The first time the creators of Mortal Kombat had access to the DC Comics licence, it proved that there was a place for the likes of Superman and Batman inside a 2D fighting property. But it also resulted in the tamest Mortal Kombat game to date.
This time around, however, the recently rebirthed NetherRealm Studios – the team behind the recent, well received Mortal Kombat reboot – has opted to keep its own characters out of the equation in its second stab at a DC scrapper.
Subsequently, Injustice: Gods Among Us is under no obligation to feature half-hearted Fatalities and other Mortal Kombat staples that DC fans may not particularly care for. And while Injustice inevitably draws similarities to Mortal Kombat, the loss of those characters is replaced by something much more important – its own identity.
Gods Among Us boasts a distinctly dark aesthetic that fittingly captures the universe it's attempting to represent without relying on the gimmick of overly gratuitous blood splatter. It makes use of an improved toolset within the same engine that powered the latest Mortal Kombat. This is particularly evident in the lighting effects, which show off an even grander scale of detail in the characters and their costumes. Mechanically, Injustice appears to cherry pick the best aspects of the Mortal Kombat formula while layering in some unique features more befitting of a superhero brawler.
During a behind-closed-doors demonstration at E3, press were given a non-exhaustive explanation of some of Injustice's unique aspects. At an early stage in the demo, senior producer Adam Urbano pointed out that the choice of background environment is just as important as character selection. The battle arenas will disintegrate as the super-powered brawlers pummel each other around them, but it's not a purely cosmetic feature: the destruction of certain objects will open up further offensive possibilities.
This is explained further in a bout that took place in the Batcave. While Superman and The Flash employ the kinds of attacks that might be expected from such characters – including laser-eye attacks for the former and speed-based charge attacks for the latter – both are able to manipulate the environments to their advantage in a variety of ways throughout the course of the fight. As a tube housing one of Batman's suits shatters, grenades spill from its utility belt that either combatant can use against their opponent. A large, red button on a monitor to the far right of the combat arena activates a devastating, fast-moving horizontal missile when pressed.
Character-specific environmental attacks are perhaps better demonstrated in a second match-up, however, between Batman and the decades-old super-zombie Solomon Grundy. Where Batman can grapple his opponent and smash his head into a nearby car in the background, Grundy can effortlessly lift that same car and send it crashing down on his foe.
Another important feature of Injustice is that each environment has multiple areas in which the battle can take place, each with its own unique interactivity. It's not exactly clear how this is performed at this point, but a character can knock his opponent into other parts of the arena. We observed Superman uppercut The Flash, sending him tumbling into a lower level of the Batcave, his head clanging on metal pipes as he plummets. Shortly afterwards, Superman shunts The Flash into an elevator on the lower level to take him back upstairs. This triggered a short cut scene during the elevator ride: a fixed camera angle of the exterior of the lift sees head-shaped dents appear on its metal panels as the battle rages on inside. The urban environment in which Batman and Grundy's battle took place appears to feature at least three areas, and there's much skyscraper destruction involved in accessing each of them.
There doesn't appear to be any 'finishers', as such. But each character does have at least one over-the-top, visually spectacular super move that can be called upon during the course of a match. In our demonstration, The Flash sprinted past his opponent, running the entire circumference of the planet and gathering enough momentum to deliver an almighty blow to the jaw of the 'Man of Steel'. Similarly, Superman sends his opponent into orbit with a mammoth uppercut before speeding upwards and pounding them back down to Earth.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is an excellent opportunity for NeverRealm to prove it's got more up its sleeve than Mortal Kombat alone. And if this early look is anything to go by, the developer appears to have grasped this challenge with both hands.