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By Matt Hawkins . March 20, 2013 . 3:38pm
NetherRealm Studios is best known as the stewards of the Mortal Kombat legacy. Their most recent effort, MK9, better known as just Mortal Kombat, was both crucially acclaimed and commercially successful. It did what so few other game franchises have been able to do: successfully re-invent itself by looking into the mirror and reclaim its identity, after years of tepid, meandering sequels.
Now, one would naturally assume that any upcoming game from the studio would be viewed with a great degree of optimism and anticipation. Like Injustice: Gods Among Us, the upcoming DC Comics driven fighter. But that’s not entirely the case. Why? Because of MK8, otherwise known as Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. Awkward is perhaps the best way to describe that particular effort. So, how does Injustice fare? Has NetherRealm Studios figured a way to successfully infuse the colorful cast of characters from the world of DC Comics with MK DNA this time? Nope. But that’s the thing: Injustice is not trying to be Mortal Kombat.
The first immediate change is the controls: gone is the traditional low punch/high punch/low kick/high kick control configuration that MK vets have grown accustomed to. Instead of you have weak, medium, and strong attack buttons. This change alone gives the impression that NetherRealm Studios is going a more Capcom route, especially their fighters that happen to star Marvel characters.
There’s a fourth primary button, one that delivers special moves that are entirely dependent upon the character. Some are offensive maneuvers, while others are more defensive. But what about the block button, which has long been a Mortal Kombat staple? There isn’t one; instead you hold back to defend yourself.
To make things feel even more Street Fighter-esque, you can do mid-air dashes, though it appears to be primarily reserved for characters who has flying as an attribute. Much thought was put into having as much of the characters’ comic book abilities transferred in the game as possible. Which includes a certain degree of mobility that has not seen in Mortal Kombat, mostly because it didn’t make sense in that context. Injustice is also NetherRealm’s chance to simply do something "different."
But there are a few holdovers from their last game. As you fight, a super meter fills up; portions can be used to enhance special moves, or a unique super move can be unleashed if it’s completely filled. Obviously it’s a formula that’s hardly unique to Mortal Kombat, but pulling down both trigger buttons will execute them, just like in MK9, plus they’re just as ultra dramatic.
Batman, for example, immobilizes his opponent with a pair of stun guns, and immediately afterwards, calls for the Batmobile. The camera then pulls back to show the vehicle speeding onto the scene, which thusly runs over the opponent, as Batman backflips gracefully out of the way. Again, it’s much like the X attacks of MK9, except less gory/more comic book-y, but just as much of a crowd pleaser.
Also like last time, one of the shoulder buttons is for grabbing, whereas the other is purely for environmental attacks. Throughout each level are interactive elements; if you happen to be near such a spot, an indicator appears, letting you know that hitting the appropriate button will do something. Once more, it’s entirely dependent on the character. If you’re by a car and controlling Batman, he’s slam the opponents face against it. Whereas Superman will simply pick it up and smash the entire thing against his foe.
Each stage also has different sections; a particularly lethal blow will propel your adversary high above another section, or deep below another art of the arena. It’s a lot like MK vs. DC; its environmental interplay was definitely the best part of that game, and even better is how the goofy QTE segments that were part of that package have also been axed.
There’s been a slight change to the overall structure. But instead of borrowing from Street Fighter, you have something that’s reminiscent of Killer Instinct: there are no individual rounds. Instead, each player has two health bars, and it’s to see which one will have both depleted first. The reason? "Super villains would never pause in the midst of battle."
The end result is a far more fluid, immediate experience. Again, comparable to many of Capcom’s Versus titles. Though Vampire Savior/Darkstalkers 3 implied a similar structure as well.
Visually speaking, it’s quite colorful. While not nearly as bright and cheery as, say, Marvel Vs. Capcom or Street Fighter X Tekken, it’s not nearly as dark and grim as Mortal Kombat either. Yet there is a certain harshness to the esthetics, which plays well with the overall tone of the game. The story mode is quite epic in scale, and very serious (it starts of with Metropolis in rubbles and its citizens all laid to waste).
Another thing that sticks out immediately about Injustice is everyone’s attire. Superman sure ain’t dressed like the way in which most people remember him by. I then assumed that he was simply wearing his brand new fatigues from the recent, DC Universe wide reboot, commonly referred to as The New 52, in which everyone got new threads. Wrong about that also.
Apparently, NetherRealm decided to give everyone a makeover and have them look the way if they ran DC Comics. For the most part, it’s nice. And in some instances, certain characters look better here than they do in the comics these days. But fans of Superman’s brand new look, as well as his old style, can expect familiar duds to conform to their tastes. It was not specified if alternate costumes were going to be in-game unlockables or DLC, but I was promised that there would be "a lot" when all was said and done.
I was given a chance to check out a bit of the story mode as well. Again, just like in the last Mortal Kombat, there’s a massive narrative that plays out, each starring a different character from the roster, and whom you control for that section. You’ll be both a good person and a bad person, depending on the needs of the story.
Though almost above all else, the one part that everyone loved the most in MK9 was the Challenge Tower, which had the player completing very specific challenges, almost in a mini-game like setting. Not surprisingly, it’s back in the form of Star Labs. Just like before, beating challenges will unlock new ones (there’s over 200 in total), as well as earn XP points. Which appears to be this game’s equivalent to the Koins from MK9, which were put towards new abilities and attire. It is assumed that the formula will work just the same here.
It is also hoped that challenges themselves will be even wackier, since we are talking about comic book characters. Then again, it’ll be hard to top the laughs that came from trying to keep Scorpion away, who only wanted to give you a teddy bear.
NetherRealm has wisely chosen to try something differently with the Super Friends (and Foes), though it remains to be see how their loyal fan base reacts, along with the overall fighting community, who has very high standards to being with. Is the game too different? Is it not different enough?
It’ll also be interesting to see if they also bother to explain how the Joker’s punches is able to inflict any damage onto someone like Superman. In the end, it’s not necessary, but would be nice to see them try nonetheless.