Injustice: Gods Among Us Preview (Xbox360)

On paper, Injustice: Gods Among Us seems to be a really wise bit of resource management and development. Think about it: The Mortal Kombat team did a great job with the DC Universe characters in Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe earlier this generation, and Warner Bros is wise not to force the team straight onto another Mortal Kombat game after the runaway success of MK9 – better to let that game sit for a while than over saturate users as it seems Capcom did with Street Fighter.

On the surface, Injustice is very similar to Mortal Kombat. The second I lay hands on it, the familiarity from my time with MK9 is obvious. It’s something about Netherrealm’s fighting games – they move and handle in a very specific way, characters having exaggerated, slightly jerky movements.

In MK9 I’d put this down to the team trying to copy the recorded and scanned-in imagery of earlier MK games, but it seems to now be a stylistic choice. Characters have a similar sense of weight to them as they do in MK - Street Fighter characters feel floaty by comparison.

A lot is different here, though – for a start, jumping isn’t handled by the joystick. Instead that’s mapped to the X button on the PS3 version of the game I got my hands on. That’s a bloody strange choice for a 2D fighter, and when I walked away from the game I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t yet used to it – but Netherrealm know fighters, and so I trust their decision will make sense after more time with it. One decision I definitely can get behind is removing the block button – holding back now blocks for you, ala Street Fighter.

Another major difference comes in the structure of the rounds – namely that there’s only one. Rather than a two-round battle like MK, this is a one-shot fight with an extended health bar. This has obvious implications for when you’re playing competitively, but there’s another side to this, too – it leads to more realistic looking battles.

If you demolish somebody by smashing their skull in with the Batmobile – more on that later – they don’t then stand back up miraculously for a second round. Once someone is down, they’re done, and I like that concept.

The cast of the game thus far is an eclectic bunch – though the sheer volume of Batman characters already is telling of how that is DC’s strongest and most interesting property currently. Batman, Catwoman, Nightwing and Harley Quinn are joined by Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg and Solomon Grundy so far – though more characters are yet to be revealed.

Interestingly, DC has given the team at Netherrealm complete creative freedom with the cast, letting them create their own designs for each of the iconic heroes, villains and anti-heroes. I’m finding these hit-and-miss so far – the sort of steampunky look Catwoman has is cool, for instance, but Batman’s armour is a little too intensely metal-looking for my tastes.

A cast of new characters means a chance to build move sets from the ground up, and some are more different than others. Some characters have more than one fighting style – Nightwing, for instance, can switch between his iconic staff and a pair of shorter sticks on the fly, opening up different moves in the process.

Combos were difficult to pull off, but using similar timing to Mortal Kombat helped me to string some stuff together – though the different control scheme is of course off-putting at first. Super moves are in, and look as fierce and awesome as you’d expect – but that’s not the only spectacle in this fighter.

A big addition to the game comes in the form of destructible environments which can also be used to damage your opponent. In the Batcave plenty of nods to Batman’s many gadgets are built in – including his iconic vehicle. That can be blown up by some characters, catching their opponent in the explosion, while stronger or larger characters like Soloman Grundy and Superman can just pick the massive vehicle up and hurl it at their opponent.

Characters can be blasted through walls and into different areas of stages, leading to a change of scenery and thus offering up a whole new set of environmental hazards for you to use – or have used on you. It’s an interesting approach, and choosing if and when to push your opponent through to a new area of the level will be an important tactical decision during a fight.

Injustice: Gods Among Us pits Netherrealm, the greatest Western fighting game team alongside some of the most recognizable characters in comic book history – and it works. As a fighter fan, I can’t wait to get more time with this game’s interesting and seemingly intricate systems to see how they stack up once learned.