When I was looking at the various games releasing in the second half of the year, I was very curious about the next-gen (or well now current-gen) games on Steam Deck. There have been many PC ports like Wild Hearts and more-recently Starfield that have had issues not only on Steam Deck, but also more powerful systems. Mortal Kombat 1, the newest mainline Mortal Kombat game, has been one of the games I’ve been looking forward to trying out on Steam Deck ever since it was announced for a variety of reasons. I’ve enjoyed almost every Mortal Kombat game I’ve played, and liked Mortal Kombat 11 enough to buy it on every platform including Nintendo Switch. I even included it in our feature on the best fighting games to play on Steam Deck. So where does that leave Mortal Kombat 1? Having spent the last day playing it on Steam Deck, I have a lot to discuss about the game itself, and how it plays on Steam Deck. The screenshots in this review are either from the Steam Deck itself, or from it connected to my 1440p monitor through the Steam Deck Docking Station.
Before getting to the game itself, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Mortal Kombat 1 on Steam Deck. While Mortal Kombat 11 ran pretty great on it, Mortal Kombat 1 is a new game pushing better visuals, and it has been designed for the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S with no PS4 and Xbox One versions like the prior entry. Mortal Kombat 1 is also on Switch, but I don’t think that affected the PC version based on what I’ve played. Mortal Kombat 1 is very demanding on Steam Deck. On booting it up for the first time with no change to any Proton version or settings, it compiled shaders for a minute or two before bringing me to the menu where the controls worked fine. So far so good.
Before looking at the settings, I got into a practice round and saw the frame rate target set to 30fps. I decided to try getting it to 60fps, but had no success. Even at the lowest preset at 720p with FSR 2 at Ultra Performance, Mortal Kombat 1 on Steam Deck cannot maintain a locked 60fps in a fight. It usually hovers in the high 50s and drops to the 40s. I gave up on 60fps after trying Mortal Kombat 1 on Proton Experimental (bleeding edge) and the newest Proton GE 8-14. It didn’t make any difference. I settled with 30fps to play Mortal Kombat 1 on Steam Deck. Turning up the settings for 30fps gameplay will make it look quite nice, and I’d recommend running the in-game benchmark once you test out some settings to see how your settings will work in action.
On PC, the cinematic cut-scenes and menus are capped at 30fps. Since Mortal Kombat 11 fixed this, I assumed Mortal Kombat 1 would ship with those at 60fps from the get go, but maybe it will be patched in later. I only played on Steam Deck, and load times were a bit long for bringing up the character select or when it does a server check after tutorials for awarding in-game currency.
From day one (or well day one for the Premium Edition), Mortal Kombat 1 has three main single player modes. These are Story (traditional Mortal Kombat story, but this one is probably the best they’ve done so far), Invasions (a party board game style experience that blends in the Krypt-style elements and other modifiers), and Towers (traditional arcade-style towers with difficulty options). It has a Versus mode (local, online, tournament), a Kustomize mode for cosmetics on fighters and Kameos, a Learn mode (practice, tutorial, fatalities), and an Extras mode for the Shrine and Kollection. The Shrine lets you spend in-game currency to unlock random rewards and cosmetics. I’ll be covering the in-game currencies and more once I’ve updated this review in progress after spending more time to see the unlock pace for the different currencies.
I’m not getting into Mortal Kombat 1 story details because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that this feels like NetherRealm’s best story yet, based on the time I’ve put into it. It has great production values as expected, and it is going into interesting places so far.
The highlight feature of Mortal Kombat 1 barring its single player content, is the Kameo system for gameplay. I thought this would just be a gimmick when someone mentioned it to me in passing, but having experienced it across different fighters, it has a lot of effort put into it, and it almost makes me hope the Kameo fighters end up being playable fighters by the end of the game’s life through DLC or updates. They are that well-implemented with the different attack options, and in how good they look and sound.
Mortal Kombat 1 launches with 23 fighters including the pre-order bonus (Shang Tsung) and the story mode unlock fighter. The roster itself is fine, but I was really hoping to see Ermac in the base game. Ermac is in the Kombat Pack, and I hope he looks better in his secondary costume. Right now, the roster is varied enough, and I’ve found myself enjoying many of the older fighters with the addition of the Kameo system for versatility and also the many changes NetherRealm has made to classic fighters.
Mortal Kombat 1 has quite a few unlockables. These range from the character you can unlock by completing story mode to various bits and bobs like environmental art, cosmetic gear, music, and more for the gallery. You can also unlock certain Kameo fighters through in-game progression. So far, the game hasn’t annoyed me like Mortal Kombat 11 did with progression unlocks, but I’ll see how I feel in a few days.
Hopefully future patches can optimize Mortal Kombat 1 on Steam Deck further so it can hit 60fps at least on its lowest settings with FSR 2 Ultra Performance. If you’re ok with 30fps gameplay, Mortal Kombat 1 is fine on Steam Deck right now based on the time I’ve played, but I’d recommend holding off for a bit. I haven’t been able to test online yet, and will only be putting a final score to my Mortal Kombat 1 review once I’ve completed the story mode, seen the online when servers are live for everyone, and had enough time with the Invasion and progression systems. It is also too soon to say what the best Steam Deck settings for Mortal Kombat 1 are with the game still to get its day one patch and likely see improvements leading into the full launch next week and beyond.
It does feel great to control on Steam Deck though. The use of rumble is nice, and I continue to enjoy fighting games on the handheld more and more with each new game. I’m hoping this release gets to a state where I can recommend it without many caveats on Steam Deck to be the best portable Mortal Kombat 1 experience.
As I always do in any game with a local multiplayer mode in any game on Steam, I tested Mortal Kombat 1 on Steam Deck with Steam Remote Play Together. This was with a colleague in another country. It worked ok, but the game itself is a bit too taxing right now on Steam Deck to the point where I’d only recommend this if you have a friend living very close to you with both on wired. I was wired on Steam Deck through the Steam Deck Docking Station.
Barring the Steam Deck-specific issues, I have a few other concerns about the PC version. We still don’t know if cross platform multiplayer will support PC and whether this version will get patches alongside the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S versions. The PC port itself has a ton of features I didn’t expect to see in a Mortal Kombat release, but there are still a few questions that need answering. Hopefully NetherRealm Studios can confirm all of this before the game’s standard release next week.
Mortal Kombat 1 is excellent based on the time I’ve put into it with smart additions and improvements, but I’d avoid getting it on Steam Deck if it is your only way to play it right now. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed what I played of the story mode and the Kameo system, but it is a bit too lacking on Valve’s gaming handheld in its current state.