For years, comic book lovers of all varieties have constantly debated a simple question: who would win in dream matches between characters from some of their favourite franchises? While most of the time, these questions go unanswered, occasionally someone makes an attempt at giving us a glimpse of what these epic confrontations might really look like, and how they may pan out. This is one of the questions that NetherRealm Studios’ newest fighting game tackles.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is the end product of a collaborative effort with DC, the studio which brought us Mortal Kombat. Behind the game lies a simple concept. Superman, usually the big blue boy scout who protects Earth from harm, is led to a life-shattering event at the hands of the Joker, longtime nemesis of Batman. In the wake of Joker’s actions, Superman takes a turn for the worse and does the one thing that he has always been against – he kills the Joker in cold blood. Soon after, he calls a worldwide press conference, and declares that he will end all of the world’s problems as he sees fit, setting in motion a campaign that results in a new world order being formed, with him positioned squarely at the top. It is the events that occur under the iron fist of Superman’s regime that the game’s storyline follows.
As can be expected, the 4-5 hour campaign is riddled with comic book tropes and clichés. Fortunately, this does not seem to hinder the progress at all. DC has long been known for creating engaging and in-depth crossovers. Injustice does good by this reputation and brings a string of events to the table worthy of DC’s long-standing pedigree. The only complaint that can be made, even if mild, is that the ending seems all too predictable. The setup and execution are more than competent, yet the closing minutes may leave a player wanting more.
The time you spend in the story mode is nicely aided by the visual quality of the game. While Injustice is no Crysis tier game, it presents the characters and environments of DC in more than adequate style. The landscapes have a feel reminiscent of their comic book counterparts, though this isn’t really a flaw. As you fight, they will erode around you, destruction being wrought upon them as the heroes and villains do combat. This creates a nice feel, and while it will usually go unnoticed, if the destruction was missing the game would lack some of the flash it possesses.
Character models receive a small amount of damage upon them as they fight. Costumes are torn and tattered, and cuts and gashes will appear on the flesh – the game does what it can to avoid showing visible mutilations though, most likely to keep its modest teen rating. The visuals are supported by a decent score, and some equally good voice acting. The music does good to create a heroic feel as you engage in combat, making the hero’s and villain’s fights seem urgent and critical, which is a nice touch given the game’s subject matter.
The character’s personalities are all on display to full effect, meaning characters like Batman maintain their brooding feel, while more whimsical folk like Green Arrow carry a touch of comedy with them. All in all it brings the battles to life nicely, and adds a little flair to the proceedings. Of course, this is a fighting game. While NetherRealm has done well in veering away from the dry and often tedious plots brought together by some of its competitors, it is just common fact that it is not the story that really drives the genre. What really makes games of this sort shine is a set of solid mechanics and innovations – and on these fronts, Injustice is no slouch.
While anyone who has played a Mortal Kombat game will instantly feel at home (as it is played on a two-dimensional plane and the movement style is quite reminiscent of NetherRealms’ previous games), it is not entirely the same game. Whereas the previous Mortal Kombat‘s control scheme was broken down by limb (each of the four face buttons each representing an arm or leg), Injustice has three buttons used for attack, simply being divided into strong, medium and light attacks. As it would suggest, these each represent the speed and power of the attacks available with each button. The fourth button is used as a trait button, which will activate an ability unique to the character with which you are playing. This often makes each character’s strategy significantly different.
In another attempt to mix things up from their previous work, Injustice features some mechanics missing from other games in the genre. Chief among them is a meter, which is filled by using special moves, taking damage, and fulfilling other objectives (which, if present, will be shown at the start of a match). This meter can then be used to spice up your moves by way of a Meter Burn. This takes your normal special moves and adds more damage to them. Usually this is accomplished by extending the animation and increasing the number of attacks that are present during the animation. Green Arrow for example has a sliding kick in his repertoire. If the player has a section of meter to use, they can opt to press the Meter Burn button (right trigger on the Xbox 360 and R2 on the PlayStation 3) during the opening moment of the attack and Arrow will immediately follow up the attack by loosing an arrow, sending the airborne opponent flying.
The other application for the meter system is to spend it on Super Moves. These high damage moves are accomplished by hitting both trigger buttons on the 360, and L2 and R2 on the PS3. If the activating attack lands, this triggers a usually long and incredibly flashy and inescapable animation. Superman will launch his victim halfway into space for example, before smashing them back down to the battlefield with devastating effect. While Batman on the other hand will launch a salvo of attacks towards his opponent before stunning them with a tazer, and calling in the Batmobile for a quick hit and run. Each character’s Super Move is different, and landing and avoiding them will quickly become common practice.
A key difference, and the game’s biggest innovation, is that Injustice: GAU encourages players to make use of the environment. This is probably the feature that stands out the most in the combat system, and is something that players who venture online will become almost frustratingly familiar with. Scattered throughout every stage are a series of interactive objects. How these objects are used depends on the character you are using, as they are divided between two categories. There are power users, and gadget users. Power users do exactly as their name suggest, often ripping objects from the map and using them as projectiles against their poor opponents. At the opposite end, gadget users will cause objects to explode, or simply use them as an extra method of traversing the map. What makes these objects even more interesting is that fact that they can be strung into your regular combinations for an extra bonus to your damage. This provides you with even more options, and more things to keep your opposition guessing.
Another new addition that Injustice brings to the table is the wager system. This gambit can be activated when a player is down to their second health bar. It can be used to interrupt the attacking player mid-combo, and will activate a quick cutscene where both players will be prompted to select a hidden amount of their meter. If the defending player wins, they will be awarded with a portion of health depending on how much meter they wagered, while the attacking player will be given a boost to their damage in similar fashion.
On the modes front, Injustice offers a fair mix for players. Single player provides the aforementioned story mode. Besides that you also get the traditional tower mode, called Battle, as well as single fights against AI opponents, and access to a training mode. Regrettably, the training mode in Injustice is slightly lacking. Many other modern games give players in-depth modes that make learning the ins and outs of the combat system a breeze. Injustice features only a quick tutorial explaining the fundamentals, and a free-form practice mode. While this gives veterans of the fighting game franchise all they need to master the game, a fresh face may find themselves feeling a bit overwhelmed.
You also get the STAR Labs missions – anyone who played the newest iteration of Mortal Kombat will be familiar with the concept, as it is similar to the Challenge Tower from there. As you progress, you will play as the various game characters, completing particular missions. These vary from dodging projectiles, fending off waves of enemies, or fighting multiple opponents with a handicap such as slowly decreasing health. While in theory this may sound entertaining and has been proven to work, Injustice just does not utilize it well enough. The missions end up feeling tedious and more like a chore than being fun.
On the multiplayer front, you will have access to the versus mode, which allows you to battle your friends. Additionally, there are the online modes; King of the Hill and Survival. King of the Hill is straightforward, and challenges players to win as many consecutive battles as they can. If you lose, you must return to the bottom of the line and wait your turn once more, win and you get to fight again. Survival is a very similar mode, but allows the winning player to complete specific tasks to regain portions of their health bar. The online combat is actually a smooth experience in most cases. While there is the lag that is to be expected playing over a connection, it feels rare for anyone with a decent connectivity rate to chug around the screen. This of course is important for a fighting game, as many other titles struggle with their online connections, making Injustice a good bet if all you really want is to jump online and play a few games.
To sum up, Injustice is simply a good fighting game. The mechanics work well together, though at times it feels just a little bit incomplete. The lack of a tutorial mode makes the game’s learning curve a little too high, and the interactive stage elements can feel a little overpowered, especially as you will find people leaning on them online. Though when you get into the swing of things, Injustice is just flat-out fun, which is really all that matters, right?
Injustice: Gods Among Us is out now on PS3, Xbox 360, and WiiU.
- Great to play as familiar DC characters
- Combat is fast-paced and fun
- Great comic book style storyline
- Bare bones training mode
- Interactive elements inspire abuse online
- STAR Labs Missions are tedious, repetitive and boring