NetherRealm’s new Injustice trailer combines Justice League and George Orwell’s 1984.
There was once a time, stretching back to when arcades were the epitome of gaming, that fighting games didn’t need stories. Oh, they had backstories to be fair, and a paragraph of victory text for each character’s ending, but nothing that got in the way of mashing buttons and draining your pockets of quarters. Fighting games are well beyond that point now, for better or worse, as can be seen in titles like Injustice: Gods Among Us. The game depicts an alternate DC Universe where dark superheroes fight for supremacy, and canonically-minded players are naturally wondering why. A new story trailer for the game reveals that Injustice is a little less Superfriends and a lot more 1984, except instead of getting stomped by a boot for eternity, Superman will just punt you into space.
Credit where credit is due, the premise of Injustice does sound it would make for an interesting comic book story. After the Justice League fails to prevent the Joker from detonating a nuclear device in Metropolis, DC’s superheroes start to assert direct control over the populace to ensure such disasters never happen again. Presumably years later, a faction within the League finally starts to realize they’ve gone too far, putting them at odds with Superman and Wonder Woman’s totalitarian regime. The new “insurgency” movement, which includes Batman, Flash, Lex Luthor, and Harley Quinn, enacts a bold plan to set things right; how much that plan will involve a series of three round Beat-Em-Up matches remains to be seen.
Now I’m usually up for a good alternate reality DC story, and I’ve been excited about Injustice‘s gameplay ever since I saw the aforementioned punch-into-space special move. Still, using a fighting game to tell a nuanced story is problematic at best, especially one with Injustice‘s scope. Outside of the additional work required to render things like NPC armies, you need an engaging plot limited entirely to cutscenes and one-on-one combat matches. That’s not to say it can’t be done (I personally liked the approach Def Jam: Fight For New York took), but you can’t just stick superheroes into a fighting game and hope the story will work itself out.
Regardless, Injustice: Gods Among Us should be the most story-focused project NetherRealm Studios has produced. Whether it turns out to be the Citizen Kane of fighting games or just another button-masher will be determined on April 19, 2013.