Every year at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment always seems to have some big project that comic book fans simply can't get enough of. Last year, it was all about "Batman: Arkham City," the well-received sequel to "Arkham Asylum" featuring the Dark Knight in action against twisted versions of his classic rogues gallery. But for 2012, the heroes stole the show, as the company unveiled a playable demo for "Injustice: Gods Among Us," the recently announced fighting game based on DC Comics' pantheon of super heroes.
The demo featured eight playable characters, including the recently unveiled Nightwing and Cyborg, and also had two stages -- the Batcave and Superman's Fortress of Solitude. That's just a fraction of what the final game will feature, but it gave us an idea of what we could expect from the fighter.
For our first round, we decided to give Harley Quinn a try against Nightwing. Quinn, decked out in an outfit that's somehow even sexier than the one she wore in "Batman: Arkham City," comes packing guns and bombs, giving her much in common with Deadpool from "Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3," actually. Meanwhile, Nightwing is very capable in combat, as he can actually switch between various weapons, including his staff, while pummeling his enemies.
The first fight took place in the Fortress of Solitude, which is absolutely dazzling. The shimmering crystals come to life as you move around throughout the stage, though never to the point of becoming distracting. There's also stuff you can interact with throughout the stage, including traps that are activated by hitting the left bumper button on the controller once they're within reach. (We'll talk more about the controls in a second.) You can also set up a crucial hit at the end of the stage, knocking your opponent into an all-new area to fight in.
For our second fight, we stepped up with the powerful Wonder Woman, picking a fight with the well-equipped Cyborg. This time, we chose to battle within the Batcave, where all sorts of technical equipment can be used to your advantage -- or against you, if your opponent is good enough. Here, we were able to fire missiles from a nearby Batmobile, expose wiring above an opponent to trap them with electrical shocks and knock them into a lower area of the Batcave, where a Bat-Boat floats in the water behind you. It's all very cool to watch, though Batman is probably less than pleased that you're trashing his home.
"Injustice's" developer, NetherRealm Studios, is no stranger to fighting games, having produced the very successful reboot of "Mortal Kombat" under the guidance of producer Ed Boon. However, while both feature similarly balanced systems, "Injustice" has unique controls that make it stand out. First of all, characters can interact with background items in their own special way. Batman, for instance, can grapple onto objects within the stage and damage them, while Solomon Grundy can grab them out-right and use them as projectiles. This level of interactivity is off the charts, and the way it changes for each character is staggering.
Secondly, there's a leveling-up system here where you can unleash a super attack by simply hitting both trigger buttons at the same time. Doing so reveals an awesome cinematic sequence where the character really tears into you. For instance, Flash's super attack sees the speedster strike you, then run around the world at top speed before hitting you even harder on the rebound. Harley Quinn also goes a little crazy, pulling out all the stops as she slaps you around and then leaves a bomb right under your opponent's feet, blasting you into the sky.
The cinematics also come into play with the opening and closing of each fight, as characters enter the stage in their own special way. Nightwing, for instance, rides in on his bike, performing a stylish backflip before coming back down with a smooth landing. Harley, as always, shows off before taunting her opponent.
"Injustice: Gods Among Us" probably would have been satisfying enough had NetherRealm opted to use a control scheme similar to the team's previously released "Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe." Instead, the developer has really gone all-out, taking impressive strides forward between the interactive environments, the various techniques and the superb graphics, which really lean towards a much more cinematic style than "Mortal Kombat" has ever utilized. Though the game doesn't have a final release date yet, we're eager to see how the final product shapes up.
"Injustice: Gods Among Us" is due for release in 2013 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii U.