The prospect of Ed Boon being let loose on DC’s superheroes should be a giddying one for any fight fan. Matt Kamen gets an update on Injustice: Gods Among Us from the man himself.
“[DC] wanted to re-imagine their heroes and that was something we wanted to do too – make them more contemporary.”
To anyone whose gaming education began in the 1990s, Ed Boon is an industry legend. Alongside John Tobias, Boon created the long running Mortal Kombat franchise at Midway Games, a series he still shepherds today at Warner Bros.
However, 2008 saw the release of an unusual crossover, Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, pitting the gloriously hyper-violent cast of Boon’s mythology against the iconic superheroes of the comic book publisher. While reception to the game was mixed, it opened the door for more games starring Batman and co.
“We’ve always had a good relationship with [DC],” Boon says, “but this time we really seemed to have the same agenda as them. They wanted to re-imagine their heroes and that was something we wanted to do too – make them more contemporary. As we talked we realized we were on the same path, so it was very much a collaborative project.”
The result is Injustice: Gods Among Us, a one-on-one brawler exclusively focussed on DC’s pantheon. The comic book line was given a complete overhaul in 2011, jettisoning decades of continuity from the pages and starting afresh with a new publishing initiative dubbed the ‘New 52’. Although much of Injustice’s style – most notably armoured costumes and younger heroes – echoes the reimagined appearances found in the comics, Boon insists that’s unintentional. “It’s not based on them at all. The costumes look similar, but that’s almost coincidental. I think that we made the decision that we didn’t want Superman to have red trunks and DC did the same thing. It seems to just be the way things were going. Other things like how heroes such as The Flash usually just have this skin-tight jumpsuit, we wanted to add dimensions to it, more contours and things to make it more visually interesting. I think that was just a confluence of the same agenda.”
One thing that was deliberate was not making Injustice merely a colourful re-skin of Mortal Kombat. “Straight out the bat, that was one of our goals – ‘let’s not do Mortal Kombat’,” Boon reveals. “We made that part of our agenda; we deliberately steered away from things like Fatalities and X-Ray Moves.” Instead, the game has its own distinctive feel. The mechanics are far removed from those of Mortal Kombat, instead employing a high/medium/low attack structure, with special moves activated by a tap of the B/circle button. Players can wager their own energy bar against opponents, blocking combo moves with even more devastating counters. Most interestingly, Injustice does away with the classic rounds system, with characters fighting until two health bars are depleted. Play Injustice for just a few minutes and the differences become rapidly apparent.
Environments are also set to play a huge role in the actual gameplay. Each stage recreates iconic locations from DC’s universe – the Batcave, Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, Metropolis and more, with interactive elements that can change how a battle pans out. “A Batman/Superman fight in the Batcave is going to be a very different fight than a Batman/Superman fight in the Fortress of Solitude,” promises Boon. “You really have to be dramatic in fighting games to stand out. I feel that what we’re doing with the interactive backgrounds is going to further separate us [from competitors].” The locations allow for a wealth of Easter eggs, too – for example, the ability to punch people through Phantom Zone portals is sure to please readers versed in DC lore.
A long-time enthusiast of the source material himself, Boon counts speedster The Flash as his favourite character. “I’m a Barry Allen man myself. When I was a kid, Barry Allen was the Flash and Wally West was Kid Flash. There was the Justice League and there was the Teen Titans. Then I stopped reading comics a while, come back and Wally West in the Flash! Robin became Batman! I kind of missed a generation, so in my mind Bruce Wayne is still Batman, Barry Allen is Flash, Hal Jordan is Green Lantern…”
Boon touches on one of the great fractures of DC’s audience. Superman debuted in 1938, kickstarting the very concept of a ‘superhero’, and the publisher has since introduced thousands of characters into its shared universe. From the 1950s onwards, when Barry Allen – the second Flash – first appeared, DC has been about legacy, one generation retiring for the next to take up their mantles. Readers grew up with ‘their’ versions of the characters, and though the New 52 initiative has largely returned to the mid-20th century iterations, Boon knows that everyone wants to see their preferred heroes make appearances in the game.
“It’s one of the more common questions we’ve been asked,” he says with something of a weary look. “When we mention Nightwing, everyone asks ‘Damian Wayne? Red Hood?’ All these incarnations of a ‘former-Robin’ character have been asked. One thing we’ve been considering doing is alternate skins for the characters. It’d be cool if we could, say, have a main Barry Allen skin and then if you really want to go retro have a Kid Flash skin, or Impulse. All of those things would be a lot of fun. You can’t accommodate everyone, but it’d be great to have multiple versions like that.”
At the moment, Injustice’s list of actual fighters includes a mix of big hitters – DC’s core ‘trinity’ of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman chiefmost amongst them – and lesser-known cult favourites including Cyborg, Green Arrow and Harley Quinn. “You’ll definitely see some of the more obscure – or lesser known and more interesting – ones,” Boon adds. “When you have twenty-something characters you can really go deep into the roster.”
While Boon remains cagey on story details – though assuring us there’s a good reason why members of the Justice League might be polishing knuckles on their teammates’ faces just as readily as on villains’ – he’s keen for Injustice to leave its mark. “These characters have been represented in old-time comics, the New 52, cartoon series, live action – they all have their own universes and we’re trying to carve ours. In our minds we’re trying to see Injustice as the starting point of a series to continue that universe. That’s our goal right there, to establish a new universe.”
Injustice: Gods Among Us is released in April 2013, on Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii U.