Anyone who believed that NetherRealm had lost their touch over the years was proven wrong by last year’s Mortal Kombat, a game that successfully rebooted the fighter series while also returning to its roots. After seemingly exorcising the demons that had plagued the Mortal Kombat name for the past decade, the studio is looking to do the same with the other fictional universe showcased in their previous titles.

The heroes and villains of the DC Universe are back to do battle in Injustice: Gods Among Us. After arriving somewhat surprisingly just days before E3 2012 kicked off, Warner Bros. is putting its full weight behind the game. We had a chance to speak with the developers and try out Injustice for ourselves at the show, and the results are more than promising for DC fans.

There has always been somewhat of a divide between the finely-polished and fantastically moral heroes of the DCU and the concept of a head-to-head fighter. That may or may not be the reason why seeing Superman and Flash take on Scorpion or Raiden never reached mainstream success, but the incongruity clearly hasn’t been lost on NetherRealm. To make sure that the heroes and villains chosen are simply aching for a fight, some of the world’s most beloved comic book characters have been given complete makeovers.

The released artwork and character screens show the newer, edgier, and much more metallic uniforms that depict these heroes as armored knights, not crimefighters in tights. As far as the developers are concerned, the superheroes are nothing less than gods embued with supernatural strength and abilities. And with the new designs, they certainly look the part.

Injustice Gods Among Us Flash

Artistic designs aside, the textures and character details are much richer than Mortal Kombat, with the developers referring to the improvement as a “complete visual upgrade.” Whether it’s the sheen on Superman and Batman’s armor plating or the bursts of electricity that spontaneously spark across Flash’s armor, the models look spectacular.

With only six characters having been revealed at this point – Batman, Superman, Flash, Wonder Woman, Solomon Grundy, and Harley Quinn – the in-game character selection screens promise more than twenty, accompanying fifteen stages. With the developers explaining that balancing such distinct heroes and villains is a meticulous proccess, its completely possible that the team has yet to decide which characters will and will not be joining the big three.

The idea of matching one unique moveset against another and leaving it to the player(s) to determine who comes out on top is nothing new to the world of fighting games. With Mortal Kombat, NetherRealm introduced a well-tailored story to string together one fight after another, and returned to the over-the-top violence that first induced a mix of laughter and horror from their fanbase.

Injustice Gods Among Us Batman

Since the idea of seeing DC’s greatest heroes and villains turning one another into a blood pulp probably wouldn’t get the pass from Warner Bros., the task isn’t so simple (although one attack of Solomon Grundy’s has him drawing blood with the swipe of a meat cleaver, so the development team may have more license than might be expected).

To create a unique experience, NetherRealm has committed to crafting completely unique movesets and fighting styles for each character’s abilities and personality. Superman and Batman’s introduction scenes work as well as expected, but within the fight itself, fans will be pleased to see their favorite characters faithfully represented. Superman hovers above the ground, chest thrusting outward with every blast of heat from his eyes. Flash, on the other hand, constantly bounces from one foot to another staying as light on his feet as a modern kickboxer or martial artist, ready to unleash a burst of speed at any moment. It’s the same for the other characters as well, moving and fighting – in the words of the developers – “as you always knew they would.”

Since many of these characters have existed for the better part of a century, capturing their personality is a necessity. So far NetherRealm seems to be up to the challenge. In addition to animations and fight styles, the development team has expanded the events and flow of the fight to the environments themselves. The goal is to make the player feel like the environment “is part of the action,” reacted and deteriorating with the fight just like it would in the pages of a comic book.

The interactivity with environmental objects and structures are the most intriguing aspects of the game so far, with more powerful attacks and impacts shaking the very foundations of the arena. In the Batcave, for example, large attacks saw the Batwing begin to unhinge and dangle precariously over a precipice and glass Batsuit displays shatter to pieces – releasing Bat-grenades onto the ground that either player can use.

This idea of environmental objects actually becoming more than cosmetic, and altering the course of the fight is present in several ways, through multiple environments. Whether it’s the presence of throwable barrels – which are used differently by large and small characters – or smashed vehicles on the streets of a future city wielded as clubs by large fighters, the setting and structure of the arena evolves along with the fight, creating new options every time they are utilized. As insane as things get, there appears to be a counter for just about everything, reflecting NetherRealm’s desire to showcase action that isn’t one-sided, but “plays out like a summer blockbuster.”

No two fights look to be the same, and the opportunity to create choices and variability out of every mechanic is present down to specific super attacks. Again, each move is tailor-made for the hero or villain, with Batman conjuring a pair of batarangs to either attack an airborne enemy or envelop him as a means for defense. While effective and lethal, these attacks are also where the strongest sense of NetherRealm’s sense of humor and whimsy resides.

Injustice Gods Among Us Flash Screenshot

Watching Flash stun an opponent before running around the entire globe to deliver the finishing blow, or seeing Harley Quinn’s diminutive frame take a run at the hulking Grundy before diving aside and placing a pie-bomb at his feet, the attacks never fail to get a laugh in the same way as Mortal Kombat. The tone does vary, as Batman’s super attack is anything but lighthearted, unleashing a string of martial arts attacks dealing massive damage. As well, one of Grundy’s standard attacks has the grey juggernaut pulling knives embedded in his back and slashing at his opponent. It’s elements like these that emphasize how challenging a balance is to strike given the fiction at work, and why so much development time still remains before Injustice is released.

Several additional mechanics are also set to expand on the standard gameplay, as charged punches send opponents flying hundreds of feet into a new level of the stage, again changing the face of the fight. Also briefly glimpsed was the game’s Clash Mode, allowing players to wager portions of their super-meter in a direct unleashing of power on both sides.

There is still much to be discussed and explained before fans can start to expect a Mortal Kombat-level reinvigoration of DC’s fighting brand. At this point, the foundation and attitude seems to be off to a surprisingly good start. NetherRealm has gotten a serious boost to their ego recently, and the choice to imagine these classic heroes as ‘Gods Among Us’ shows that at least some originality is at play. And after seeing the brilliant new character designs, we’re willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Injustice: Gods Among Us is currently slated for a 2013 release.

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