An In-Depth Look at Injustice: Gods Among Us @ E3 2012
- By: CM Boots-Faubert
- Posted 20th Jul 2012
Fantasy is a normal part of life, and daydreams of wealth and power are normal as well -- in fact most people have them in one form or another, and there is nothing wrong with that. If you ask the average psychiatrist that sort of thing is only a problem when it crosses the line from healthy fantasy to what they call "delusions of grandeur" -- which is a condition under which the normal fantasy life of a healthy person morphs into manifestations of a psychopathological nature; basically as a condition in which a person with an inflated sense of self-esteem has fantasies of power, wealth, and omnipotence that they find preferable to real life. They do not just imagine but allow their fantasy to bleed over into reality, confusing the two enough that even when they are presented with evidence contradicting their delusions, they often still cling to their erroneous beliefs anyway.
There are a couple of reasons why this factoid and situation is being used to open our look at Injustice: Gods Among Us, the first being that the average geek and gamer has, at many points in their life, had daydreams of being and super hero -- and there is nothing wrong with that as long as they don't dress up in spandex and try to convince us that yes, indeed, they can see through walls or have some other super power. The second reason for pointing this out is to forewarn and arm gamers so that they know what to look for in case delusion sets in around them -- or in them -- because IGAU is the sort of game that is certain to promote fantasies and daydreams of that sort. We're just saying!
The fact that Injustice was one of the games that was widely illustrated in the decorations at E3, and featured one of the more impressive briefings combined with the rather catchy and appealing trailers that were part of its pre-E3 PR campaign certainly raises the risk of superhero envy -- even in the case of superheroes who have become super villains! One of the many games that announced support for the upcoming Wii U as well as the to-be-expected Xbox 360 and PS3 verisons, IGAU is being developed by NetRealm Studios and published by Warner Brothers Games, with a targeted release date for some time in 2013.
The game is being described as a fighting game whose focus is heroes and villains from the DC Universe who are fighting each other -- but with a twist... The second DC Universe game developed by NetherRealm Studios following the crossover title, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, the game has received a major PR treatment, with magazine cover appearances, an aggressive video trailer campaign, but even more important, significant word of mouth. People are talking, and they are saying good things!
What we saw at E3 was a game that includes many characters from the DC Universe -- including Batman, Superman, Nightwing and Wonder Woman (Rahr! Wonder Woman) -- who are divided into basic groups of characters based upon whether or not they are gadget users or have inherent powers, with a meter-based system that more or less controls how those powers/gadgets are used and which controls access to the move combo system in the game. So far so good. Then you factor in that the heroes are sort of off the rails and may be over-indulging not just the desire to kick ass and not bother taking names, but perhaps overindulge in ways that make them seem, well, evil, whereas the villains may uncharacteristically behave in, well, good ways, and what you have is a series of tipsy-turvy "waaaaaahh?!" moments until you get used to the idea.
Leveraging a modified version of the Mortal Kombat 2011 game engine, Injustice has the right stuff when it comes to a fighting game -- lots of visceral in-your-face signature moves, dynamic combat that does not rely upon simple button-mashing, rewarding gamers who take the time to learn the moves and combos and when to use them, and in the realm of bonus, it not only includes characters we know and love, but locations in the game world that are not only very familiar to us (can you say Fortress of Solitude?) but that also factor pretty highly into your average geek gamer fantasy when Superhero is the underlying subject.
Game design in Injustice began with a mandate that the game be created so that the average gamer -- and specifically gamers who do not have a lot of experience in the fighting genre -- can play and pick up the controller with as low a learning curve as possible, while at the same time putting in the type of combo moves and play that appeals to the hardcore fighting game fan, with feature sets and strategy that, combined with the story elements and plot, combine to deliver an intensely immersive game play experience. Considering the iconic characters around which the game is built, the attention that the game is getting and its following online (which is building momentum) is easy to understand.
Now having pointed that out there is something else that needs to be mentioned -- gamers who are fans of the previous NetherRealm fighting games may be a tad bit disappointed here, because Injustice is not one of their signature tongue-in-cheek humor laden fighting games, but rather it is a serious (we might even say ominous in its approach to being serious) game that demands that the player take it without cracking a smile. You know. Ever.
While the build that was shown to us at E3 is a fairly early one, our hosts titillated us by offering some background information that includes the fact that both the world and the characters have destructive elements to them, with continuity, so when your character takes damage in one part of a level the damage -- whether that means a bloody nose or torn suit -- stays with them. When an element of the game world is smashed to pieces it stays that way when you come back, adding a potential set of visual consequences to the feel of the game.
As you might expect the signature moves of the characters are not only important but impressive, with cinematic effects used to emphasize the moves, giving a little more bang in the moment, with elaborate portrayals of the effects of the moves as well as the moves themselves adding color and oomph to the battles that really does leave the hairs on your arm standing up on their own. In particular the clash-battle segments -- the highly cinematic events -- in which players go against players, are meter based for their trigger, which makes a lot of sense as that sort of move and the time-stretching impact that they naturally have would not be something that most gamers will want to see over-used.
Another element to the game that was emphasized by our hosts is the fact that the locations in the game world where battles take place actually matter a lot. Each location, from the iconic to the mundane, include multiple areas, and each area in each location has its own strategically significant elements to them, so you will not be fighting the same way, or using the same strategies in each location! Actually it would be more sensible to say that you shouldn't be fighting the same way in each location, because from what we saw in the demo gamers who learn to adapt to each environment and seek out the strengths it offers their particular character -- and the weaknesses that each location presents to their enemies -- will often have a significant impact on the battle and how it concludes.
In many ways that game sort of feels like it took the best elements and what they learned from Mortal Kombat and the other titles that they have created, but in the doing of it they made a conscious choice not to chain the player into that well-established model, and all to the better since despite the several points where a move or a strategy made us think of Mortal Kombat, the fact that this title has its own personality and -- perhaps more important -- imprints that fact on players quickly ended up being noticed more than any similarities in the fighting style between the titles.
What we took away from our hand's on and briefing for Injustice at E3 is a mixed bag as far as what constitutes important elements of the game... A lot of emphasis has been placed on the notion that the characters in the game have gone slightly off the rails and are behaving as the almost spiritual opposite of their well-established personalities -- and hey that is a significant element of the game and its story, don't think we are downplaying that -- but in the end, and after carefully considering both what we saw and what it means, we are left with one golden thought: for the first time in a long time gamers are being given the opportunity to indulge their superhero fighting fantasies (and urges) in a way that they have never been allowed to do so before in a video game. And how cool is that?