Superman goes super-berserk in the opening sequence of the DC Comics-centric video game "Injustice: Gods Among Us." After learning the Joker has tricked him into murdering a pregnant Lois Lane and setting off a bomb that's destroyed the entire city of Metropolis, he's out for vengeance.
As Batman tries to stop him, Superman punches through Joker's chest and kills him—setting off a civil war between the two superheores and the rest of the DC universe.
"It's a scene that lets you know that this is not a normal story and it's kind of our take of this universe," said "Injustice" producer Hector Sanchez. "DC gave us almost complete freedom and said, 'You guys can make the characters and the story as badass as you want.' "
If you thought Christopher Nolan's Batman movies were dark, wait until you see NetherRealm Studios' twisted take on the Caped Crusader and friends. The Avondale-based studio, long famous for giving us the uber-violent beat-'em-up "Mortal Kombat" series, has created a new button-mashing fighting game with a backstory that blurs the line between good guy and bad guy.
Following his murder of the Joker, Superman and a few other Justice League members decide to rule over Earth as dictators because they believe humans are no longer fit to govern themselves. Batman and a group of rebels, meanwhile, take a stand against the new regime and try to free Earth from the tyranny of the Man of Steel.
"The premise is: What if these people we've revered as saviors of mankind—Superman and Wonder Woman," Sanchez said. "What happens if they were the bad guys? How would our world be? That's the core of 'Injustice.' "
It's a story that intrigued DC Comics so much the publisher teased the video game's April 16 release with its own 12-part comic book prequel to "Injustice," which is available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii U consoles from WB Games. The comic has topped sales in the past few weeks, and the game is expected to follow suit.
"I think it was refreshing for DC because it's a brand new, darker take on their characters," Sanchez said, "and for us it was nice to do something outside of 'Mortal Kombat.'"
At least a few of the 90 or so NetherRealm Studios staffers have worked on some version of "Mortal Kombat" for most of the last two decades. After finishing the ninth game in the series in 2011, Ed Boon, who co-created the series in 1992 when the studio was part of now-defunct Midway Games, decided to go in a different direction for the next title.
Because they had worked with DC Comics characters before on "Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe," a crossover fighting game developed in 2008, it made sense for NetherRealm to try its hand at a full DC game.
"There was a little bit of serendipity involved, where we're fully owned by Warner Bros. and DC is a sister organization so it made sense to give us access to these characters," Sanchez said.
For the past two years, NetherRealm has been hard at work on a game that would be a compromise somewhere between the spine-ripping gore of "Mortal Kombat" and the oft family-friendly vibe of the comics. The game has earned a "Teen" rating for its violence, which shows a little blood and involves over-the-top special moves like Superman grabbing an opponent and flying him out of the Earth's atmosphere, only to slam him back to the ground.
"It's a hard-hitting fighting game, but we're not going to rip off Wonder Woman's head or anything," Sanchez said. "It's not our place to do anything like that."
Ryan Smith is a RedEye special contributor.
Injustice: Gods Among Us
PlayStation 3, Wii U, Xbox 360
3.5 stars out of 4
Holy hostility, Batman! It might be strange to see Superman become a super-fascist in NetherRealm Studio's new DC Comics-themed follow-up to "Mortal Kombat," but the compelling story mode is only an appetizer in "Injustice: Gods Among Us." It's a clever excuse to set up a series of unlikely clashes between heroes (Wonder Woman vs. Green Lantern) and villains (The Joker vs. Lex Luthor). The meat of the game is the spectacular one-on-one battles themselves, which feel like an evolution of "Mortal Kombat." There's an emphasis this time on simplifying things for button-mashing newbies with three basic combat buttons instead of four and easy-to-use super moves. However, NetherRealm was smart enough to add an extra layer of depth for those who are hard-core enough to want to pull off 10-hit combos. The action isn't quite as smooth as I expected, but this still likely is the best fighter you'll play all year. R.S.
See 'Injustice' at C2E2
When: 1:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27
Where: Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, McCormick Place; more info at c2e2.com
What: NetherRealm Studios creative director Ed Boon will be joined by other members of the development team behind "Injustice: Gods Among Us" to discuss the game's story, characters and art direction.
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