It's been a few years now since Netherrealm released Mortal Kombat 9 (2011). Before that we were given a lot of poor MK games, and a bad DC fighting game in a shape of 2008's Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe. The problem that time around was that Midway (who owned MK at the time) and DC Comics didn't want Sub-Zero to rip off Batman's head, or Scorpion burning Superman alive (which would have been impossible anyway).
But, it did sow a seed with the developers, and that seed grew to become Injustice: Gods Among Us, which released in 2013. This is what comic book fans had been waiting for. The game was a critical success, and even won "Best Fighting Game" at E3 in 2012. In the beginning of the development cycle, there was a lot of discussion between Netherrealm, Warner Bros. and DC Comics. Especially when Netherrealm said they wanted to make Superman a tyrant and dictator of Earth. But as development of the premise continued, DC and Warner came on board, even to the point of wanting to expand this multiverse into its own thing by tying it in with a comic created by DC Comics themselves. The legendary comic book company even helped flesh out the story, the lore, the look, and feel of the characters.
And the story is as follows: The Joker kidnaps and starts operating on a pregnant Lois Lane, when Superman arrives to save her, he gets drugged with fear toxin by Harley Quinn and The Joker. He sees Doomsday there, and starts attacking him to keep Lois and his unborn safe. What he doesn't know is that it's not Doomsday he's beating up, it is in fact Lois. Batman tries to get Superman to stop, but is too late. Lois is killed by her husband. The Joker had also placed a device inside Lois that would set off a nuclear device in the middle of Metropolis if she were to die. It goes off and kills millions of people.
Superman, struck with grief and anger, goes mad, and together with Batman finds the Joker. Batman tries to calm Superman down, but in the end the Kryptonian hero punches his fist through Joker, killing him instantly. From then on, Superman makes a promise that nothing like this will never ever happen again. He crowns himself supreme ruler of Earth and vows to stop all evil by any means necessary. Batman, with his moral code of not killing, pledges to do everything within in his power to stop Superman and anyone who sides with him.
It's refreshing to see Superman not being the poster child for the boy scouts anymore. He has the power to, in his view, change the world for the better and decides that incarcerating evil doesn't stop it, it just postpones its inevitable release or escape. Snuffing out these villains on the other hand will remove that evil forever. We highly recommend you read the comic series, it's awesome!
That takes us to Injustice 2. How does one improve on the previous game? The biggest news is the gear system. You earn actual gear, like what you'd see in an RPG, when playing the game (both by winning and losing matches). Much like games like Diablo, Final Fantasy and Nioh, the gear has base stats that change things like your character's strength and how much health they have, but it also changes their look. Alternative skins in fighting games is nothing new, the difference here is that the gear changes the overall look of the character, not only the colour. And no, it's not simply DLC costumes either.
When we got to play the game, we ended up fighting a purple-clad Superman with a gold trim cape and a white-wearing Batman that looked more high tech than usual. According to Tyler Landsdown, community specialist at Netherrealm, he was often surprised and impressed by the the number of variations the game can throw at you, and the imagination of the players making said variations. On the question of whether players will be able to make the characters look like coloured clowns by, for example, having turquoise pants and a neon green top, the answer was "no". There is a "look" to every character which you can't break, which also ties in with the colour combinations. So to remedy this, similar to what you might have seen in games like Destiny, they've made shaders, which "are colour packs that change the colour scheme of the character, but retains the look and feel of the character". These shaders are also earned just like gear. So, if you want Batman to look a little more like the Adam West version, chances are you can. Want Wonder Women to look more high tech? Go for it.
The art team at Netherrealm are having a lot of fun with this system according to Derek Kirtzic, designer on Injustice 2. "Being able to create new costumes for these iconic characters is like a dream come true", considering these are some of the world's best known characters, it's understandable that the art team is excited about the opportunity. The team also promises to release new gear items over the course of the game's life cycle, however long that might be.
The whole point of this is to increase the replayability of Injustice 2. You always have gear you can work towards. Maybe you saw an awesome looking Catwoman while playing online, and want that look. Maybe you like the competitive aspect of the game, or just love the story so much that you replay it time and time again. Speaking of the competitive aspect, one question we brought up during a Q&A was what the team had planned in regards to the gear system and meeting players way out of your league in matches. Worry not, was the reply. They've made it so that only the visual aspect of the gear is present, not the stats behind them, which is great. For everyone else you can start matches with the stats turned off, or go all out with everything turned on. The gear also has something they call "augmentations" which allow the gear to change the way a character plays, adds new moves, or just changes the look and outcome of said move. In one example, Supergirl's eye beam changed colour and did more damage. On top of all that, they also have gear sets just like in an MMORPG. If you collect every piece of one gear set, you get bonuses on top of your attacks. These can again increase the power of different attacks.
"There is something for everyone," says Tyler Landsdown, during an exchange as we get our asses handed to us by Swamp Thing. Having played around with the game a little, we have to agree, there is something for everyone in Injustice 2, and this is also a mantra that the company has been using in its other recent titles. Even though Mortal Kombat is hard to master, it's pretty easy on beginners, and the Injustice series is no different. The controls feel awesome in your hand while you dish out punishment as Atrocitus, a huge beast of a red lantern. They've perfected the way their characters move, the pinnacle for us was with Mortal Kombat X, but Injustice 2 might just take it to the next level.
A good example of its accessibility can be seen when the cameraman that joined me in Chicago had a go with the game. He wasn't a fighting fan, having only played a little Street Fighter as a teenager, and that's about it. He picked up the PS4 controller, and finished the first chapter of the game with not too much trouble. He even managed to pull of some special moves and kick some ass, enjoying himself in the process.
On our part it was hard to walk away after getting stuck into the story mode and wishing we could delve further into one of our favourite characters, Dr. Fate. The way he plays is very different from the brawlers like Batman, Superman and the aforementioned red lantern. He's very defensive, and keeps you at a distance using magic.
Even though Mortal Kombat X was an awesome game, an all-time favourite, the one bad thing that plagued it was microtransactions. It left a sour taste with a lot of players, understandably so. Easy fatalities? Whatever happened to practising and learning the characters you play? So of course this was one of the questions we had for the team, and it was really great to hear Ed Boon, the legend himself, give a resounding "no" in regards to microtransactions in Injustice 2. The team didn't want it to become a pay to win game; balancing the game as it is now is hard enough, so introducing a system that would give those with money the best gear would go against their vision. Weirdly enough, this isn't something the company has been proclaiming all over the place, it's not a part of their marketing, which perhaps it should be. It's 2017, and a lot of AAA titles rely on microtransactions. So, it's a breath of fresh air that a company as big as Warner Bros. has decided not to go down this road.
Netherrealm is poised to release one of the biggest fighters of the year this May, it's also the biggest game they've ever done. With a level of quality and polish that surpass what they did with MKX, we're really looking forward to the coming months, seeing as Ed Boon has promised a steady trickle of new characters and modes. Just before our trip over to the Windy City they released the "Here come the girls" trailer and the Swamp Thing reveal trailer, and they showed off Dr. Fate to the attendees at the event, and revealed Cyborg when we got back. All in all, if you're a fan of superheroes, or villains for that matter, this is for you.