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Clash of the Titans - hands-on with Injustice: Gods Among Us

Craig Owens investigates a DC-inspired departure for the Mortal Kombat team

No, Superman can't just laser vision everyone into gently smoking atoms, and NetherRealm wishes people would stop asking. "We have a reason for that," chuckles the studio's games marketing manager Brian Goodman when we enquire as to exactly how often the question comes up, "but we're not revealing it yet." He might not be willing to divulge details of the Injustice: Gods Among Us story, but we're prepared to share our theory: it quite possibly has something to do with kryptonite.

It's the central paradox of a superhero fighting game. On the one hand, it's the definitive way to solve those "would Green Lantern beat the The Flash?" playground arguments (for the record, of course he would). But in practice it's nothing of the sort, the relative power imbalances of any superhero line-up needing to be smoothed over in the name of that holy grail of fighting game design: balance.

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The challenge facing Mortal Kombat developer NetherRealm, then, is somehow capturing the spirit of DC's line-up of spectacular heroes and villains without spoiling the fairness of the fight. It's a challenge the developer has seized upon with evident passion - which isn't surprising when you consider the fact that, for many of the team, this is their first escape from the world of icy ninjas and blood-soaked fatalities in well over a decade.

"It's been great," says Goodman. "It's always refreshing to start on something new, and this has given us a great opportunity to reimagine and rethink some of the ways we've been doing things." Strictly speaking, members of the team did work on crossover fighter Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe back in 2008, when the studio was still known as Midway Games, but that title was bound by the MK ruleset.

This is NetherRealm's chance to imagine the comic book characters while free from the gory shackles of the series that has, until now, defined them. Injustice isn't just Mortal Kombat in spandex, then. It's a genuinely new fighting game - the result of a team of veterans getting to craft new systems and design new rules. Beat 'em up experts will understand the implications of a shift from a four-button attack system to a three-button version, just as they'll immediately grasp the significance of a switch from a dedicated block button to a hold-back-to-defend system.

If you're not well versed in the language of links, crossups and launchers, however, you'll probably still notice that one less attack makes combos easier to memorise than they were in last year's Mortal Kombat. And yes, that means button mashing is a touch more effective too.

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The biggest change, however, is the addition of the character trait button, sitting happily on the control pad right where Mortal Kombat's block used to be. This offers easy access to special moves themed around each character's defining powers. It's where Green Arrow keeps his arrows, for instance.

And, in use, it's an unashamed concession to accessibility on a par with Christopher Nolan's sneaky redub of Bane's voice. Activate it as The Flash and you'll slow down time for your opponent, letting even amateur players dash in for cheeky superpowered combo or three.

"Changing up the control scheme is something that we wouldn't have been able to do as easily or as fluidly if this was in the Mortal Kombat franchise," explains Goodman. You only need to take to MK fan forums to see why - segments of NetherRealm's loyal community are eyeing the hold-back-to-block feature in particular as an unforgivable concession to the Street Fighter crowd. Still, the result of all these changes is a game where characters feel powerful from the moment you take control of them. And when you're dealing with a cast of iconic demigods, that's probably how things should be.

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