Injustice: Gods Among Us, if you're not already aware of it, is a one-on-one fighting game, featuring superhero characters from the DC comic book universe. It's the likes of Batman, Superman, Harley Quinn, and Solomon Grundy, all of whom - for reasons that are yet to be explained, but we're assured they exist - are intent on beating the crap out of each other.
It's in development at NetherRealm Studios, the same team behind the recent Mortal Kombat reboot. Gamers who have been around for a while might start thinking at this point, "this all seems a little familiar." And so it should. The guys at NetherRealm, when they worked at Midway, made a game called Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe; a title that's not a million miles away from what Injustice is all about.
Injustice, like MK vs. DC, is all about fighting. It's narrative driven, too, as Ed Boon - co-creator of Mortal Kombat and Creative Director on Injustice - explained to me shortly after I played the game for the first time.
"It's going to be an interactive narrative, very much like playing a big blockbuster superhero experience," Ed said. "Internally, in the company, I describe it as Story Mode 3.0. We started something with MK vs. DC, we refined it with Mortal Kombat, and this game is taking it to another level after that. We have other layers to that story mode that the other two didn't have, [layers] that are added to Injustice that are going to make the experience that much more immersive"
Exactly how that works in the game is yet to be seen. But the glint in Ed's eye suggested that players who are looking for more than a cursory context-motivated narrative in their fighting game - like the DC comic book audience, for example - would be well served by paying attention to what NetherRealm are up to. They've certainly earned some cautious optimism at least; the story mode in MK vs. DC was groundbreaking, and last year's Mortal Kombat definitely improved further on that.
One of the key aims of the team is on delivering an experience that justifies the game's existence; creating something memorable but also driving the genre forward in new and interesting ways. One of the ways they've chosen is to make the backgrounds - once merely a backdrop for the foreground action - much more interactive and integral to the fight itself.
Examples include The Batcave, in which the player can make the Batmobile fire missiles into the stage. Objects hang over the fighting area, and characters can interact with them; leveraging their properties to their advantage or considering the tactical threat they represent, as guided by circumstance. A power character might rip something down from the ceiling and pummel their opponent, for example, while a gadget character might instead use it to launch off, coming at their foe from an unexpected angle.
Exactly how beneficial the interaction proves to be is something that's still somewhat up in the air, as is how many of the fans will enjoy it versus those that see it as a distraction from the fighting at the core of the game. One thing that is certain, though, is that the change is an impactful one. Even at a subtle level, the way you approach a character from range now includes some consideration of the surrounding environment, on top of all the other stuff you previously had to think about.
Each of the characters I played not only felt distinct from each other, but also rather eerily the way I imagined that they might. The Flash, for example, in addition to being very fast, has that plucky, slightly grating humorous nature to him that fans of the comics will be familiar with. Superman, meanwhile, floats rather arrogantly just above the ground, looking at his competitors with the "what are you going to do? I'm Superman" vibe that you'd expect from the impervious son of Krypton.
Which raises an interesting point; just what threat do the other characters pose to the indomitable Superman? Or to Solomon Grundy, for that matter; he's already both dead and indestructible. And how could someone like Batman (a regular guy in a suit, basically), handle being punched into space (and back down again - Superman's super move)?
"That's my favorite question!" Ed laughed, when I posed it to him. "I'm a big fan of other fighting games, Marvel vs. Capcom, stuff like that. In that game, they have The Hulk and they have Chun Li; nobody ever asks them 'why can Chun Li take a punch from The Hulk?' "
"We have a very detailed story, kinda like Mortal Kombat had, a very elaborate, cinematic sequence, and in that story we have an explanation of why they're fighting and why it wouldn't just be a one-second fight that Superman wins."
Continue reading on page 2.