After a brief lull for a couple of years fighting games are back in full force and now we’re finally at the point where we’re receiving games that solely aren’t part of the Street Fighter and Tekken brands. The fighting genre may not be on a complete wave of receiving original IPs just yet, but games like SkullGirls certainly signify that such a thing is on the way. Even better, established companies and developers are opting to take a risk by producing games that no one would’ve ever expect, a perfect example is the DC Comics based action of Injustice: Gods Among Us.
One of the few mega surprises of E3, Injustice is a game that may not be a complete reinvention of evolutionary step in the fighting game genre but that honestly isn’t a big deal since the game looks amazing. Seriously, taking the established talents of the development team at NetherRealm and allowing them to go crazy in the DC world has already resulted in a game that could be absolute gold by the time it launches next year.
Sadly I wasn’t able to get my hands on with Injustice at E3 as a hands-off presentation was being presented to those in attendance at E3. Since I don’t fall under the uber special journalist category I simply saw the presentation but that alone was enough to assure me that NetherRealm has a potential mega hit on their hands. Taking a few traits of Mortal Kombat, Injustice is a game that will be familiar to gamers on the surface but delves incredibly deep in the combat and more importantly the tone of the game.
With Injustice NetherRealm is taking the fighting genre and in some ways are augmenting it to make it feel more alive than it has ever felt before. The basics of the game are like that of any fighting game as it’s a simple 1 vs. 1 match and the victor is chosen once an opponent's health bar has been depleted, either by performing an absurd super move or just a standard knockout. What’s interesting about Injustice is that NetherRealm has paid an insane amount of attention to detail in the game with the environments and how battles can be enhances by the environments – thus adding a layer of strategy to the game that goes beyond mixing up combos and figuring out when to do a special move.
The basic jest of Injustice is that each stage is loaded with a bunch of items which make it more than a simple back drop. So beyond seeing Batman’s tricked out computer in the batcave, things like his various modes of transportation will be around as well like the batwing, batboat, a batmech, and even a series of extra suits. The catch is that all of these items are either interactive or will react to the battle that’s going on instead of remaining lifeless and static as the battle rages on.
The first match I saw in the presentation didn’t feature Superman pick up the batwing and use it as a weapon again The Flash even though that would be a kickass moment. But at one point in the match The Flash was able to get the upper hand on the man of steel by pressing a button in the batcave which activated the rocket launcher in the batmobile which resulted in Kal-El getting knocked off his feet. What’s unique about the rocket launcher situation is not only it’s effectiveness during battle, but the fact that the button was located in the corner of the arena. So instead of getting screwed once you land in the corner there’s actually a way to get out of a bad spot if you manage to get your timing right and have a bit of skill.
Injustice’s use of interactive objects isn’t a minor thing as the game is focused on not only conveying the power of superheroes such as Batman or villains such as Solomon Grundy but allowing gamers to use the environment to their advantage. Beyond things like corner weapons (which also included throwing barrels in one section of the bat cave), Injustice also has environmental hazards such as cars that can be picked up and used like every day blunt objects or damage in the environmental that will result in immediate danger like an exposed electrical cord on the ceiling which of course can be used as a tool against enemies.
Seeing two matches of the game I was impressed by NetherRealm’s use of the environment not only as a gameplay tool but as another character in a sense as it helped convey the power of the fight, especially when characters are knocked into new areas. Yup, NetherRealm is going old-school by doing multi-layered stages some of which will feature three entirely unique sections while others will feature two (such as the batcave).
Of course the big element of Injustice and what impressed me the most was the combat. It would’ve been easy for NetherRealm to do a slight copy and paste job from the MK games or even MK vs. DC, but Injustice features a unique feel of its own that may have a few shades of MK strewn about but isn’t a 1:1 match to the MK games by any means. Shown off in the demo were Superman, Batman, The Flash, and Solomon Grundy – a good grouping to show off the abilities of the different class types and more extravagant characters. The coolest thing about the combat and how NetherRealm has handled the characters is that there are all these little touches which really make things entertaining and simply detailed like Superman constantly floating above ground during combat or Solomon Grundy grabbing a knife from his back to use in an attack.
Even more, the combat is just balls to the walls crazy but not in a way that kind of undermines the serious tone of the game. Each character has moves that make sense to them such as Batman using his grapple hook in a way similar to Scorpion’s hook, and the combat in general is as fluid as the last MK game as far as the pace is concerned. Like I said, Injustice can get absolutely crazy as the transitions between stages feature characters flying through buildings for seven city blocks until they crash land but that’s just scratching the surface of things.
Keeping the tradition alive, there are special super moves characters can perform in the game once they’ve filled their bar, similar to the X-Ray moves of MK. Now I know I said Injustice isn’t just MK: Superhero addition and it isn’t since the super moves take on a life of their own in how over-the-top they are. Gamers already saw the glimpse of Superman’s super move in the debut trailer of the game but I was able to see three new ones – all of which were ridiculous in the best way possible.
Rounding things out I’ll start with the most tame super move of the bunch – that of Batman. Opting to keep things simple and grounded for his character, Batman’s super move simply consists of him beating the crap out of someone a lot, using his grapple hook to hang someone upside down and then do the finishing strike like a complete boss. After Batman I saw Solomon Grundy pull off his special and it perfectly fit the character as he smashed Batman only to proceed to pull out his own tombstone from his freaking chest to deliver the final hit. Lastly, I saw The Flash do a move that perfectly encompasses how fast he really is. Going full blast, The Flash’s special move consists of him running around the entire Earth only to return to his starting location to deliver a super punch to the face. Easily the best super move out of the four demoed, The Flash's special move had the demo audience in absolute stiches over how funny it was but in a non-silly sort of way that took back from the experience.
The one consistently interesting thing about Injustice is that the game seems more mature in a few ways. I’m not referring the maturity level of the game as far as tone goes since the last MK game didn’t hold back, but more so in how it seems like NetherRealm has continued to mature and grow as a studio since the game takes a very different approach. Gone are actual round notifications or anything that makes the game actually seem like that, a fighting video game. From top to bottom the presentation in Injustice is very slick and simple in a good way and it was reiterated by a NetherRealm staffer that the team is trying to make a cinematic game. It may not sound like much, but the approach NetherRealm is taking with the presentation in the game is taking the project to the next level as it doesn’t make it feel like a retread or a direct sequel to MK vs. DC.
I may not have been able to play Injustice and see Superman take on Batman and punch one another through walls or an elevator, but I was nonetheless impressed with what I saw. NetherRealm really isn’t redesigning the basics of a fighting game, but at the same time they’re putting in small elements which either will change how people play a given match or simply add a level of detail that not many fighting games have had in the past. I don’t know if I’m getting ahead of myself right now, but Injustice: Gods Amongst Us may be the fighting game to beat once the game is released in the 2nd half of 2013.