Gamescom 2012: Injustice: Gods Among Us Hands-On Preview – Is It a Bird, Is It a Game?
Written Saturday, September 01, 2012 By Lee AbrahamsView author's profile
What happens when two superheroes get in a fight? Well assuming they don’t sit around, sipping tea and airing their mutual grievances in a calm and rational manner, then Injustice: Gods Among Us happens. Mainly because this game is all about two overpowered badasses going toe to toe until one of them is crushed into little more than a smear on the pavement. Developed by famed Mortal Kombat creators NetherRealm, you can probably expect things to get messy in Injustice, and indeed, messy it gets. Luckily some of the team were on hand at Gamescom to tidy up the carnage.
Walking us through a couple of fights before daring to let us loose with the controller, the team spoke about their ideas and inspiration for the game. “We want the feel and the flow of the game to be very quick, very action oriented,” NetherRealm explain, as Superman and Nightwing start beating ten shades of hell out of one another. “We wanted the entire feel of the game to be cinematic like a summer blockbuster. So you will notice that there are no rounds, no announcer and everything is very fast paced.” The whole blockbuster tone even goes right down to the menu screens that the developers feel are “like a blu-ray in terms of accessibility” so players can quickly zip between modes. Certainly having a none standard format is an unusual set up for a fighting game trying to muscle in on a number of established franchises, but the title also has plenty of other tricks up its sleeve.
The game is being built by NetherRealm but with plenty of support from DC as you would expect. “One thing you’ll notice is the amount of detail we have gotten into these characters,” we’re told, as Superman punches Nightwing into orbit (literally). “These are all NetherRealm interpretations of the classic DC characters. We’ve been working closely with them (DC) but they’ve also been very supportive and let our artists do what they want, which is great.” That effort certainly seems to have paid off, with each of the characters looking superb and the team have also been keen to make the differences between them more than just skin deep.
“Movesets are very much tailored to the characters,” NetherRealm points out. ”Superman has his heat vision, he’s got his heroic dive. Whereas Nightwing is using acrobatic skills, he has his sticks that he can combine into a staff, he has electric based attacks and his wing dings that he can throw at his opponent.” Certain characters can also switch fighting skills on the fly, so Nightwing can use the aforementioned sticks or staff leading to a range of different attacks or Wonder Woman can switch between her lasso of truth and her sword and shield too. “All the characters feel and act like you would expect, so Superman glides across the surface whereas Nightwing is more stealthy and agile.” Certainly on the evidence so far, it seems that NetherRealm has pulled off the look and feel of some iconic heroes and villains to a tee. It also means that the characters have the range of combat moves that you would expect from seeing them in comics or on the big screen. Each of them also have a number of super moves to call on that vary depending on how high your meter has gotten or that can even be channeled into Clash Mode where each player gambles a set amount of super energy to pull off a spectacular attack.
Outside of the regular moves the team have gone for a more interesting hook: that of the environment itself. “One of the goals of the game was to make the environment equally as important to the combat as the characters you're using. So there are a lot of objects in the environment that your characters can use to their advantage.” This is ably demonstrated as Nightwing gets backed up into a corner, and NetherRealm notes that this is usually a fighting faux pas. “Traditionally in fighting games being in the corner is a very bad thing. We wanted to turn that upside down and give you some way to get out of there. So Nightwing can use his agility to catapult over Superman and gain the advantage.” A touch of the button and Batman’s understudy leaps off a car in the background behind Superman ready to deliver a swift kicking. It’s a neat touch and one that, again, highlights the different approach of each character.
The developers grin as Superman then negotiates his own way out of a tight jam. “Whereas if Superman is in the corner he has a different way, a much more direct way.” Superman proceeds to reach back, pluck the car out of the background and smashes Nightwing over the head with it. It’s an approach that NetherRealm is fairly proud of. “You can see that every character would interact with objects in different ways, with ways that make sense for their character.” At certain spots you can also literally punch your opponent through buildings, into lifts or through the floor to transition the action to a whole new location.
“We wanted to feel, as the match went on, that two superheroes were beating the crap out of each other,” states NetherRealm as they shift the action to the Batcave arena. “So we wanted a lot of background and environmental damage to be happening. There are multiple levels of destruction so that the environment when the fight ends is nothing like when it begins.” As The Flash and Cyborg punch tens shades out of one another the foundations of Wayne Manor start to crumble in the background, and the nearby computer systems start to go up in smoke. Finding himself stuck in a corner The Flash hits a button which activates the Batmobile defense system and sends two missiles hurtling into Cyborg. Pulling off a super move then smashes apart a row of Bat suits that drops some grenades that Cyborg is able to toss at his opponent, prior to him smashing The Flash into a lift and pummeling him some more as the fight transitions upstairs. The whole thing is seamlessly put together and means each and every fight plays out in a novel and unique way.
Once we're allowed to get our hands on the game proper it's clear that there's plenty on offer. Big combos are available for skilled players to string together and super moves require a sense of timing rather than just being screen covering insta-win manoeuvres. Choosing to use Solomon Grundy - though I forget when he was born - we find ourselves against Wonder Woman. It’s a bad start as she flummoxes our slow moving character, smacks us into an elevator and punches us some more, before managing to pull off her super. Things pick up as Grundy chains a few grapples together before finishing off with a super move that literally sees him smashing his nimble foe with a rather hefty tombstone that he pulled from his chest. The environmental moves lead to some interesting tactics and it's good to see that they can all be dodged or countered assuming you're switched on. It’s also nice that you can pause the game to check up on your moves, so new players can easily pick things up as they progress.
Unfortunately there where only a limited number of characters on show at Gamescom, so after a second duel featuring Batman and Harley Quinn we had seen the whole roster that was available. However, the second fight was worth it just for the ability to smack our foe into the Phantom Zone in a clever transition to another part of the map, as well as letting Harley Quinn blow us up with a cake. Though we got our own back by running her over with the Batmobile – what goes around and all that. Characters tend to fall into either the Tech category or the Strength category, with a string of unique attacks and approaches for each. NetherRealm for its part are happy that it's struck the right balance: “For the most part people seem to respect what we are doing, but there is some skepticism about being able to balance the characters. I think we have pulled it off.” It’s a finely tuned game to be sure, and the spectacular action certainly seems ideal for some brutal matches that can ebb and flow depending on a combination of player skill and well-timed background interactions. The falling scenery can reveal loose wiring that you can toss your foes into and you never feel totally out of a fight until it is finally all over.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is certainly panning out to be more than just another run of the mill fighting game, and the canvas seems ideal for the vast roster of characters from the DC universe. Just in a couple of brief matches we saw the whole range of possibilities, outrageous counters, special moves and environmental damage. For fans of the DC universe and fighting games in general, this is looking like a real treat with supremely stylised visuals, an impressive selection of moves and a number of wonderful treats. Though sadly there is no sign of any fatality moves, but that may have been asking a bit much.
Expect to punch your foes straight to the moon when Injustice descends from the heavens in 2013.