Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Of course not – it’s Ready Up’s hands-on preview of Injustice: Gods Among Us! With only a month and a bit to go before Injustice turns up on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii U, I went to the London base of operations for Warner Bros. to get up close and personal with the game. Was Injustice full of superheroic goodness, or was it a downright up-to-no-good villain? Let’s take a look.

For those who don’t know, Injustice: Gods Among Us is a one-on-one 2D fighting game all wrapped up in a handsome 3D art style. Made by NetherRealm Studios – the developers of Mortal Kombat – Injustice stars heroes and villains from the DC Comics universe, including Superman, Batman, The Joker, Wonder Woman and many, many more. In my limited time with Injustice I got a chance to see how the game worked, experienced the first chapter of the game’s epic story mode and played a few rounds of versus mode.

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Combat in Injustice tries to embody the ‘easy to get into, hard to master’ ethos seen in many other games, and hopes to achieve this by having a control scheme that differs from other fighters currently doing the rounds. Rather than mapping the controller’s buttons to different punches and kicks or corresponding with your character’s different limbs, attacks in Injustice are instead simplified with a single button each for light, medium and heavy attacks, with the fourth face button triggering a ‘character trait’.

As you’d imagine, given its name, the ‘character trait’ button offers something unique to each character, of which I only got to see a few examples; for Superman it acts as a temporary boost to his strength and defence; Batman gets a trio of remote control batarangs that surround him and can be launched at his opponents; Nightwing gets to switch his weapon between his default Eskrima sticks and a bo staff, changing his moveset and combo possibilities; the Flash can effectively slow down time by speeding himself up. Perhaps one of the more interesting offerings was the character trait used by Catwoman, whereby landing successful attacks increased a strike-count up to a maximum of five – press the character trait button and, should the first hit land, Catwoman will pull off an automatic combo based on the number seen in the strike-count. Handy by itself, but extremely useful as part of an already-going combo. While some character’s traits have a cooldown period to prevent overuse, some characters are able to use theirs more freely.

In the lower corner of the screen is the super-meter, which is filled as you take damage and perform special moves. Split into four quarters, you can use up one chunk of the meter by pulling off an enhanced special move – performed by pressing one of the pad’s triggers as you finish the special move’s input, which increases the damage it takes off. Once the super-meter is full though, you can trigger your character’s super move by pulling on both of the pad’s triggers, showstopping theatrical displays that are comparable to Street Fighter IV’s ultra combos and Mortal Kombat’s x-ray attacks.

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Though they are dodgeable and, my host assures me, blockable, when the super moves connect they can be as devastating as they are entertaining, with Superman punching his opponent into space before flying up and hitting them back to Earth, Batman unleashing a barrage of gadget attacks on his opponent before knocking them off-screen with the sudden impact of a speeding Batmobile to the face, and Bane unleashing a series of bone-crunching blows ending in his trademark across-the-knee backbreaker. Although they temporarily stop the action to play out, each super move is short enough that they shouldn’t outstay their welcome during more extended play.

Each arena has an intricate level of detail, taking damage as fights progress, and are filled to the brim with both respectful nods to DC’s heritage and with interactive elements that can either help your character out of a tight spot or deal damage to your opponent, with different effects depending on who you’re playing as. For instance, in the Metropolis stage is a parked car; interact with it as Nightwing and you’ll use it to jump out of the way, springing off the car’s bonnet; interact with it as Superman and you’ll lift the car up before bringing it down on your opponent’s head. You’ll know when these elements can be interacted with as a button prompt handily appears in the upper corner of the screen.

Another notable feature of the arenas is that each is comprised of two or three stages, with characters able to perform a hit that will send their opponent flying into the next stage, usually colliding with a number of environmental hazards along the way, chipping away at their health bar in the process. Interestingly, these transitions are always cyclical, so if you’re knocked into a certain stage and feel at a disadvantage, or simply preferred where you were a few moments ago, it’s possible to take the fight back to previous stages within an arena.

Injustice approaches it’s best-of-three-rounds take on fighting a little differently to other brawlers. Each fight starts with both combatants having two health bars layered on top of one another. Wear one fighter’s first energy bar down to zero and the fight pauses very briefly, with the loser picking themselves off the ground and the victor performing a short taunt. When the fight resumes, the victor carries their energy bar from the previous round over into the next, giving them an upper hand in the remaining battle. Typically in fighting games each round begins with each character on a level footing, so it’ll be interesting to see how this change affects the balance of the game in extended play.

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Once the guided tour of how the game works concluded, I was given a taste of Injustice’s story mode. The story begins with a scene of utter destruction. News headlines read ‘Metropolis Destroyed, Millions Dead’. We see members of emergency services teams running in slow-motion, intercut with the maniacal laugh of the Joker. Cutting to an interrogation room, Batman demands to know where the Joker acquired the nuke that decimated Metropolis. The interrogation is cut short by Superman bursting through one wall, grabbing the Joker and pinning him to another. An exchange takes place between the pair resulting in Superman being tipped over the edge by his rage – the scene cuts to black, we hear the Joker cry out in pain and the sound of fleshy ripping.

When the scene fades back from black we see Green Lantern in the sky, one of dozens of heroes and villains duking it out in a number of different scenes, the super-powered battle royale presumably taking place before the destruction of Metropolis and before the Joker-squishing moment heard earlier. Bizarrely, each character feels the need to name-drop each other upon seeing one another, which lends the storytelling something of a hammy feel. We cut to another location where Nightwing and Cyborg are taking on a mech-suited Lex Luthor, along with Catwoman and Solomon Grundy. With a moment to spare, Nightwing contacts Batman to ask for his assistance, but the Dark Knight has another matter to tend to first – checking the Joker is still in his cell, only to find he’s elsewhere. Batman is then ambushed by Deathstroke, whereupon the player takes control of Batman and lays the smacketh down. Much like Mortal Kombat’s story mode, each story sequence leads right up to a battle and picks up seamlessly when the fight concludes, seeing you control one character for a number of fights before taking control of another, with the story dictating who you play as. In this regard the player is likely to get to play as the entire cast of characters over the course of the story, with heroes and villains choosing their sides in the upcoming conflict.

Before the final fight in the small part of the story I got to experience there was a QTE mini-game, with each successful button-press accompanied by Batman throwing a batarang at Lex Luthor as he tries to plod his way over to Batman, cursing the Caped Crusader as he does so yet never trying to block the incoming attacks. The effect of this slightly goofy interlude was to reduce Luthor’s health upon starting the bout with him, and apparently players can expect more mini-games to pop up during the story mode.

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Finally, the last of my brief time with the game was spent playing some versus rounds against my host where I got to play a Superman vs Nightwing bout, followed by Catwoman vs Solomon Grundy, both of which highlighted another aspect of the game – character types. Each character is either a ‘power’ character or a ‘gadget’ character, with Superman and Solomon Grundy falling into the former, and Nightwing and Catwoman the latter. Power characters are generally stronger, as you’d imagine, utilising their brute force for the majority of their special moves and are a little slower than gadget characters, who are typically more agile and mostly rely on gadgets for their special moves. From my limited time with the game it wasn’t possible to ascertain exactly how these differences will play out, but it seemed that gadget characters were generally more evasive when interacting with the environment compared with the power characters who could use their strength for more destructive effects.

And with that, my time with the game was up, my impressions formed. To be honest, without spending any time with the game’s training mode (hopefully there will be one in the final game, as there was with Mortal Kombat), it’s impossible to judge the quality of the fighting on offer, with my ham-fisted attempts at stringing together combos and trying to pull-off special moves (without knowing the inputs) resulting in severely clunky combat. That the fighting isn’t especially intuitive will likely hurt this game’s ambitions of appealing to those enticed by the DC licence but less well-versed in fighting games, but having seen some clips on the game’s official website it’s clear that complex combos await those who are dedicated to learning them.

So while the fighting has potential, if you’re willing to put in the time to learn the game’s subtleties, how else did the game fare? The art style will turn off some DC fans, with characters mostly sporting a more armoured look than their comic counterparts, but generally the character models were impressive – not state of the art by any means, but suitably chunky and charismatic. In a nice touch, the characters take visible damage throughout fights with tears visible on their costumes and including, to my surprise, cuts to their face. While never as gruesome as Mortal Kombat’s equivalents, these minor touches, along with the level of detail seen in the stages, means that Injustice is fairly pleasing to the eye – not a visual heavyweight, but by no means a disappointment.

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But with my limited hands-on time being with an unfinished version of the game – quite a surprise given how soon Injustice is due on store shelves – it’s too soon to tell whether this is a title that will be worth your hard-earned money. If you’re a massive fan of DC Comics you’ll lap this up, regardless of the combat being a little clumsy at times, possibly for the story mode alone. For fans of fighting games itching for another title to master, you’ll likely be satisfied too, especially if you liked Mortal Kombat’s combo system.

For me though, until I can get my hands on a more complete version of the game, the jury’s still out. While I enjoyed the spectacular super moves and the cheesy over-the-top theatrics of the story mode, I still have some reservations about Injustice: Gods Among Us and about whether the game can teach me to be a competent combatant. Can the finished game step out of Mortal Kombat’s shadow and stand on its own two feet? Time will tell.

Injustice is due for release in the UK on 19th April for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii U

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