Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Most Disappointing 2011 // Mortal Kombat

The "Most Disappointing" award goes to the game that seemed like it was going to be absolutely incredible, but for whatever reason, it just didn't live up to the hype. I was expecting to love this game and instead was completely underwhelmed.

It's really weird to be giving Mortal Kombat, a game I once called "the most fun fighting game ever made," the Most Disappointing award for 2011, but here we are. I guess that's just what happens when you ship a game with broken online play and don't fix it for six months.

When it comes to fighting games, I'm an enthusiastic tourist. I love hearing about all the crazy strategies, watching the pros duke it out in tournaments and sharing the inevitable YouTube clips later on, but unless it has "Street Fighter" in the title, I'm probably not going to be "hardcore" about it.

I got hardcore into Mortal Kombat.

For a while, that's all we played in my apartment. We'd crowd together on the couch, laughing and trash talking and setting up ridiculous matches where we wouldn't know who we'd be playing as or against, or even if our characters would have arms. It became the new go-to party game.

Pretty soon, I found myself on Mortal Kombat strategy forums, figuring out the best combos for my favorite characters, then practicing them for hours in the Practice mode with all the damage percentile and location displays turned on.

Then summer rolled around and I was home again, now without quick access to friends and roommates who wanted to play. I'd been clamoring for a real challenge though, so I was excited to move the fight online. I wasn't excited for very long.

"The online multiplayer experience is one of the worst I've ever had," I wrote in my review. "If you're lucky enough to connect to a match, prepare for an unplayable, unresponsive mess. Lag pervades every aspect of the experience, even the character select screen. The developers keep promising some magical patch to fix everything, but it's already over two months too late for me. As far as I'm concerned, Mortal Kombat doesn't even have online play."

I had reached rock bottom, now finding myself on Mortal Kombat tech support forums, poring over angry posts from other frustrated players all looking for a solution. For me, that solution never came. By the time NetherRealm Studios had finally patched its game up to a working standard, I'd already moved on.

I've heard that the game works online just fine now, but I haven't checked — I haven't touched Mortal Kombat in months. I'm out of practice and I just don't care anymore. If I want to play a fighting game online now, there are much better alternatives, like, say, Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition, which plays beautifully online.

[Update 1/13: A friend convinced me to try the online play again. "Just one match," he said. "See if it's changed." So I tried it. I won the match, but the character select screen lagged, the match itself lagged, and even the Fatality animation at the end lagged. And that's while running the latest patch, 1.05. So yeah. Turns out that it's still messed up.]

Offline, Mortal Kombat has no equal. It's the best fighting game in years, hands-down. But that's precisely what made its downright atrocious online play sting so much. There were worse games in 2011, but nothing disappointed me more than trying to play Mortal Kombat online.

If you want to hear how I chose Mortal Kombat, you can download my deliberation process, subscribe with iTunes, or listen to it below:

Runners-up: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, Killzone 3