It’s been about six months since I reviewed my last fighting game, Mortal Kombat II, but oh, how things have changed in the PC fighting arena. For one thing, the arcade market is getting bigger than ever, with at least one new fighter released each month, and the overall quality of these games is improving exponentially.
FX Fighter, Savage Warriors and Primal Rage are leading the pack with sophisticated new technology, characters and options. So when I first fired up Mortal Kombat 3, I was a little unsure how well this latest offering in the venerable Mortal Kombat lineup would fare against these new contenders. I needn’t have worried -- it kicks ass.
This doesn’t come as a huge surprise, since the reason the Mortal Kombat series has endured for so long in the arcade, on console systems, and on the PC, has never been because of spectacular graphics or sounds. Instead, its success has been based on intuitive controls that first draw you in with simple gameplay, then tease you with tons of special fighting moves to keep you coming back for more. And these features are all present in rare form in Mortal Kombat 3.
As in MK II, the plot of MK3 isn’t really important; it’s little more than an excuse for the designers to create some cool new backdrops for the fighting action, add a few characters to the lineup, and bring back some old favorites, each with their own laundry list of special moves. And it’s these special moves that make MK3 such a treat. From the controversial gore of the fatalities, to "babalities" (moves that change your opponent into a baby), to "friendships" (which turn enemies into fast friends), to "animalities" (new in MK3, they change the bad guy into an animal) the game promises a mother-lode of secrets you’ll uncover as you play. Once you’ve conquered every opponent, the game’s still far from over; you can spend hours upon hours trying to uncover the game’s hidden elements.
Of course, like every fighting game, MK3 quickly loses its appeal in single-player mode once you’ve discovered all its secrets. But the designers took an unusual -- and very welcome -- step to solve that problem; they threw in network and modem options for the PC translation. That’s right -- MK3 is a true multi-player fighting game that lets you pound your friends and co-workers to a pulp over phone lines or a local-area network.
The graphics are probably the sharpest yet for an MK title, but if you were hoping for a major overhaul, forget it. The arcade version of MK3 didn’t look much different from the first or second games, and since this is a very faithful port of the coin-op game, there are no new visuals. In terms of gameplay, though, this isn’t necessarily a drawback; since there’s nothing too demanding going on, you get smooth animations even on slower systems.
I could gripe about that fact that this new version of Mortal Kombat still doesn’t have a save-game feature, but it’d be a minor complaint. MK3 offers some of the smoothest and most challenging fighting action available for the PC. If you’re a fan of fighting games, that’s all you need to know.