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Liu Kang’s new timeline isn’t selling me on Mortal Kombat 1 yet

NetherRealm Studios debuted some slick Mortal Kombat 1 gameplay at Summer Game Fest, but the new iterations of key characters haven’t won me over, yet.

Mortal Kombat 1 timeline reset no gimmick: an image of Kung Lao from MK1

Ushered in by Liu Kang during the events of Mortal Kombat 11 Aftermath, NetherRealm Studios’ Mortal Kombat 1 is promising players a brand-new timeline (yet again), with iconic Mortal Kombat 1 characters like we’ve never seen them before and new gameplay features like Kameo Fighters. As a fan of the fighting game series who got rather excited by the Mortal Kombat 1 cinematic reveal, I went into Summer Game Fest – which promised an extended look at gameplay – ready to be blown away. However, that wasn’t the case. Sure, the graphics are crisp and Mortal Kombat 1’s fatalities are as gruesome as ever, but it just didn’t impress me much. Want to know why? Well, I think NetherRealm has reset the timeline a little too much, and it’s doing a disservice to the characters.

During the Mortal Kombat 1 gameplay reveal at Summer Game Fest, NetherRealm offered us an insight into the story we’ll be met with when the Mortal Kombat 1 release date rolls around and it’s certainly an interesting one. From what we have seen so far, between this and the cinematic reveal, it looks like Fire God Liu Kang is running around Earthrealm with Scorpion and Sub-Zero gathering “champions” for a fight against Shang Tsung. Oh, and Kenshi’s there too – and he can see now, which is always a plus.

With the timeline being reset and things being a little different this time around (the fact that Scorpion and Sub-Zero are brothers now is evidence of that) I can certainly understand why NetherRealm would want to reintroduce some of it’s series’ core characters – like Raiden, Kung Lao, and Johnny Cage. What I can’t understand, though, is why it would remove the unique ‘gimmicks’ of some of these characters in the process – and it’s so inconsistent.

In the opening moments of the gameplay footage you can watch below, we see Kung Lao fight Sub-Zero; however, at a glance, you might not know it’s Kung Lao because it looks like NetherRealm has changed all the character models in Mortal Kombat 1 bar Liu Kang and Shang Tsung – something I’m not too happy about, either. Anyway, in the short scene before the fight, Kung Lao tosses a straw hat at Sub-Zero and, rather comically, it smacks into the back of his head and does nothing. You know, because it’s made of straw and not one continuous circular blade, like usual.

Mortal Kombat 1 timeline reset no gimmick: an image of Sub-Zero from the MK1 trailer

This is followed with Kung Lao throwing something a little sharper at Sub-Zero’s arm, and then we get our first look at the refined gameplay on offer. It’s not as extravagantly bloody as Mortal Kombat 11’s gameplay, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Fatal Blows still look, well, fatal, and some of the kombos shown off are sure to cause a few arguments if you’re playing couch co-op.

However, we don’t get to see Kung Lao use his razor-rimmed hat at all – at least in player-controlled kombat, as older iterations of the character pop up as Kameo Fighters throughout the footage – and that kind of sucks quite a lot.

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There are some recognizably ‘Kung Lao’ moves on display, but they seem incomplete without the spinning blades of his deadly hat. Without access to this weapon, Kung Lao’s moveset is limited to more-grounded martial arts and I am worried this means he’s going to lose his charm as a playable fighter.

Why? Well, the same thing goes for Johnny Cage in his fight against Kenshi; he doesn’t seem to have access to his unique “green powers” at all. So, we’re left with a few moves that look familiar, but a more-grounded set of attacks that you could easily see a kombatant like Jax or Stryker pull off.

Mortal Kombat 1 timeline reset no gimmick: an image of Johnny Cage in the MK1 trailer

Sure, Kenshi might be able to see in this timeline, which is great for him, but his blindness was never really his gimmick. Don’t get me wrong, it was an important part of his characterization and often a prominent part of his personal narrative, but it wasn’t included a lot in his moveset – how could it be, really? When it came to gameplay, his swordplay was what made him unique and this is something we see represented in the Mortal Kombat 1 gameplay footage. So, when it comes to martial artists like Kung Lao and Johnny Cage, I can’t help but feel as though these gimmicks were a huge part of what helped make Mortal Kombat rosters of the past so diverse.

It’s also interesting to note that this process is an inconsistent one, beyond Scorpion and Sub-Zero. Raiden, who we see fighting Kenshi in the footage, is labeled “inexperienced” – a comment that suggests he isn’t going to be the god-like Protector we know him as. Does that mean he’s missing his Thunder God powers? No, of course not. Raiden can sling lightning and teleport, just like always. Without these abilities, Raiden’s existing moveset would be dramatically reduced – and dramatically dull. So, I can understand why NetherRealm chose to let him keep them. However, that just doesn’t seem fair to those of us who enjoyed Kung Lao and Johnny Cage in MK11.

Mortal Kombat 1 timeline reset no gimmick: an image of Raiden from the MK1 trailer

If you removed Scorpion’s throwable kunai and fire-wielding powers, or Sub-Zero’s ability to wield hard ice, would Mortal Kombat games really be classed as some of the best fighting games out there? Sure, it isn’t necessarily all about that, but it’s certainly something that makes this game stand out from its peers – that and the fact that it’s oh-so bloody, of course.

I know Scorpion is Ed Boon’s favorite fighter, so we’re never going to see him demoted to a powerless martial artist, but Mortal Kombat 1 has to be bigger and better than its predecessor, right? So, I can’t help but feel as though toning down the gameplay and removing some of the more extravagant attacks and abilities from some of these characters is the antithesis of that. This was one of my most anticipated upcoming PS5 games, but now I am just not so sure.