Hands-on: Injustice: Gods Among Us
When the creators of such a well-known and long-standing series as Mortal Kombat stick their heads up and announce a new fighting game, the gaming community takes notice. If they also announce that the game will feature all DC Comics characters and an original storyline, the attention is amplified.
Injustice: Gods Among Us will be released in April, but creator NetherRealm Studios have already released 12 characters and some tantalising details about the story. I got to sit down with Mortal Kombat veteran Ed Boon, who is developing Injustice, to try to shed some light on the game's scant details.
Boon was the designer on the original arcade game Mortal Kombat. It was made by Midway Games, which filed for bankruptcy in 2009. The company's assets were sold to Warner Brothers Interactive, which founded NetherRealm to continue working on Mortal Kombat with much of the same team. Boon moved to NetherRealm to become executive producer and oversee the series he helped create.
Players will instantly recognise the influences of NetherRealm's experience on Mortal Kombat, but Boon wants the two titles to remain separate entities. "I think the main thing is, we have the creator of Mortal Kombat on the box, and that instantly gives people the expectation of 'Oh, the violent guys'," Boon says. "They're going to make this crazy, violent game - but it definitely has its own identity."
Something to keep in mind is that characters created by NetherRealm specifically to be disemboweled are very different from DC's biggest names. The company thrives on the image of its characters and is known for its reluctance to show them in certain situations. So don't expect to see Superman blasting Batman's face off with heat vision.
The details of the plot of Injustice are few and far between, but Boon seems confident it will impress. "I definitely think the characters are known for their moral high ground. We twist on that: that's one of the things that's most appealing about our story mode. What we're doing with Superman and Batman in particular, the decisions they make and the events that happen - there's some pretty shocking things that happen in our story."
From what we can tell, the story follows a shadowy figure who is trying to unite the world against the heroes. The figure is unhappy with the heroes' constant incarceration of mass murderers, believing they should address the problem with more finality.
I suggest to Boon that because Superman is almost unbeatable physically, many of the most interesting stories about him have been those which put his moral code to the test.
Boon agrees, and seems to be planning on putting America's favourite son in some tough situations. "The short version is, these characters are known for being the 'justice league', and our story flips that. I think that's what makes it that much more interesting; everybody knows that Superman is a boyscout and Batman has his limitations too, so we really tried to break out of that."
Any fighting game worth its salt knows that a good roster of characters is key to longevity. The game has 12 playable characters at the moment but the character selection screen I saw had room for at least that many again.
The big names such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and The Joker have to be in there, but DC fans will want to know just how obscure NetherRealm plans to get. Boon told me the licence dictated a lot of their choices.
"Because it's the DC universe, we really wanted to make the most out of it. To choose a bunch of obscure ones that nobody really recognises really doesn't take advantage of it."
Still, the Flash, Green Lantern and Green Arrow are good inclusions considering that Warner Brothers has been trying to raise the profile of these characters for a long time with films and a new television show for Green Arrow. Some slightly more obscure picks such as Solomon Grundy, Nightwing and Cyborg are a good sign that the developers are also picking some of the die-hards' favourites.
During our interview, Boon also hinted at the inclusion of Blue Beetle and Lobo, which will be interesting for those who recognise the names - but we will have to wait for more announcements to know for sure.
The characters are split into two sorts - powers and gadgets. The power characters feel a bit heavier, with Superman and Solomon Grundy packing a riotous punch. The gadget characters tend to be faster, relying more on technology to defeat their opponents. Batman is an obvious fit for this but the Flash falls in the fast category too. It's interesting that NetherRealm has found a balance when a character such as Superman comes up against one such as Harley Quinn, who has no powers.
Supposedly, the storyline explains how these characters can go toe-to-toe, but in terms of gameplay, it feels fine. The levels also play a big part in the gameplay, with interactive elements mixing up the fights. I played the Fortress of Solitude and the Batcave and both have elements certain characters could manipulate. Ever wanted to see Superman pick up the Batmobile and bash Batman with it? Well you're in for a treat. Fans of Mortal Kombat will definitely be able to feel its influence, but Injustice really makes the characters speak for themselves.
While it's still five months before Injustice is released, it is looking to be a worthy addition to DC canon.
The gameplay is definitely up to scratch, but that's what you would expect from a studio with so much success in this area. The only question now is the story and the remaining characters. If Boon's encouraging words are anything to go by, we shouldn't need to worry, and I'd say it's only a matter of time before Blue Beetle gets his day in the sun.
Sydney Morning Herald