[Hands-on] NetherRealm finds balance among Gods with Injustice
Let me preface this by saying Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was actually a pretty good game. The problem was that it didn’t deliver on what the title promised - the Kombat part of the equation was missing. So NetherRealm Studios decided to cut any ties to their own classic franchise and take another shot at making a fighting game where you can punch Superman in his superballs. And from what I've played, it's going to be just as good as it sounds.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is NOT a Mortal Kombat game, and the developers are trying to make that very clear. There are no Fatalities - in fact, there aren't any finishing moves whatsoever. There's no gore (just a bit of blood), no X-Ray moves, nothing that caters to gorehounds. However, you can definitely tell that this is a NetherRealm game. The graphic design is a few shades darker and more twisted than we're used to, because DC Comics allowed the designers to put their own unique spin on their established universe(s). The gameplay feels very reminiscent of the 2011 Mortal Kombat reboot, although it does bring a couple of new mechanics to the table to keep things fresh and interesting and to make the most out of the license.
The developers have made the environments a lot more interactive. Since basically all characters in the game are super powered über-humans, the stages will suffer a lot of damage during the course of a fight. In the Bat Cave for example you will blow up a computer, shatter glass tubes and even destroy the stone pillars beneath the Wayne Manor just by fighting. Sometimes this affects the gameplay too, as a destroyed computer gives way to hanging electrical wires just waiting to give your opponent a new high-voltage hairstyle.
You can also directly interact with certain background objects. At both sides of a stage, there is usually an item or object in the background that you can use to escape if your opponent has pushed you into a corner. Just press L1/LB when prompted and your character will perform a unique move to let you take back the upper hand. Nightwing for example might jump off a car to fly over the enemy, while Superman just takes said car and throws it at his opponent. All of these attacks can of course be avoided if you know what to look for, so abusing them won't really help much, at least not in the long run. The gameplay is still 100% 2D however, so don't expect any sidestepping either.
Oh, and if you really want to feel heroic, you can just kick your enemy to another part of the stage. And we're not talking the ol' "uppercut him through the ceiling" gag here, but something a little more extreme. How does "throwing your enemy diagonally through a high-rise building onto the roof the next block over" sound? These short sequences are completely over-the-top, absolutely hilarious and manage to capture the spirit of superhero comics perfectly.
The super moves are usable when your special meter is filled and are cut from the same spandex cloth. The Flash for example will run around the world and then punch the enemy upon his return, while Superman uppercuts his opponent into the atmosphere, flies after him and knocks him back to the ground with a well-placed punch. These moves won't be available too often during a fight, so as to not disrupt the flow of combat.
If you don't want to use the entire super bar in one go, you can make use of the so-called "gimmicks", little moves or buffs that are unique to each character. The Flash will slow down time for a couple of seconds to get in a few extra hits, while Nightwing can combine his two Eskrimas (two little sticks for hitting and poking) to create a Bo (one large stick for hitting and poking). These gimmicks can be activated with the touch of a button (Circle/B, respectively) and give each character another chance to show his unique personality.
I was able to play a few rounds myself and I have to say that I was really impressed. Gameplay is smooth and easily grasped, the specials and super moves are infinitely gratifying to pull off and the balance seems to be spot-on. But even if a few kinks will make their way into the finished product, NetherRealm will utilize the same stealth-patching technology they've already used in MK, meaning that the game will automatically patch itself without you having to lift a finger. They're taking balancing very seriously, which is of obvious importance in a game featuring an indestructible dude that can fly and shoot lasers out of his eyes.
In short: Injustice gets super hero fighting right. The gameplay is rock-solid, the graphics dark and stylish and the additions to the mechanics and interactive of the environments make it clear that this is not just a re-skinned Mortal Kombat game, but a new experience carefully crafted to make the most out of the DC license.