Making a tournament worthy fighter is no small feat. Making one on your first go, and getting the reception that it did, is an even bigger accomplishment for Netherrealm Studios. Now I have a history with the Mortal Kombat series, and when I say that I grew up with it, I mean that. The first three was how I spent a great deal of my free time in elementary school, alternating between the parental-friendly SNES version and the "cooler" (because blood and guts are cool at that age) Genesis version at a friends house.
Junior high and high school saw the release of Deadly Alliance, Deception, and Armageddon, and while these games were broken if played on any sort of competitive level, my friends and I ate them right up. We would learn three or four combos, then button mash our way through the rest, while soaking in all the offbeat modes such as Konquest, Kreate a Fighter, Motor Kombat, and even Chess Kombat.
Forward to 2011, I'm more mature and ready to be entertained by more than blood, guts, and silly mini-games. Thankfully it seems Netherrealm was too when they released the last Mortal Kombat, a game that is hands down my favorite fighting game of this generation. I grew up with Mortal Kombat, and it with me, and I plan to keep growing with Injustice: Gods Among Us.
Injustice: Gods Among Us (PlayStation 3, Wii-U, Xbox 360 [previewed])
Developer: Netherrealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros.
Release: April 16, 2013
At a glance, the core fighting does feel immediately familiar to Mortal Kombat 9, especially where movement is concerned. Movement inputs are still very methodical -- back, forward, X, and the like. There will be more quarter circle type inputs, though, and combat operates pretty differently.
Attack buttons are assigned to X, Y, and A, with B reserved for character traits. As the name suggests, character traits are abilities and actions unique to each character. For example, Nightwing can switch between his default stance with two batons, to another where he combines them into a longer Bo staff. Batman can summon a couple of explosive drones that will hover around him for a few seconds before attacking. Lex Luthor creates an energy field -- you get the idea.
What this system ultimately does is bring added depth through simplicity. Sure, I can just tap one button to summons explosive drones, but work up a good juggle combo and it makes for a hell of a finisher. Playing as Nightwing is even more obvious to see the possibilities with this system, starting a combo in one stance, and ending in another.
One of better additions to MK9 was its meter system, a simple three tier layout that still offered a bevy of uses for its enhanced supers, breakers, and X-ray. Injustice brings back the meter, but not exactly the way you remember it. There are no breakers, but you can initiate what's called a Clash. This system is essentially the next step up from Breakers. Clash allows you to interrupt an opponents combo while giving you the opportunity to deal damage by wagering your meter against theirs.
Confused? So was I, but it actually makes sense when you see it in action. Lets say I am playing against you, and you have me trapped in a combo. I can initiate a Clash, which stops the fight for a moment, and requires us to wager a certain portion of our meters. I can then wager three portions of my meter (meters in Injustice are four tiered) while you may only bet two. Three minus two is one, so I would then deal a predetermined amount of damage based on how much I won the wager by while sending you flying across the screen, thus giving me the space I need to maneuver.
You can still burn all your meter at once for a super attack, similar to MK9 X-ray's in that they deal damage in the 30-35 percent range. These are harder to successfully land though, as each comes with a huge tell when initiated. Like Marvel vs. Capcom 3, the camera zooms in a dramatic fashion as the character says their little speech. Nowhere near as subtle as the sound que in MK9.
What this means then is that exploiting openings is essential against all but the most novice of players, whether that means comboing into a super, or catching someone on an unsafe teleport. You can perfect all this and more in Injustice's revamped practice mode, which now comes with an online mode and gives you all of the game's frame data. Yes, you read that right. Day one, out of the box, players will be able to see all of the game's frame data. Hardcore, rejoice.
Speaking of frame data, the environments themselves will play an active role in fights. Each stage brings its own interactables and environmental hazards, all of which react differently depending on the type of fighter you have. Each end of the Batcave has its own hazards that can be initiated by the person trapped in a corner. On the one end is Batman's armory, which can drop gadgets to help you out, while the other end has a giant red button that fires missiles from the Batmobile. There is even a center hazard; a transformer that smaller characters can employ in acrobatics, while power characters can simply throw at you. If a power character does break the transformer, the remaining live wires become their own hazard, which could be worked into a combo.
Power characters can knock others into entirely new sections of the map too. So while a fight may start in the war torn streets of Metropolis, it could very well end on the roof of a skyscraper. It's a feature that, with the exception of the last game, we've seen in every Mortal Kombat since Deception. It doesn't really bother me, though the player on the receiving end takes more damage than seems fair. What does bother me are the stage hazards. To be fair, stage hazards work on a generous cooldown, and don't do the greatest damage, though it is sizeable. Still, across any genre, competitive play and dynamic environments have never sat well with each other. It may be fun in casual and friendly matches, but I do hope there is an option to turn these off.
Our time with Injustice came to a close with a look at the story mode's opening chapter, featuring Batman. The story structure is the same here as it was in Mortal Kombat 9 and Mortal Kombat vs. DC. Following one character through a series of fights, we get to see a cohesive narrative that doesn't have a thousand and one endings depending on who you pick. It's honestly an ingenious way to tell a story in a fighting game, and one that other developers should look to emulate, should they get serious about their scripts. The script here is indeed serious, penned by both the MK9 team and DC writers. The voice acting doesn't disappointing either, with some great performances throughout. While nothing has been announced by either Netherrealm or Warner Bros., lets just say I know Kevin Conroy's voice when I hear it.
Truly, if you enjoyed Mortal Kombat 9 in any way, there is no reason to not be hyped for this one. Yes, the stage hazards irked me some, but nowhere near enough to shake the good faith Netherrealm earned with their last title. Simply put, Injustice: Gods Among Us is just too godly.