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Review - Mortal Kombat (2011)

Game: Mortal Kombat (2011)
Format: PS3
Display: Sony KDL 40NX710

NOTE – Screenshots and footage were captured using a digital camera. The game looks far clearer than the examples shown here.

Mortal Kombat 9Released in 2011, the ninth iteration in the Mortal Kombat series is a return to form for the franchise. It sees the game returning to its 2D fighting roots with all the trademark over-the-top violence the brand is famous for, but with stunning current-gen graphics and the ability to play in stereo 3D, making it arguably the best Mortal Kombat game thus far. But does it take full advantage of its 3D capabilities?

One wouldn’t necessarily imagine that a side-scrolling game would translate that well into stereoscopic 3D. Surely the limits of the 2D plane found in many fighting games or platformers means that you’re not going to gain much from a bit of depth in the background scenery, right? Well, Trine 2 and the recently released Rayman Origins on PC have both made it clear that the results can be spectacular. In a perfect world, Mortal Kombat would be another title in that list, but unfortunately the 3D in this game is so poor that it is better played with it turned off… a shame really, because handled well it could have been something special. So where does it go wrong?

The main problem is that the game uses what some refer to as “fake” 3D, or more accurately “2D-plus-depth” to create the stereoscopic effect. Because the current generation of consoles are not always powerful enough to render out the same shot twice, required for 3D, yet still keep the game looking as good as it does in 2D, different techniques are used to give the impression of 3D while saving on processing power. These techniques lead to problems in other areas though, and can often lead to an unsatisfactory gaming experience.

Basically, the “2D-plus-depth” method involves rendering out a single image (instead of the two that would normally be rendered out for “true” stereoscopic 3D), calculating how far away each pixel is from the viewer, then finally creating a second image by applying that data to the first image by shifting each pixel left or right slightly depending on its calculated depth. Now there are blank spaces left behind from where the pixels have been relocated. The computer then guesses how to fill them. This often results in foreground objects being surrounded by a warping effect as the computer tries to fill in the space created behind the offset foreground object.

The following videos demonstrate the artefacts:

Look at the leading edge of Baraka (left) as he moves back and forth. Distortion is clearly visible, especially around the face and shoulder areas.


Close-up highlighting the distortion due to the “2D-plus-depth” technique. View in 2D to see the effect even more clearly.

In games, there are some effects that cope particularly poorly with being converted to 3D using this method. Some have no depth at all.  Elements such as smoke or heat haze, for example, often render at the depth of the object behind them due to their having no solid physical presence in the scene. Particle effects such as sparks or snow, which involve lots of small shapes flying about the scene, also stress the technique. Deficiencies such as these break the immersion that playing in stereoscopic 3D is meant to create, and can be very distracting once the player notices them.

Mortal Kombat 9Upon activating the 3D, it’s apparent that the maximum depth setting is kept extremely low in order to avoid as many of the “2D-plus-depth” anomalies as possible. At such a low level it begs the question whether it is worth playing the game in 3D at all, as the artefacts are still visible, and visuals are compromised by lowering the resolution to maintain a decent frame-rate.

The characters are all rendered in flat form – a missed opportunity, as the detail on some of the character models is amazing. Some levels are more effective than others in 3D. The Pit II, which has the characters fighting on a moonlit bridge, are quite good; while others, such as the Goro’s Lair, have almost no depth, apart from some lanterns that pop out of the screen as they scroll past along the bottom. The lanterns intersect with the special Power-Up Bars which are rendered at screen-level – also very annoying. Most stages have depth issues of some kind, and many special moves have effects that are rendered at the wrong depth level, such as Johnny Cage’s fireballs which seem to be rendered at screen depth, although at such low maximum depth levels it’s difficult to tell.

Mortal Kombat 9Mortal Kombat 9Mortal Kombat 9Mortal Kombat 9The story mode in Mortal Kombat has been a large talking point, mainly due to the fact that it is one of the few fighting games to actually have one worth playing. Each character’s story follows on from the previous character, so the player gets a turn at most of the fighters by the end of the game. Unfortunately, the story mode is where the 3D is most obviously lacking. Some cut scenes aren’t even rendered in 3D, and those that are have terrible depth issues such as the top of a mountain appearing disconnected from the bottom half in a section of Johnny Cage’s story.

Mortal Kombat 9Notice the strange depth anomalies in the tree behind Sonya
The tragedy is that there are occasional glimpses of what this game could have been. There’s a level in the Challenge Tower that has your character fighting while dodging projectiles being fired at you from the distance. This really added to the immersion and excitement as they came straight towards the screen, but moments like these were few and far between. Mortal Kombat is still a fantastic title and I highly recommend it. Just keep the 3D turned off.

Actual Game: 10/10
Stereoscopic 3D: 2/10