Aside from the 2008 release of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, DC Comics fans haven't had many gaming outlets to play out their superhero fighting fantasies (nothing since 1995's Justice League Taskforce, really). All that's about to change with the release of NetherRealm Studios' upcoming Injustice: Gods Among Us, however. NetherRealm, for those who may not know, is best known for last year's very well-received reboot of Mortal Kombat and is headed up by Ed Boon, the co-creator of the Mortal Kombat franchise. ComicsAlliance got a chance to experience a behind-closed doors demonstration of the title at E3 2012 and you can read some of my first impressions of the content after the cut.

Before I get into the gameplay, I want to note the heavy presence Injustice had at the WB Games booth at E3. Front and center was a gorgeous double sided screen mural of the iconic Justice League heroes in their new costumes. The costumes themselves are of "NetherRealm design," but still retain some iconic elements of each character. NetherRealm stayed tight-lipped about the plot of the game, but you can see from the character designs why many fans and blogs have been speculating some sort of connection between Alex Ross's classic Justice comic and Injustice. With one of the biggest strengths of their recent Mortal Kombat game being the game's expansive single player component, fans can probably expect some meaty solo play content for Injustice as well.

If got a look at a few gameplay mechanics, such as the "Clash" mechanic, where players can bid their super meters against each other to either mitigate or deal more damage from a combo. It's an interesting mechanic that adds additional levels of bluffing and strategy by letting players leverage both their life bars and super meters as intertwined resources. Visually, the clash event looks very cinematic, with opposing characters exchanging a line or two of dialog before charging into one another in a flash of light very reminiscent of a Dragon Ball Z ability being unleashed.

During my demo, NetherRealm made sure to drive home the point that environments and arenas in the game matter. I got a chance to experience two arenas, The Batcave and The Fortress of Solitude. Both arenas offered multiple environments to fight in. For example, The Fortress of Solitude level actually starts off looking like you are fighting on the streets of Metropolis, but beat up your opponent some and you can send him careening through about fifteen stories through a skyscraper into a different area of the map. The level transitions look very comic book-like and very ridiculous (in a good way).

Speaking of ridiculous, it really wouldn't be a comic book fighting game without over-the-top special moves and NetherRealm didn't disappoint in that regard during the demo. While you won't see Mortal Kombat's trademark "Fatality" finishing moves, you'll be able to pull off some jaw-dropping moves mid-battle. Superman's special has him battering his opponent on the ground before uppercutting him through the Earth's atmosphere and into outer space before slamming them back down to the ground. My favorite special move of the demo, though, had to be Flash unleashing a flurry of punches that ends with the game's camera panning out, showing a view of Earth as it became encircled by yellow lightning streaking several times in succession before returning to showcase the hero landing a round-the-world windup punch on his opponent. Pure awesome.

Along with the multi-level arenas, there's also interactive elements within the environment that you can use to your tactical advantage. Fighting in the Batcave, you'll see buttons on both sides of the arena. Using one side's will result in grenades being lobbed at your opponent while the other side will make the Batmobile spew a couple of missiles. NetherRealm promised to put in safeguards to prevent cheap, spamming tactics within the environment, just in case you were worried about that happening.

Each fighter interacts with the environment in a specific manner rooted in the context of their character, too. Let's say there's a car on the screen that's able to be used in battle. In a fight between Batman and Solomon Grundy, for example, Batman will smash Grundy on the car's hood, causing some damage to both Grundy and the car. Grundy, on the other hand, will just straight up toss the car at Batman. I didn't get a great look at the damage differences between the two attacks, but I'm assuming NetherRealm is working to balance that in the overall gameplay. It remains to be seen whether or not the interactive environments will be more than a gimmick for more competitive players, but in terms of raw fun, they certainly seem to be doing their job.

NetherRealm will be the first to tell you that the game is decidedly not Mortal Kombat, although if I had to place the aesthetic feel of a game on a spectrum between Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, I would say Injustice skews closer to the Mortal Kombat side. It's a much darker looking game with muted colors and textures, compared to the bright and flashy color schemes seen in many Marvel fighters. In a way, this parallels the aesthetic directions DC and Marvel movies have gone in recent years, with Chris Nolan's Batman movies and Marvel's Avengers-related movies exemplifying the tonal divide.

The controls also differ from your typical two punch, two kick, block button setup that the Mortal Kombat series is known for. Injustice lets you block attacks by simply holding away from your opponent and has a more natural feeling with light, medium, hard attacks on the face buttons. Punches, kicks, and combos landed on opponents feel like they hurt. These aren't your more spar-seeming "biff" and "paff" punching bag hits from Marvel vs. Capcom - rather, the hits in Injustice come off more like a sledgehammer smashing a cantaloupe. The developers mentioned that they wanted to make the game feel great to both a button mashing newbie as well as a practiced veteran. Coupled with an expected great single player experience, it looks like Injustice: Gods Among Us might have more appeal to the more casual fan than a typical tournament quality fighting game when it releases in 2013.

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