NetherRealm’s Mortal Kombat finally debuts on current gen but is it a significant leap forward?
It’s amazing to think that we’ve gone more than four years without a sequel to Mortal Kombat. Often called Mortal Kombat 9, the fighting game was arguably the best the series had to offer in terms of story-telling and previous gen capability. Mortal Kombat X is now upon us and marks the jump to PS4 and Xbox One for the franchise. One of the biggest changes it offers is a native 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second gameplay on current gen consoles. Oddly enough, Mortal Kombat X runs on a highly modified Unreal Engine 3 like its predecessor. How do these elements all gel together?
Let’s start off by looking at the resolution and frame rate performance. The PS4 version runs at native 1920×1080 resolution while the Xbox One appears to be utilizing a dynamic 1080p resolution. Similar to the solution seen in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare for the Xbox One, Mortal Kombat X switches between 1920 x 1080 and 1360 x 1080 resolutions in some places. We’re still observing pixel counts on the Xbox One version just to be sure.
Head to head video comparison between PS4, Xbox One and PC. Please select 1080p and 60fps for best possible video quality.
In terms of frame rate, both versions run close to 60 frames per second with very few drops in between. Frame judders can be observed when transitioning from cinematics to gameplay or from interactive QTEs to gameplay and vice versa. In these non-gameplay instances, the game is mostly running at 30 FPS and the switch back to 60 FPS results in severe frame pacing problems. You’ll have noticed something similar while playing Dead or Alive 5: Last Round on current gen consoles. It’s not debilitating gameplay-wise but is quite the annoyance.
One important point that needs to be noted is that NetherRealm Studios is focused on the PS4 and Xbox One with this iteration – as evidenced by the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions being delayed – but still opted for Unreal Engine 3. Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 is the engine solution native to current gen platforms and oftentimes, developers haven’t had the best results relying on UE3. That being said, in Mortal Kombat X’s case, the frame rate performance is roughly comparable to the previous generation with NetherRealm doing a pretty good job adding 60 FPS support.
The studio has also done good work with the game’s custom post process anti-aliasing. The FXAA seen here clearly distinguishes edges without disrupting the geometry of characters and objects, unlike Borderlands: The Handsome Collection (whose games ran on a customized version of UE3 and also faced issues on PS4/Xbox One). It’s not perfect but we’ll get to that.
At the very least, along with the resolution and frame rate bump, Mortal Kombat X manages to distinguish itself with a large amount of post processing effects. Motion blur, screen space reflections, depth of field, limited physically based rendering and more have been implemented with the lighting effects looking particularly stunning. Just watch the various little bolts of lightning arc around Raiden even as he stands around or the various projectile attacks and powers performed throughout fights to see what we mean. Specular reflections are cast by spells on surrounding objects but PBR’s use is limited overall. Sadly, non playable character model geometry does get broken up at times and you’ll spot some low resolution textures on more than one occasion.
Head to head screenshot comparison between Xbox One (left), PS4 (middle) and PC (right).
When it all comes together though, Mortal Kombat is a brutal, bloody affair. The in-game physics is better than ever and it’s awesome to see such small details like blood dripping on the floor in real-time. Given how dark Mortal Kombat X can be, both in subject matter and lighting, it’s nice to see the custom AO solution smoothening out blurry edges and reducing the amount of dithering in shadows, especially in those cast by characters.
The PC version of the game is where things get a bit…weird. When downloading the game, you’ll be required to download individual packets from Steam. Users have reported their fair share of problems in this regard. After all that trouble, you’ll find the graphical options are surprisingly limited. You can adjust shadow quality, texture quality, ambient occlusion and whatnot but only FXAA is available as an anti-aliasing solution. Even if the game is running on an outdated Unreal Engine 3, it’s still annoying to be so limited.
We tested Mortal Kombat X across a variety of different configurations. Check out the GPU/CPU settings below and their respective frame rates.
Both a decent GPU and CPU would be required for the full 60 FPS experience but for the most part, it’s not difficult to achieve high settings in MKX on PC. Even with reports of instability, we had a relatively smooth experience across different hardware.
The real issue arises with the game’s default gamma, contrast and brightness. As the comparison videos indicate, the PC version’s settings differ from the console versions by quite a bit. Despite adjusting the three settings, we were unable to mirror the look of the console versions. Even though gameplay seems more or less on par at default settings, the cinematics lighting appear quite messed up. At least a fix for the frame judders that occur during gameplay and non-interactive scenes can be corrected with a fix. It’s a shame that this is even a problem in the PC version at all.
The PC graphical options and settings are limited.
Mortal Kombat X is an overall mixed bag visually, regardless of which platform you play it on. The PS4 version is arguably the best experience since its 60 FPS frame rate sees the least amount of frame drops and its native 1080p resolution looks great. However, there are various issues that still need to be resolved across the board including the frame judders and pacing problems. The PC version is surprisingly limited in terms of graphical options and the dynamic resolution on the Xbox One doesn’t do it any favours.
Hopefully there will be a patch for the frame rate issues sometime in the coming weeks. Fighting game fans will find plenty to like here, even if the visual experience isn’t a massive overhaul from Mortal Kombat (2011). We can’t wait for the day when Unreal Engine 4 replaces UE3 as the de facto engine for current generation consoles.
Note: Analysis was carried out by Bill Smith. Additional reporting by Ravi Sinha.