Injustice: Gods Among Us Review
Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii U
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer(s): NetherRealm Studios
Release Date: April 16, 2013
MSRP: $59.99 (standard), $99.99 (Collector’s Edition), $149.99 (Battle Edition)
This review is based off of gameplay of the PlayStation 3 version.
Wait a second! Did Superman just kill Joker? Seriously? Metropolis has been wiped out, too? What kind of DC story is this? Superman doesn’t just blatantly kill people! Is it possible that Superman, the symbol of true heroism, is capable of such insanity?
Sounds nuts, no? This is what you’re presented with when beginning the story for Injustice: Gods Among Us, the latest fighter from Mortal Kombat creators NetherRealm Studios that stars all of your favorite DC Comics superheroes and villains duking it out with the polish and depth of an altered Mortal Kombat fighting system. One of the game’s biggest draws is no doubt its story, which has been developed in a series of prequel comics leading up to its release, but one shouldn’t overlook the abundant single player content nor the online suite at play here. While not everything is perfect, what you’ll find is a fun and enjoyable fighter that truly captures the spirit of the universe from which it derives with NetherRealm’s own dark twists mixed in for good measure.
As I stated, upon starting up Injustice’s story mode, you’ll find a TV report plastered on your screen, stating that Metropolis has been destroyed and millions are dead. The mood sets in immediately, as you see the looks on the faces of police officers as they gaze at the screen in horror. You’re soon taken to a scene in prison, where you find Superman is essentially interrogating The Joker after allegedly killing Lois Lane and the unborn child she was carrying. Needless to say, Superman has finally had enough, killing The Joker and setting into motion events that paint a different picture of the Man of Steel and what happens when his tolerance level has boiled over.
The story lasts about 3-4 hours, and while the setup for the plot is no doubt intriguing and engaging, by the end of it, it’s merely a serviceable plot that does a solid job of telling an off-kilter story. It doesn’t rewrite the book on how stories in fighting games should be told, as Mortal Kombat did in pretty much the exact same fashion, but it does tell at least an interesting story within the DC universe, even if it doesn’t knock your socks off as well as the beginning scene does. It’s definitely one of the far better efforts in the fighting genre, no doubt, but it’s just not Persona 4 Arena level. Throughout the story, you’ll jump between the perspectives of multiple characters, seeing their sides of the story as well as witnessing them undertake tasks that help the plot unfold. It’s a good starting point before playing anything else in the game, as it gives you a rather forgiving chance to try out some of the cast. By forgiving, I mean that if you’re invested in story mode for the story itself and could care less about the gameplay, you’re in luck, as every fight gets easier the more you lose, so you’ll never be stuck on any single fight, not even the final boss. Making the plot more accessible is a genius move, as not every DC comic fan out there is a fighting whiz. The only glaring issue with story mode are the mini-games sprinkled in that task you with hitting button prompts that pop up on the screen. Succeeding in these tasks starts the next fight with an opponent that is missing about half of their health bar, depending on how well you do, but these mini-games are mind-numbingly easy, repetitive, and feel radically out of place. They would have served a better purpose under the game’s S.T.A.R. Labs Missions.
As far as fighting mechanics go, if you’ve played the latest Mortal Kombat, then you already have a feel for how Injustice plays. It still has that same brutality, where every attack has a satisfying “smack” to give weight to every blow. However, instead of opting for a traditional four-button layout, Injustice instead utilizes a three-button system a la Marvel VS Capcom 3, where each button will give you light, medium, and heavy attacks. Using them in combination with directional inputs can grant you different combos, just like Mortal Kombat, although inputs windows seem far more forgiving, as well as the overall pace of the fighting feeling a smidge faster. It takes very little time to get accustomed to, making it easy to pick up for beginners. However, it’s the fourth button that throws something more unique into the mix. This button is referred to as the “Character Power” button. This enables you to use a unique skill tied to each character with the press of a button, which can help give you an edge in battle. For instance, for Superman, this buffs his strength for a limited time, allowing him to dole out more damage. For Wonder Woman and Nightwing, it allows them to switch weapons, which essentially gives them two different movesets. More unique uses include Solomon Grundy’s ability to use special throws that can be chained together into devastating combos, or how Flash can use it to slow down his opponent, giving him the upper hand in terms of movement speed. These never really feel overly spammable as it takes some time for them to recharge after use, though some character powers are no doubt more useful than others.
One returning element of gameplay includes the use of interactive environments. In Mortal Kombat, you could trigger stage transitions by smashing the opponent through walls, thus causing them to take some damage as they plummeted to a new area to continue the fight. Those make their return here, but the interactions go further than that. In Injustice, fighters can grab and trigger objects in the environment to use against their opponents. For example, in Gotham City’s alley, you can grab a dumpster and swing it around into your opponent, dealing heavy damage as well as knocking them back. Or, in the Batcave, you can press a button that launches rockets out of the Batmobile. While these interactions seem like a novel idea at first and can be quite fun to use, they actually sort of break the balance of the game. See, when I tried the demo for Injustice before the full game was released, I found it rather crazy how much damage these stage interactions can cause. On top of that, they’re completely unblockable, so unless you’re quick to jump out of the way, you’re going to get hit no matter what. Dodging them isn’t easy, either, as many of them come fast and are rather large, to boot. To make matters worse, like that dumpster I just mentioned, when it’s used by smaller characters, it doesn’t break, so you can keep using it again and again, making fights that much easier. Other objects like fire traps and a hanging, butchered pig can be used in the same manner. It becomes less about who’s the better fighter and more about who can position themselves just right to use the environmental objects. Coupling this with the fact that they’re so powerful and unblockable and you have an element of gameplay that hinders more than it helps. There is an option to shut them off prior to the match, but this never occurred during my time spent online, so the problem still exists.
The other new facets of gameplay includes Clashes and Super Meters, neither of which are drawbacks like stage interactions. Clashes are useful for breaking combos when you’re on your second health bar and need to get the upper hand to get yourself back in the fight. This triggers a scene where each player wagers parts of their Super Meter. The player who triggers the Clash is always the defender, making the other the Attacker. Whoever wagers more of their Super Meter wins the Clash, with the margin between the two deciding how much the Defender heals if they win, or damage the Attacker deals out if they win. To clarify, say the Defender wagers their entire Super Meter while the Attacker wagers none. The Defender would then win and heals a significant amount of their health. However, if the Defender wagers three parts while the Attacker wagers two parts, the amount healed will be far less. Clashes are definitely a nice trump card to use when you’re looking to get back in the match, adding yet another strategic layer to the mix.
Super Meters are pretty similar to the meters used in Mortal Kombat, whereas they can be used in parts to enhance Special Moves (called “Meter Burn” Specials here), or, once the entire meter is full, to unleash a devastating Super Move. These are where the individual super powers of every character really shine, with wildly over-the-top and brutal attacks that play out like short cutscenes. Whether it’s Superman upper-cutting an opponent into space, only to smash them back down into the ground, or Bane dealing a bone-crushing back breaker like the one he dealt to Batman in Knightfall, each one compliments its character well while exemplifying the power of each in a creative fashion. These also deal a nice bit of damage, as well, though more advanced players will probably overlook the feature and instead utilize their Super Meters for Meter Burn Specials in advanced combos. For starters, though, this is an easy way to pull off something flashy while dealing an effective amount of damage. It’s also a great way to finish a fight definitively.
Perhaps the game’s greatest strength not only from a gameplay design, but an aesthetic standpoint is how well-captured these heroes and villains truly are. Injustice features a healthy roster of 24 playable characters, and while there are a couple head-scratchers that could have been replaced with someone more-popular (no Martian Manhunter or Darkseid?), we’re still getting a majority of the best the DC Universe has to offer. Every character feels like you have their powers at your fingertips, giving every character a unique and distinct feel while also being true to the comics. Almost all of them look quite good, as well, with detailed costumes that are also injected with a little NetherRealm flavor, giving them a darker overall aesthetic. I say “almost” because I do have to mention one serious gaffe in the form of Wonder Woman. Her design was awkward in Mortal Kombat VS DC Universe with her almost manly demeanor, but it’s even worse here. It looks as if they transplanted a male torso onto a female lower body, gave her boobs, increased the size of her jaw, then called it a day. I realize Amazons are supposed to look strong and ripped, but I don’t ever recall Wonder Woman looking this way in anything I’ve ever seen her in. It’s also perplexing because initial promotional images actually seemed to make her look pretty good, but her final in-game model just isn’t very good-looking at all and is awkward, to say the least.
If you’re looking to learn how to use each of these individual heroes and villains, look no further than the S.T.A.R. Labs. This mode gives each character 10 missions, each comprising of their own set of objectives and mini-games. Completion will give you one star, but you can earn two extra stars for completing bonus objectives for a grand total of three stars per mission. Doing the math, with three stars for each of the 240 missions, you’re looking at a whopping 720 stars total for you to collect. Each mission ranges from completing fights with certain stipulations, like having to fight Aquaman underwater, thus slowing you down and keeping him at normal speed, or with poison seeping away at your overall health, but some branch out and get more creative. For instance, Shazam and Black Adam play a game of Horse (or, in this case, spelling out “Shazam”) as each one tries to do a longer combo than the other. You’ll get to take control of Catwoman’s cat as it navigates through security lasers and maneuver Lex Luther as he descends underwater to Atlantis while dodging floating mines and catching air bubbles. If you’ve ever played Bowman on sites like Miniclip.com, you’ll even get to play mini-games like that, featuring Green Arrow, of course. There’s a healthy mix of missions at play here, with side objectives that up the ante in terms of challenge, should you want to go for them. These include finishing fights without using your Super Meter or having to land at least one stage transition. Of course, not all 240 missions are winners, and some can prove to be frustrating affairs, including missions that have blocks of ice raining down upon you and constantly freezing you or having to navigate barely-visible security lasers with the jumping mechanics this game offers (these jumping mechanics definitely weren’t made for platforming). There’s hours upon hours of content here, should you wish to tackle it all, but I wish there was more incentive to do so, as all completing them really does is unlock images for your online profile “Hero Card”, as well as increase your profile’s level.
If you’re into more traditional fighting, and if you’re considering picking this up, you probably are, then there’s no shortage of that on the single- and multiplayer fronts. If you’re looking for some challenges, trying your hand at the Battles is a great way to test your prowess. Your standard arcade ladder a la Mortal Kombat is fully intact here, dubbed “Classic” Battle, with its own endings for every character. However, it doesn’t stop there. You also have the ability to unlock more Battle variations in order to test your might. These include completing ladders while poison drains your health during every fight, having limited healing after every fight, or having to face nothing but heroes or villains. However, they get tougher than that, like “Combo Master”, which tasks you with having to pull off a combo with the required number of hits during the match in order to proceed, “Speed Run”, which requires you to defeat all opponents in less than 3 minutes total, and the toughest of all, “Impossible”, which challenges you to defeat the entire cast with limited healing after every match and where every opponent gets tougher and tougher as you go on. There’s also a robust training suite that includes detailed frame data for advanced players as well as a Tutorial Mode for newcomers to help them learn the ropes.
There’s clearly no shortage of things to do while playing by yourself, but what about taking on friends and foes online? Injustice’s online mode is a mostly solid affair, with some extra modes like Survivor, which has the winning player stay behind and try to survive every subsequent bout with limited healing, and King of the Hill, which is similar to Survivor, but instead grants the winning player full health for every fight as well as allowing spectators to place wagers on fights. There are chat features and spectating in these rooms, as well. You can also take on your traditional 1-on-1 fights, as usual, but there is one issue here. For some reason, a lot of players, including myself, seem to be having issues with Ranked matches. Finding an opponent during Ranked matches can either take about 10 seconds or 10 or more minutes, with the latter occurring far more than the former. It seems the matchmaking system has quite a few kinks in it, so if you’re looking to try and up your ranking, you’re in for a frustrating experience. Perhaps even more jarring is the fact that once a player is found, you can’t back out of the match at all without facing a penalty and you also can’t sort your opponents by their level of ping, meaning you could be in for a lagfest, but can’t really do anything about it. Player matches fare far better in terms of finding opponents, but match penalties are still at full force there, too. I had one instance where I was in a Survivor room with one other player and I wanted to leave, as it was getting late and I was tired of fighting the same opponent over and over. When I tried to leave, though, it would warn me that I would suffer a loss if I proceeded. I couldn’t even leave at the Character Select screen, either, which meant that I was stuck in the room unless I either left and took the loss, or waited for another player to join in, purposely lose the match, then leave once I was no longer the Survivor. Either way, I get a loss on my record. I realize that rage-quitters need to be penalized, but why people who are at the Character Select screen? The match hasn’t even begun and there’s simply no other way out. I isn’t fair to honest players and is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately, as it really puts a damper on an otherwise solid online experience, even with the Ranked match issues.
From a graphical standpoint, Injustice looks good, with detailed character models and smooth animations, along with environments that are dynamic, detailed, and full of life. The visuals certainly aren’t on the level of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 or Soul Calibur V, but it’s still a great-looking game no matter how you look at it. The game sports a suitable super hero movie-esque soundtrack filled with orchestral pieces, though the menu theme is really the only standout here, making for a soundtrack that isn’t very memorable. The voice acting, on the other hand, is excellent, with many characters being lent the voices of their cartoon counterparts. Mark Hamill is sorely missed as The Joker, but considering he stepped away from the role, it’s no fault on NetherRealm’s part. Having the likes of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Troy Baker portraying both Sinestro and Nightwing, for some examples, equates to some quality voice performances.
The big question here is this: if you like DC comics, but aren’t too big into fighting games, is Injustice: Gods Among Us worth it? I say absolutely, because the story here is no doubt one that many DC comics fans will enjoy if only for its portrayal of Superman. Not only that, seeing your favorite DC heroes and villains portrayed faithfully in a fighting format is a satisfying sight to behold, and getting to wield these powers yourself with such a polished fighting system makes it all the better. It may have some balance issues, online kinks, and a few duds in the S.T.A.R. Labs, but there’s no denying that Injustice: Gods Among Us is a content-heavy and satisfying fighting experience for fighting game fans and DC comics fans alike. Come for the story, stay for the fisticuffs.