Following 2011’s successful revitalization of the Mortal Kombat franchise, NetherRealm Studios went on to support it by way of DLC and an equally as successful port to the PlayStation Vita. Following the critical acclaim that title received, series co-creator and Creative Director of NetherRealm, Ed Boon, stated that the team “wants to do more than just make Mortal Kombat games.”
Shortly after that, NetherRealm released Batman: Arkham City Lockdown for iOS, but it always seemed as though more would be coming down the pipeline for the studio. When the team finally announced that it would be taking the DC Universe license and applying it to the engine used to power the latest Mortal Kombat, fans had something new to be excited about.
While watching the videos could tell anyone that this experience will be very close to what fans experienced in the latest Mortal Kombat title, Injustice: Gods Among Us has several nuances that differentiate it from the famously gory franchise. “We built off the engine of Mortal Kombat, but we made a few changes to make it feel like a new, fresh experience,” said Hector Sanchez, Producer at NetherRealm Studios. “We reduced the number of attack buttons, so now it’s only ‘light,’ ‘medium’ and ‘hard,’ and added a character power button. [...] There are also background interact-ables in the levels. When you get close to one, a prompt will pop up, and if you hit the prompt, you’ll be able [to interact with that object]. We also have these big stage transitions.”
I noticed that, while most of my skills I developed playing Mortal Kombat transferred over to Injustice, Hector was able to easily do away with me by utilizing the stage interact-ables, as well as the Character Superpowers, which are dictated by a Super Meter at the bottom of the screen, much like the X-Ray moves seen in Mortal Kombat. Once Hector explained those mechanics to me, I was a bit more prepared for battle, and I was able to pose a slightly more formidable challenge to him.
The finalized game will feature several single player modes, which look to mirror many of the modes found in the feature-rich Mortal Kombat. While my time was restricted to Practice and the Single Fight modes, the full game will feature a deep Story mode, a Battles mode, which is comparable to the ladder-based Arcade mode in Mortal Kombat, and a Tutorial mode. In addition, NetherRealm will be bringing the popular Challenge Tower to Injustice in a rebranded, reworked manner.
“Star Labs is like the Challenge Tower of Injustice. There are 240 missions that go all the way across. They’re broken up to ten missions each by character chapter [...] and they’re all connected, they all tell a story. In the first mission, it will kind of tell you a background of what all the missions are, then in the end, you’ll do kind of the big boss mission.”
– Hector Sanchez, Producer
The game plays extremely smoothly, and there’s something gloriously satisfying about connecting with The Joker’s Superpower, which involves pie, a crowbar and a gunshot to the face at pointblank range. Watching the Superpowers, Character Powers and environmental interact-ables being utilized gives the impression that this game does have a few new things to offer, but make no mistake, at its core, the mechanics are very much the same as Mortal Kombat‘s. That’s not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, seeing as how it won VGW’s “Fighting Game of the Year” in 2011 for the console versions, as well as 2012 for the Vita port.
Despite the team’s success with Mortal Kombat‘s transition to Vita, Sanchez states that the team’s current focus isn’t on the handheld. “We don’t really have that big of a team, so we kind of have to focus on the main consoles, because Vita for Mortal Kombat came out after the main game came out, so we’ll probably look at that in the future,” he said. “It just depends. During this development, we focused on PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii U. We don’t have the bandwidth to try and fit in that other one. But maybe in the future! Obviously, anything’s possible, and we’re going to look to expand to other platforms, and Vita makes sense because we have experience there.”
Sanchez acknowledges that having team members who, while still a part of Midway, worked on Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe helped the transition back to 2D for Mortal Kombat, and now Injustice. “During MKDC, we kind of went to a 2.5D, it wasn’t all the way set on a 3D plane,” he said. “A lot of the gameplay elements in that were very 2D-esque, so when we made the decision to go 2D, it was a lot easier to kind of go back to it and that’s where the traditional studio is from anyway, that’s kind of where it started. It was nice to go back to that and it was a fresh change.”
Despite the crossover fever that exists in the fighting genre at the moment, and the fact that NetherRealm now works on games involving both Mortal Kombat and DC Universe, Sanchez wouldn’t expect to see a new Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe game anytime soon. “I wouldn’t really bet on [another MK vs. DC game],” he said. “One of the things that we really learned in MKDC was that when you put ‘Mortal Kombat‘ in a title, there’s definitely an expectation of the gore and the fight style and stuff like that. I think we want to establish Injustice as it’s own IP, with its own kind of gameplay style. We wouldn’t want to bring the MK style into this or bring this style into MK, because that would kind of throw it all off.”
At the moment, the team is focused on building the Injustice name into its own, distinctive IP. “DC has been around for so many years and they have their own lore and they’ve built their characters to be a certain way, and we wouldn’t be so arrogant as to make Batman kill someone for the first time,” he said. “That’s not who we are, and that’s why Injustice works well in its own world, and MK works well in its own world. I think we’re going to try to keep them separate from each other so we can continue to make more things unique to each franchise.”
In working with Injustice, the team was able to take some artistic liberties with the characters and environments, all while remaining loyal to the source material. “We got pretty creative with [the characters]. It’s Batman, it’s Superman, it’s Aquaman; it’s the characters that you know, but we’ve put our own twist on it,” Sanchez explained. “You can see it in the character design and in their personality designs as well when you play through story mode. We have Superman doing things that he’s never done in comics before, and I think DC fans are really gravitating towards that. [...] I think it’s a refreshing take on the characters, the arenas, the stages. Sure, it’s Atlantis, but it’s NetherRealm’s version of Atlantis; it’s NetherRealm’s version of Metropolis, which is a little bit darker and grimier.”
“We created our own kind of versions of [the characters] first, then after that, we picked the ones we thought we cool. Obviously Arkham City Batman is very, very cool, Nightwing Batman is very, very cool. These characters are so cool and they’re represented in so many different ways, we wanted to give that choice to the player. That’s a cool option for this fan-base because they’re so particular about their timelines and which versions they like.”
– Hector Sanchez, Producer
Injustice: Gods Among Us hits stores on April 16, and if the time I spent with the game is any indication, it looks as though NetherRealm could again show why it is so loved by fans of the fighting genre. Luckily, you will be able to get your hands on the title before it releases, as a demo will hit PlayStation Network and Xbox Live the first week of April.