Release Date: April 16th 2013
Developers: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U (Reviewed on PS3)
The Flash runs a lap around the entire globe to land a square punch to Aquaman’s jaw before jumping up and slamming him into the floor of the Fortress of Solitude. Aquaman returns the attack by summoning a tidal wave from nowhere, sticking The Flash on his trident, and raising him up for a great white shark to snatch him in its mouth.
Welcome to Injustice: Gods Among Us.
The second collaboration between NetherRealm Studios and DC Comics is quite a spectacle to say the least. Having the many flagship characters from the DC Universe duke it out is the equivalent of a little kid spilling a box of action figures across the floor and creating chaotic stories with them. The result of such a concept is a treat for comic fans and fighting game fans alike while being anything but a reskinned version of Mortal Kombat 9.
Speaking of stories, NetherRealm has once again been kind enough to grant us a Story Mode, which has still yet to be a common feature amongst the majority of the fighting game genre. The narrative goes like this: in an alternate reality, the Joker kidnaps Lois Lane and drugs Superman with the Scarecrow’s fear gas, tricking him into thinking Lois is Doomsday. This causes him to unknowingly kill her and their unborn son after bringing her out of Earth’s atmosphere. To make matters worse, her death triggers a nuke planted in the heart of Metropolis, wiping out millions of innocent people. Driven by rage, Superman outright murders the Joker and begins a new world order to create a planet free of violence. Elsewhere, the “true” Justice League is attempting to stop their own Joker from pulling off a similar feat. At the last second, they are teleported to the alternate reality and so unfolds a bunch of nonsensical events in a rather short but sweet storyline.
While it’s great NRS went the extra mile to put in a story at all, it also holds a few problems. One flaw concerns from the vague explanation as to why our favorite humanly superheroes and supervillains can survive the cold vacuum of outer space and collisions with spaceships and trains; in the Joker’s case, how he can deliver a rocket point-blank to an opponent’s face and not get blown to bits himself. The answer is a super-pill the select few take, but it’s introduced (ironically) during the Joker’s story segment about a quarter of the way into the campaign. As a plot device, it loses its significance due to this late introduction, so the story may have been better off presenting it at the very beginning.
As I mentioned, the story is a bit on the short side. It leads up to a final showdown that doesn’t have much momentum behind it, despite the setup throughout the rest of the game being solid. It wasn’t necessarily bad, but it left more to be desired from of a premise involving two dimensions and 24 characters to mess around with.
The short length also means you only take control of a select set of characters out of the whole roster; it’s understandable given the size of the cast in this story…until you take control of Batman for a second time halfway through. Why couldn’t Hawkgirl, Shazam, Nightwing, or Raven have filled an extra chapter? Seems WB really loves Batman or assumes we love him a little too much.
Despite those flaws, the game still presents a well-executed excuse to have DC characters fight amongst themselves. If nothing else, it’s an enjoyable distraction from the real meat and potatoes of the game.
So, let’s talk gameplay. And yes, it’s been a while since the game’s launch. However since that time, the game has yet to show any signs of major imbalance issues. Sigh in relief, fighting game fans. This is a game that requires practice for victory, not an overpowered character.
In addition, while NRS carried over the Mortal Kombat 9 controls, they also offered an alternate control scheme which resembles Capcom-esque inputs; this was likely a move to make the game a bit more appealing to those who don’t prefer the MK style. A genius move at that.
If you do stick with the original Injustice set-up, you may find the control style to be simplified versus other fighters out there. Your three main attack buttons are for Light (X/Square), Strong (Y/Triangle), and Fierce (A/X) attacks. The pre-made combo lists for each fighter also max at around 20 moves each, not counting special moves, so like Mortal Kombat 9, the most damaging combos rely on juggles, switch-ups, and stringing hits where possible.
You also have a Character Power button (B/Circle) that grants a special ability exclusive to the fighter you choose. Batman will summon mechanical bats for offensive and defensive tactics, The Flash will slow down time to grant him more combo opportunities, Wonder Woman and Nightwing will change stances by equipping different weapons, etc. All of this gives each character more depth and uniqueness rather than staying defined by their move sets alone.
During your fights, you can also perform a move called a Clash (Forward + Right Bumper/R2), which allows both players to wager their super meters to deal damage or regain health. It’s a nice alternative to the usual combo break move and is also a window to loads of fantastic character-specific dialogue.
Another thing to note is the fights are not based on rounds but rather the two health bars each player holds. There is no health reset and in turn, the fights feel more dynamic and natural. It may not be appealing to some players, but it’s a welcome feature that hasn’t been seen in a big fighting game since Darkstalkers.
Another big feature of Injustice is the arenas themselves. Rather than being just pretty backdrops, the stages you fight in can be used against you or your opponent in a variety of ways. Chucking explosive missiles at your rival is one example, along with directing a gun turret’s line of fire at them. If you manage to land a Backwards Fierce attack at the edge of some arenas, you will launch your opponent into a different section while you get a wonderfully over-the-top animation detailing the numerous hits they take. It may come off like a novelty to players who just want a solid 1v1 match, but NRS was kind enough to allow these arena interactions to be turned off.
There’s hardly anything to complain about when it comes to the overall gameplay, although it hasn’t been that long since the game’s launch. I would imagine some are still trying to dig out the roots of the metagame, but whether infinites and other cheap tactics have yet to be discovered is a matter of time. I’m sure the developers will keep an ear out for the concerns of their fans given there’s much to be uncovered in a fighting system like this one.
While we’re on the subject of fans, it should be obvious that this game was made for those who love DC Comics but also those who want the most out of the 60 bucks they put down for their games in general. In addition to Story Mode and the roster of characters evenly split between heroes and villains, there are also the S.T.A.R. Labs missions. Mortal Kombat players may recognize this as the Challenge Tower and Konquest modes from Mortal Kombat 9 and Deadly Alliance. Comprised of 240 missions designed around different scenarios, each set of ten missions also have a unique short story related to the respective characters you play as. It’s a nice throwback to Konquest Mode from Deadly Alliance and completing each mission with a 3-star rating will unlock you something worth showing off like an in-game trophy or using if you main The Flash.
Speaking further of Single-Player modes, there is also the list of Battles. This is the classic Ladder mode that Mortal Kombat, along with most other fighting games, are known for: fight your way through a set of opponents to reach the final enemy. In Injustice, you can unlock up to 20 different modifiers for this mode that change how the matches are played; Poison will drain your health over time, Give and Take drains health if you’re hit and adds it back when you hit, Mirror Match switches your character to whoever you’re fighting, and ect. This further extends replay value, as if online and the S.T.A.R. Labs wasn’t enough.
In terms of Multiplayer, you have your stock one-on-one modes when offline, and when online you have access to King of the Hill (The winner fights the next in line) and Survivor (End-of-the-match health carries over) mode types. Sadly, there isn’t a tag-team option in Injustice as there was in Mortal Kombat 9, which would have been a very fitting feature given the theme.
Although, much like the last few Mortal Kombat titles, Injustice is also packed with unlockable goodies. As you level up, you’ll get Armory Keys and Access Keys. These are used for the Hall of Justice Archives to unlock concept art, XP bonuses, and best of all, costumes you don’t even have to pay for. Imagine that.
The costume unlocks don’t stop at the Archives either. Some require the accomplishment of specific feats in order to unlock them just like the good games of old. It is a bit lame how some have been distributed as marketing exclusives though, like the Red Son and Arkham City packs along with the CW Green Arrow costume. That one was only available to the first 5,000 people to vote in the pre-release Battle Arena event, so you can imagine how fast the slots filled up. Hopefully we can see all this content released as DLC in the future or in a Complete Edition a year or so from now.
Nevertheless, there is as much to do as there is to unlock in this game, to the point completionists will no doubt be devoting a lot of time to gaining every possible award.
Of course, while the game is very well-made, there are a few more minor issues to address. The Batman cast – Batman, The Joker, Harley Quinn, Nightwing, Catwoman, Bane, and the soon-to-arrive Batgirl – overshadow the rest of the roster a bit, leaving little room for other characters to stand out, or indeed characters from other series to make more of an appearance. Additionally, the overall color palette seems washed out despite the superheroes having vividly colored costumes. As a result, mirror matches can sometimes leave both players and spectators alike unable to tell the difference between each fighter.
Also, despite the audio for attacks and environments being very well designed, the soundtrack itself is rather lacking with few exceptions, rarely adding to the “hype” of the fights. Finally, some stage transition animations contradict those of the character’s Super Moves. For example, Sinestro could fire a giant laser at Black Adam which hurls him towards Earth, but somehow they appear at the Watchtower in space. These don’t detract too much from the chaos that ensues during the fighting, although considering NetherRealm Studios’ mission to give as much detail as possible to even the smaller aspects of their games, it seems they have yet to cover every single bit of their projects in that regard.
In the end, NRS set out to create another well-rounded fighting game while innovating on the genre’s general approach and they delivered for the most part. It may not hold as many features as MK9 did, the absence of co-op/tag team fighting for one, but considering the limitations of the engine as well as the average disk space they had to work with, it’s not hard to guess why the game feels a bit rough around the edges at times. However, what is present here is a game that fighting game fans should not miss out on and DC fans should at least follow the story in some way.
Here’s hoping that whatever NetherRealm decides to dish out next will be made on next-gen hardware, which we’ve already seen should give them much more room to work with. Until then, Injustice: Gods Among Us is a fantastic sign that they do everything they can to please their fans and make one hell of a fun fighting game at the same time.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to download Lobo and my free Flashpoint Batman costume.