On Saturday, I made a whirlwind trip from my home in New Jersey to the Jacob Javits Center, home of the New York ComicCon. I didn’t have time to see much, but I made a point of visiting our friends at NetherRealm to get in some hands-on time with one of our favorite games of E3 2012, Injustice: Gods Among Us. Not only did I get a chance to see newly announced character Green Arrow in action (Green Lantern and Joker, also revealed last week, weren’t playable yet), but I took Nightwing, Catwoman and Cyborg for a spin, too.
Before actually picking up a controller, it’s easy to assume that Injustice plays exactly like Mortal Kombat. The pedigree is obvious when watching the game in motion, and the art style is detail-rich and fluid in a way that improves on NetherRealm’s triumphant 2011 fighter. This isn’t simply a Mortal Kombat game in DC Comics clothing, though. The studio has embraced the challenge and opportunity that a new series offers, making some smart, distinctive breaks from the combat system they’ve lived in for years. They are in the process of crafting something new and befitting of iconic characters the likes of Batman and Superman.
I had the chance to speak with Producer Hector Sanchez about what sets distinguishes Injustice from the developer’s previous work, the story that pits hero against hero and more. One thing I’ve heard from a lot of fans is how obvious it is that Injustice is a NetherRealm game. It’s not until you have a controller in your hand that you realize just how different this fighter is from anything the studio has done before.
“Because this is a new franchise, we can do things with the design that would be considered blasphemous in the Mortal Kombat universe,” Sanchez told me.
One of the major changes is that the studio pried themselves away from a dedicated block button. Instead, simply holding away from your opponent puts your character into a block state. Another key difference is the shift from a four-button layout (Front Punch, Back Punch, Front Kick, Back Kick) to a three-button approach (Hard, Medium, Light). The buttons don’t correspond to punches or kicks specifically, which gives the team the option to focus on what the characters are known for. For instance, Solomon Grundy is likely to use his fists more than his feet, while Nightwing and Catwoman are more balanced.
I asked about NetherRealm’s approach and whether the studio was factoring in the competitive scene.
Sanches told me, “We try to make the best game possible. We can’t dictate to the fighting game community, and we don’t set out to make a tournament fighter. Mortal Kombat has been at EVO, and we hope the FGC likes Injustice.”
There are a number of other subtle inclusions in the system that will create new opportunities for strategies. Hit trades occur when players strike each other at the same time. Both take damage and reel a bit, which is a different mentality than many other games. Many other games will leave one player or the other with damage. Of course, the interactive backgrounds and stage transitions are a more obvious distinguishing feature. More importantly, they are easy to execute. When near a stage element that can be manipulated, a prompt (R1 on the PS3) will appear. Each stage has transition zones, and the player on the appropriate side need only connect with away and X (on the PS3) to trigger one when in the correct location. This puts the focus on timing rather than complicated command strings.
In addition to the basic attacks, there is a dedicated button for fighter-specific special powers. These vary greatly with Nightwing changing stances from bo staff to escrima and back again, Cyborg regenerating health and Green Arrow using his bow to fire trick arrows (changed by using the d-pad in combination with the power button). These all help connect the characters in the game to their storied histories. I asked Sanchez about working with a pantheon that they didn’t have complete control over.
“We don’t look at [working with established characters] as a limitation. We’ve had a relationship with DC since 2008, and there are a lot of returning people in the pipeline,” he shared. “They send us boxes of comics to pull from, and our relationship allows us things like the synergy with the Green Arrow announcement, revealing the character the week that the show premiered.”
Making sure that fans are happy is a key concern, and I inquired about the level of violence inherent in some of the characters, especially with Joker joining the cast.
“It can be tricky. The comic book crowd is very particular about how their favorite characters are portrayed,” Sanchez admitted. “We’re working hard to make sure that we are as true to those characters as possible. Their fight styles and all of their moves are derivative of specific things in the books.”
I tried to dig a little bit at the story of Injustice, but Hector masterfully deflected.
“We’re keeping it a big mystery,” he said with a smile. “There are clues in the marketing materials, though. We didn’t put a piece of kryptonite in Batman’s hand by accident. Don’t worry. We’re going to provide context as to why Catwoman, for instance, can fight Superman.”
Along those lines, we chatted about costumes and DLC. Each of the characters revealed so far (the team is shooting for 20 – 30 total) has donned a number of different styles over the years.
“We’re definitely going to be doing a number of different costumes. For instance, if you pre-order the game, you can get Red Son costumes for Superman, Wonder Woman and Solomon Grundy, along with 20 missions from that story line.”
The missions are the evolution of Mortal Kombat’s much-adored Challenge Tower. They are presented in a different way, but they general concept is the same. As for DLC,
“It would be arrogant to talk about DLC so far in advance of the game launching, but we are going to put as much content on the disk as possible,” Hector assured me. “If we talked about DLC before release, we’d be cheating the player.”