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'Mortal Kombat' a triumphant reboot

In the reboot of "Mortal Kombat," the fatalities are even more graphic and gruesome that in past versions.
In the reboot of "Mortal Kombat," the fatalities are even more graphic and gruesome that in past versions.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • From NetherRealm Studios and Warner Bros. Entertainment
  • Lord Raiden sends a message back in time to himself to prevent Shao Kahn's ultimate victory
  • The single-player action moves at a brisk pace and offers great variety in characters
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(CNN) -- "Mortal Kombat" reboots the origins of the classic video game with a time-travel story, awesome new moves and (for the first time) the ability for tag-team action.

The latest version in the iconic series from NetherRealm Studios and Warner Bros. Entertainment returns to the game's roots with fast action, brutal results and a story mode that takes players back to the first three "Mortal Kombat" games in an effort to change the future. Fatalities make a return, as well as a new move called X-ray.

The controls are deceptively simple. Each button on the controller works a particular body part -- one button for left arm, one button for right leg, and so on.

Using the D-pad or an analog stick in conjunction with the button makes the character perform more complicated maneuvers.

And, as in the past, stringing together a series of buttons and stick movements creates highly specialized and devastating attacks.

However, the game can work just as well with basic moves, for beginners, as it does with more detailed ones, for experienced players.

While the characters and background stories are rendered in three dimensions, fights take place on a two-dimensional plane. The details in the movements and battle effects are highly rendered and, in the sprit of the franchise's past, graphic.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the new X-ray attack. A bar at the bottom of the screen fills up as moves are used. Once completely full, the X-ray move can be used.

Cinematics are shown as a character performs a devastating series of attacks that demonstrate in gory and specific detail what bones are being broken or which internal organs are being destroyed.

The imagery is gruesome and groan-worthy, but it won't let you avert your eyes, and fatalities are also more detailed and violent than in past versions. So these moves are not for the faint of heart or stomach.

More than once during my game play, others watching moaned or yelled "Gross!" (Which, it must be said, made me want to perform those actions again and again). There are also fatality moves that use the surrounding environment's scenery to deadly effect.

Fan-favorite characters are back, including Liu Kang, Scorpion, Kitana and Sonya Blade. Other playable, never-before-seen characters get unlocked during game play.

The single-player story is cheesy, but it gets you into the action quickly and requires you to use a variety of characters. At each stage, the player controls a different avatar through a series of fights to advance to the next stage.

Combat difficulty ramps up as you advance, but during some battles, the difficulty seems to be extraordinarily high. Specific tactics seem to be needed to get through those particular fights -- for example, counterpunching only or flying attacks only.

In the story, Lord Raiden sends a message back in time to himself to prevent Shao Kahn's ultimate victory (the story told in "Mortal Kombat: Armageddon"). It plays out like ... well ... a movie, but offers an excuse for the ensuing battles and tournaments to take place.

Single-player action is expected to last more than eight hours. It took me about 10 hours to complete, including the climactic boss battle, which ended up being fairly easy once I figured out a particular series of moves to win.

Other modes of play offer fight training, skill tests and tutorials that allow you to practice fatality moves over and over.

The Challenge Tower consists of fights and mini-games that test your skills and hone your moves. There are also special modes that randomly change the fight rules, hand out rewards for breaking items, check your eyesight with a hidden ball game and test timing with a fast-strike game.

With 300 different challenges, this mode will keep you busy for quite some time.

The new Tag Team feature lets up to 4 gamers play in a tournament or single competition. The tag element allows for combo attacks in which one character can set up a devastating finale with the other.

Once that sequence begins, the opponent offers no resistance, so there is no pressure, which allows players the time to perfect the awesome maneuver. Plus, it is just fun to see how combatants are dismembered.

There are also battle modes for online action, including ladder challenges and tournaments. Sadly, because of the PlayStation Network outage, I was unable to check those out.

"Mortal Kombat" is a triumphant return to the roots of the classic fighting game.

Despite story line dialog that is more in line with a B-movie, the single-player action does move along at a brisk pace and offers great variety in characters and action.

If you've never played a "Mortal Kombat" game before, this is a good way to get a handle on the characters. But if you are a longtime fan of the series, you will be impressed with the improved graphics, original content and battle challenges. It is a worthy addition to the series.

"Mortal Kombat" is available now for the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. It is rated M for mature because of blood and gore, intense violence, partial nudity and strong language. The PS3 version also contains Kratos from the "God of War" series as a playable character, and the game can also be played in stereoscopic 3-D.

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