There is nothing worse in either the entertainment or development worlds as being branded a one-trick pony. Sometimes, people just can’t crawl out from behind the shadow(s) of their most successful projects. In gaming, perhaps no one knows this more than Ed Boon and the NetherRealm Studios staff. The team hasn’t seen much success outside of the world of Mortal Kombat, and even that road has had its ups and downs. Even during their time under the Midway banner, their projects focused solely on that one, single IP. Some people might think that is all that they are capable of producing.
That is about to change though as Injustice: Gods Among Us drops next week. NetherRealm is getting ready to show the world that they know how to make fighting games, and not just ones with Liu Kang and Raiden. The game turned some serious heads last year when it was revealed at E3 2012, including my own. Although the development team had previously dabbled with DC Comics content, in the form of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, it had never been given a chance to fully explore the world. MK vs. DCU was a bad game, it was actually pretty good. The problem with it was that it spent too much time straddling the fence between the two properties and never fully embraced either one enough to do them justice. They made up for that to MK fans with the last Mortal Kombat, but now it is time to do the same with the DC faithful.
I have had high hopes for the game, especially after hearing John rave about his experience at E3 last year. It wasn’t until recently though, when I got my hands on the playable demo, that those hopes turned into something more: unbridled anticipation. Even in this limited demo version, it is clear that the team is hitting on all of the points that make a good fighting game.
Let’s break them down one by one:
Robust and diverse roster
There is nothing worse than a bunch of palette swapped characters in a fighting game. The MK series, perhaps more than any other, knows this fact very well. How many Scorpion and Sub-Zero swaps has that game seen? Although, Boon and company have gone to great lengths to flesh them all out into original characters over the course of the franchise. This hasn’t been a huge issue in most recent fighting games and it is definitely not an issue in this cast. The 24 fighters on Injustice’s roster are about as diverse as anyone could ask for; thankfully, we aren’t going to see characters with similar powers like Super-Man and Super-Girl.
Instead, NetherRealm has reached out to the vast edges of the DC universe to grab both familiar and pseudo-obscure characters to flesh out the cast. It has enough big name draw to bring in casual fans and just the right amount of fresh faces to get comic-fans excited. Everyone knows Batman, Superman, and the Joker, but casual fans might be less familiar with the likes of Ares, Raven, and Killer Frost. The lineup, combined with the endless cameos that the game has been noted to include, will serve to both please longtime fans of the classic comic company and introduce newbies to a world that they never knew existed.
I have to admit, I have always been more of a Marvel fan myself. However, this game and all of the promotion and excitement for this it has gotten me to do a little digging into the DC history books. I am finding a lot of things that I wish that I had discovered sooner, and I am sure that other gamers will have the same experience once they head into this experience. There is a lot more to this lore than just Batman and Super-Man, and thanks to the reverence that NetherRealm has for all things DC, that is about to become evident on a large scale.
Expansive and engaging world
Just like overly-similar characters, fighting game fans don’t want bland environments in their games. Hardcore fans will tell you that sometimes the stages can be as engulfing as the gameplay experience, especially when they are implemented like they are in Injustice. I got a little weary when I heard that the demo only featured a single environment in the form of Gotham City. What I have discovered however is that the definition of a “single environment” in Injustice is a bit more than I ever expected, and I mean that in a couple of ways.
The single environment of Gotham City actually equates to at least three separate stages and each one is filled to the brim with interactive components. This makes the world of Injustice as interesting as the cast that makes up its inhabitants. Whether your slamming your opponent into a car or dumpster (or hitting them with that same car and dumpster, if you are strong enough), your surroundings are every bit as important as your characters’ arsenal of moves.
The game also features the ability to move between stages over the course of a single battle in highly dramatic fashion. It isn’t out of the question for players to see all three set pieces in the demo during the course of a single match. There is ability to transition between them, similarly to what has been done in previous MK games and MK vs. DC Universe, but this game sets a new standard for the concept. It is very easy and pretty much required for you to take advantage of the offensive opportunities that your environments provide if you are going to win battles on this stage, and that means either slamming them into something or launching them off the roof to the new setting below. I have been blown away by the amount of interactivity in the Gotham City stage and cannot wait to see what the other locales bring the the experience in the full version.
Original gameplay / control mechanics
At first glance, and even first play, my thoughts were that the game is eerily similar to the last Mortal Kombat game in terms of the control system. The characters”feel” just like they did in MK9. Upon further inspection though, you will see (as I have) that this one caters more to the characters specific strengths and abilities than MK, or any other fighting game for that matter, did. Sure, you have your typical light, medium and hard attack buttons, but the addition of a “trait” button really takes things to the next level.
This is because the trait button can mean drastically different things for different characters. If you’re Batman, it gives you access to your miniature bat-sentry techs. If you are the Joker, it will tap into your proverbial bag of tricks. This button is all about unlocking and accessing the things that make your specific character unique amongst the cast. It is so refreshing to see a single fighting game where the characters feel so different. This ties in a little bit to the diverse roster discussed above, but it also makes a world of difference in the gameplay experience.
The funny thing is, when I sit back and take all of this in, this all pertains to the actual gameplay experience of Injustice. This is the stuff that happens in the individual rounds of combat. We haven’t even gotten a chance to see the extensive STARS Battle levels, the lengthy character tutorials, or the story driven campaign. NetherRealm appears to have packed this game to the brim with content and is aiming to keep both casual and competitive fighters engaged for months down the line. I haven’t been able to put the demo down for a week now, and that doesn’t look to be changing any time soon. If there is this much enjoyment to be had in a limited demo, I can’t wait to see what is packed into the full game.
Injustice:Gods Among us launches for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii U on April 16, 2013.