Most likely, we all had the same reaction when we saw the announcement for Injustice: Gods Among Us. A roll of the eyesF, a dejected sigh, and desire to play just about anything else. NetherRealm Studios, formerly Midway Studios, has a long history of making the “other” fighting game. There are the Mortal Kombat diehards out there, but they are few and far between, especially when you compare them to the roaring crowds of fans drawn to the Street Fighter series. Thus, when Warner Bros joined forces with Midway (right before they bought the publisher) and spat out the mediocre-at-best title DC vs. Mortal Kombat, it seemed like half-hearted attempt to replicate the success Capcom had with the licensing of Marvel‘s Universe. It was just another time for NetherRealm to feel second best. Now, the DC characters return in full force, with their own game.
Injustice, on its surface, seems like a marketing tool more than anything. Kids are likely to point to anything with Batman and Superman on the cover these days and scream their desire to posses that product. Whenever games attempt to push the product first and the game second, the results match the effort. Not to mention the latest licensed title, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, was such a train wreck its natural for anyone to be skeptical.
The biggest problem is that the DC Universe has a mixed bag history of being translated into games. While there have been recent success, such as Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes or Rocksteady’s Batman series, there have been missteps as well. Superman has yet to get a game that redeemed the nightmare some of us witnessed on the Nintendo 64, and the rest of the DC Universe has yet to find any sort of traction. In fact, the most recent attempt to garner interest in the larger roster, DC Universe Online, has had a myriad of struggles. Due to the underwhelming success, The Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and Green Arrow, have all had to wait on the sidelines while DC and Warner Bros continue to push their two biggest superstars. So when you pitch a game with characters like Black Adam, Raven, and Shazam, you are bound to get more raised eyebrows than standing ovations.
It is, actually, fitting to pair the developer behind Mortal Kombat with the DC world. Both have had to play second fiddle to their long standing rivals. Just as Mortal Kombat has been the Ron Weasley to Street Fighter’s Harry Potter, DC has watched Marvel rocket to fame with its Avenger’s series. But the good fit goes beyond the inferiority complexes to the style of the world. Mortal Kombat has often been a world of magic, gods, and monsters, falling more into the realm of fantasy than science-fiction. The over-the-top gore fest features power fatalities in which characters rip out their opponent’s spines, swallow them whole, or capture their soul. This is often true of DC as well. When the Justice League comes together they often have battles that level entire cities and destroy worlds. Their powers are given to them by extraterrestrial jewelry or a wizard. Likewise, their villains are larger-than life like Darkseid and Sinestro. NetherRealm’s multi-arena, super powered fights are well suited to the world of DC.
But besides a natural union, why would one be excited for Injustice: Gods Among Us? Well the story seems to be better than ever. It has often been problematic for stories to seep into fighting games. Mortal Kombat tried a few times incorporating limited-explorable worlds in a couple of their titles. Mortal Kombat as had a fairly deep lore that connected their first games. It translated into a so-bad-its-good movie and a so-very-very-bad-its-hilarious sequel (thanks Paul W.S. Anderson), it also found a home as an animated series and of course is fan film favorite. But the twelve part comic prologue to Injustice: Gods Among Us is absolutely fantastic. DC has often been at its best when doing graphic novels or one-off runs that take place out of the DC continuum. If you are looking for some proof of this, pick up Kingdom Come; a DC future story that, while incredibly gorgeous, is also wonderfully fascinating.
FYI: SPOILERS ON THE COMICS WILL BE CONTAINED TO THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH READ AT YOUR OWN CAUTION
The Injustice: Gods Among Us comics begins with the reveal that Lois Lane is pregnant with Superman’s child. Superman is as nervously excited as any first-time father (Connor Kent is not around) and asks Bruce Wayne to be the godfather. Things quickly take a turn for the worse as Lois is kidnapped by the Joker and Harley Quinn who kill Jimmy Olsen. The Joker has been busy, stealing kryptonite from Star Labs and Scarecrow’s fear toxin, blending them together he creates a special toxin to use on the Man of Steel. When Superman shows up to save Lois, the Joke unleashes his toxin and Superman sees his nemesis from the iconic “Death of Superman”, Doomsday. Superman acts quickly, carrying Doomsday into space, killing the monster. Only too late does he realize that the toxin was playing ticks on his mind and it is Lois and his unborn child he just killed. Enraged, Superman breaks into the Gotham Police Department and exacts revenge by killing the Joker. Kal-Eel decides that man can no longer govern themselves and takes the vigilante act to a whole new level, turning the world into totalitarian state in which he is police, judge, jury, and executioner. This sets the stage for a series of one-on-one battles in the video game. While the story is great, the telling of it is even better. There’s no guarantee that the same deft story telling will work its way into the game, but it still sets a wonderful stage on which the drama can unfold.
Lastly, NetherRealm has shown an inventiveness to their games, giving players lots of depth and solid single player campaigns. The Mortal Kombat series, while never blowing people away, has manage to reinvent itself consistently taking chances where most fighting games would not. Injustice could offer them a chance to really show off their skills. The studio clearly believes they have a good product as they have been showing footage of the fights to anyone who will watch. While the shown footage doesn’t look like too much more than your standard one-on-one fighting fare, as long as it is competent and fun it could be a solid foundation for a great experience.
Am I throwing my flag down in the Injustice camp? Not quite yet. As I said earlier, I have been burned too many times before to start praising a game I have yet to play. But I will say that my original skepticism about the title has turned to a cautious optimism. I do think that Injustice could be a lot of fun, I think it could be a great game, but more than anything I think that we need to give it a chance.