonya says can’t be ignored by “family favors.”
“I need to kick the CO’s ass, ma’am'” Cage says. ‘Your ass, ma’am.”
And so the camera pans to the traditional 2.5D fighting game angle and you fight. Tutorial notwithstanding, your first real Mortal Kombat 11 experience is a military battle between mother and daughter. If you execute Cassie Cage’s throw move correctly, you can grab Sonya, her mother, from behind while a drone sizes her up and fires a laser into her groin. Cassie then pulls out a gun and shoots her mother in the back of the head. It does some damage — about an eighth of her total health bar — but then she gets up and keeps fighting her daughter without an exit wound or a fried groin in sight.
Sonya’s throw move, if you let her execute it, has her toss a live grenade on the ground and throws you into it before it explodes. You see where I’m going with this. Mortal Kombat is not a series that values realism, but the entire premise of a mother-daughter fight is completely ridiculous. It’s also comically violent for a game that features realistic-looking brutality. And this is all before there are multiple Luke Cages and Sonyas on screen and things get all time travel-y.
The blood and gore in Mortal Kombat 11 is so extreme it’s downright comedic. One of the game’s new features is the Fatal Blow. It kicks in when your character’s health is low and, if activated, triggers an extremely graphic and unique sequence of ways you dismember and blood-let your opponent. Many of these sequences are far more graphic than the Fatalities that make the game infamous. And they’re a lot easier to pull off — if characters are strategic about it, they’ll each use one during a three-round fight. They’re almost guaranteed to happen, just a trigger pull away.
But Fatal Blows aren’t necessarily fatal at all. If your opponent isn’t at a low enough health, after you put a giant spike through their jaw or stab them with a spear made of blood, you just go right back to the fight like nothing happened. The Mortal Kombat series has long been the subject of controversy for its gore and violence, but perhaps amazingly the violence here doesn’t matter. It’s so over-the-top, so graphic and disorienting that it becomes cartoonish. There are no consequences, not even death.
Now I know what you’re thinking — it’s Mortal Kombat, dude. Nothing about fighting competitions and inter-realm wars makes any goddamn sense. And it’s not supposed to be realistic. But it’s the most disorienting thing about what’s otherwise a very solid modern fighting game with a tutorial mode that’s nimble enough to make new users feel like they’re actually learning how to play a fighting game. And that’s important because, well, I didn’t come to a review of Mortal Kombat 11 with a wealth of traditional fighting game experience to rely on.