written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
Here’s a game I’ve been waiting patiently for since I saw the first teaser trailers. Hot off the success of 2011’s Mortal Kombat reboot, Netherrealm studios (formerly WB Games Chicago and Midway Games) sought to make a pure DC Universe fighting game, of course if you played 2008’s versus matchup Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe then this special brand of fighting game with DC properties wouldn’t be that new for you. What sets this entry apart was the context, in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe it was a definite TEEN rating (especially while all other Mortal Kombat games have been rated MATURE). What it felt like was a watered down version of what a MK game should be. Now I know, yesterday’s M is today’s T rating, but personally it just felt out of place for the DC Universe to be thrust into a tournament with the champions of MK. Injustice: Gods Among Us manages to really push that TEEN rating to the absolute limits of the rating (this would have been a definite MATURE rated game in the early 2000s). Playing it was a totally gratifying, though brief, visceral gaming experience.
Here is a point where the game excels beyond what we usually expect from a fighting game. Usually when I play the story mode in a garden variety fighter, I expect this sort of branching path:
- Fighters thrust into some sort of tournament or secluded island or space time pocket...
- All powerful being, who just so happens to spearhead the tournament, forces them all to fight (sometimes to the death)...
- You have to fight everyone… literally everyone… hey, it’s a tournament right?
- Earlier mentioned all powerful being is then the last person you’ll have to fight…
- You beat said all powerful being and are treated to an ending cinematic or slideshow or text based crawl...
- You propose to Guile’s daughter. END.
See? it’s formulaic and very boring. Back in the old days, developers knew that fighting games (at the core) are meant to be played competitively, so of course the point-A-to-point-marry-Guile’s-daughter is was a simple “story” mode to implement. So really, here is where Injustice excels. Rather than that formulaic story mode, you are placed in predetermined battle after battle with story elements acting as a segue between each battle. You don’t just pick a character and fight with them, rather each chapter is a different character. This gives those who delve into the story mode a good grasp on gameplay, allowing the player to try out most of the roster. I loved that approach, and it made the story most absolutely epic! The story of Injustice: God’s Among Us is the BEST Justice League film ever! In fact I would have loved this kind of story arc to be an feature film.
Basically here is what happens, the world is now under Superman’s thumb, after the death of Lois (who was carrying Supe’s unborn child) and the destruction of Metropolis at the hands of the Joker, the man of steel absolutely loses it. He kills the Joker and institutes a dictatorship regime under the guise of peace, most of the hero’s (and some of the villains) bow to Superman and join his regime. On the opposite side of the coin is the Insurgency, led by Batman and supported by Lex Luthor and (a heroic) Harleen (Harley Quinn) and he Joker gang. Sound kinda screwy right? Well, if you are a fan of the DC Universe, one common theme in the long line of DC Comics is the DC Multiverse… simply stated, it’s the idea of multiple worlds with some constant similarities… all harboring versions of the heroes and villains. Superman rising to become a misguided tyrant hell-bent on forcing his own brand of peace is just that… another world’s Superman.
So, apparently Joker is dead yet he’s prominently featured in the cover art. That was the first clue that dialed me into the idea that this story will end up as a sort of “two worlds collide” story. I won’t spoil too much for you but somehow, a handful of heroes is pulled into this alternate reality in order to aid in bringing down this villainous version of Superman and his “Justice” League.
While it may take a bit of thinking and a few rounds with the basics of quantum mechanics, the story isn’t too difficult to grasp. If you’ve seen the DC Animated feature Justice League: Doom, it basically features Batman developing countermeasures in case a member of the JLA decided to go rogue. The story of Injustice is Batman’s worst fear, an all powered near indestructible alien forces the world under his thumb with none powerful enough to oppose his regime. It’s a bit sad to see Superman pushed to these limits, but it’s hard to blame him, if I saw the woman I love die and was witness to the city I call home destroyed before my very eyes... I don’t see how I could resist the urge to force feed my notion of peace.
I hate to say it, since in a way it sounds like an insult rather than praise, but Injustice plays a lot like Mortal Kombat in DC clothing. This isn’t a bad thing, especially since the Mortal Kombat reboot was so very well received, Injustice does retain its own identity but that MK secret sauce is definitely evident. The entire cast is presented wonderfully. The character design imparts this very “Mortal Kombat” like look to the characters. Recognizable characters but all featuring a unique take on the costumes. Graphically, from in game cutscenes to actual fighting, it looks gorgeous, subtle and not so subtle facial expressions are animated beautifully. While not utilized in the story mode, when playing versus or other single player modes, your fighter shows real time damage from big gashes to torn capes. It’s pretty awesome but never feels over the top.
Level design plays a major part in the battle, transitions that allow you land that not-so-little bit of extra damage on an opponent are painful to watch and just as painful to experience. You can kick your opponent down a flight of stairs leading to a dock or send your opponent down the depths of the batcave with only a batboat to break their fall. This plays as a crucial strategy in whether you win or lose a match. Certain elements of the level can also be interacted with, whether it be tossing a steel dumpster at your opponent or laying the smackdown with fish, they all vary and add that little bit extra. Levels are intuitive and full of life, you’ll notice several cameos in the background or in the transition animations, For example, when you fight in Arkham Asylum, you’ll come across Scarecrow in one of the transition animations or Killer Croc, Two Face, Riddler, and Penguin in the other transition, nice little added bit, they retain the character design of the Arkham games by Rocksteady.
Special moves are great and all, but the showstoppers are all in the Super Moves. Build up your meter enough and you can be treated to executing an unblockable Super Move played out in absolute pure MK grandiose fashion. You can remote control the batmobile into flattening your opponent or run the entire length of the planet earth and punch the snot out of your opponent. These Super Moves are brutal, similar to transitions, they’re presented as animated cutscenes but with a much higher damage output. They did get a bit tedious at times but they weren’t so long that I found myself saying “ugh not again”. I swear, I never get tired seeing Aquaman feeding an opponent to a shark! That has to be my favorite one.
If you’ve watched any DC Animated features in the past few years, many of these voices will sound familiar. Kevin Conroy (Batman: the Animated Series and Arkham Asylum/City games) returns to voice Batman, while Mark Hamill is absent (he stated that Arkham Asylum would be the last time he portrayed Joker) Richard Epcar (a veteran voice actor) does an excellent job portraying Joker, previously he voiced Joker in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. The entire voice cast was magnificent, George Newbern voices Superman (previously voiced him on the Justice League tv series), Tara Strong pays homage to Arleen Sorkin (who originally voiced Harley Quinn) and reprises her Harley from Arkham CIty. A mini Firefly reunion in Adam Baldwin voicing Green Lantern and Alan Tudyk voicing Green Arrow also put a smile on my face, a part of me wished Green Arrow spoke the line “ah, curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!” All my fellow browncoats will get the reference. It really shows how much care Netherrealm took when developing this game, sure they could have just hired a whole cast of voice actors, but to devote this much care to the final product was absolutely delightful. Oh! As a side note, for all those who are also fans of CW’s Arrow, the Archer/Hooded Vigilante/Arrow is an alternate costume for Green Arrow, complete with Stephen Amell’s likeness and voice... now that takes serious care.
The roster is super robust; staples like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are ever present, while more obscure characters like Hawkgirl and Killer Frost round out the roster. Of course I have a long list of characters I wished made the cut (Red Hood, Martian Manhunter, Power Girl, Huntress, Two-Face, General Zod, Arsenal, etc) the list goes on. But I can’t say I’m disappointed by the roster, I love that they included characters like Raven or Solomon Grundy. I’m sure the developers looked to really balance the roster well, so I can see why a character like Red Hood (guns/meelee) would be too much like Batman/Joker and Arsenal would seem too similar to Green Arrow. Balance is a major issue is fighting games and while you can’t please everyone, I feel satisfied in the roster. As far as the roster is concerned, it looks like the first planned DLC character is going to be Lobo... so awesome!
In interviews and articles, the developers repeatedly mentioned that their goal was to make a game that appealed to the tournament fighter community, with 2D fighters like Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 standing atop that hill, it’s quite the competition Injustice has to face. They really did it and then some! The fighting as fast and fierce, those with the attention to detail to analyze the system down to the last detail will be pleased to notice that the moves list not only shows the control prompt, but also raw data pertaining to animation frames, damage output, etc. Data that SF players would stare at screens and replays online just to nail down, of course this data would be useless to the more casual fighter, but fear not... while technical, the gameplay is very easy to pick up and play. Easy to learn hard to master, sounds like my type of challenge.
There are three attack buttons (lights, medium, strong) with certain special moves utilizing one or the other. Unlike fighters like Street Fighter where say Ryu’s Hadoken can be modified depending on which punch button you hit, special moves in Injustice don’t follow the same formula. For example, when playing as Batman, back+forward medium throws batarangs, but back+forward strong is a sliding kick. Special moves follow a more MK style rather than SF style of button input, no quarter circles or half circles or Z-circles here. There is a dedicated throw button (or you can tape light+strong simultaneous), a button to switch stances, and a button that modifies special moves via “meter burn” input. Speaking of “meter burn,” if you would rather use your meter for dealing additional damage rather than saving it for a SUPER MOVE, then after inputing a special move you tap the button for “meter burn” thus adding additional damage to the special attack. SUPER MOVES are accomplished by tapping two buttons simultaneously, one being “meter burn” (R2 on PS3) and the opposite shoulder button (L2 on PS3). Personally I prefer that to the more complicated prompts required for super combos in games like SF or MvC.
Stringing together combos is fairly simple though hard to master, it’s when I am attempting to chain a combo into another or chaining a combo into a special move that it requires more attention to the system. I can’t complain, it’s a truly technical fighter and when you pay attention to the nitty gritty, you can seriously deal out some damage. I do wish there was more variety as far as the SUPER MOVES are concerned. It was awesome but perhaps a two tiered system would have broken it up a bit, while once in a match seems fine, it feels a bit repetitive to feed your opponent to a shark twice.
Back to story mode, as mentioned earlier, you get a chance to control a variety of the roster of Injustice. Each chapter is a different hero or villain, this take on story mode can give the player a good grasp of which fighters they’d want to use in VS or multiplayer mode. In between some matches, you’ll get something of a quick time event, matching button taps to block arrows or destroy debris. For those that succeed in these QTE situations, you start the battle with a bit of an advantage, lose and about half your first life bar can be siphoned out, this feels a bit jarring at times but nothing too difficult. A few modes round out the gameplay, STAR labs missions act as a glorified training mode, and a specialized training mode where you can practice combos against an opponent who won’t attack back. While I utilized the training mode extensively, STAR labs missions felt more like a throw-away mode.
Overall, the system felt really balanced, the slower characters had strong attacks while the quick characters seem to inflict chip damage more so. There are some cases of feeling overpowered, Flash and Superman feel quite OP but not as bad as the way Flash was in MKvDC. Unlike MK games of the past, there are no fatalities, then again... this isn’t an MK game. In place for over the top gore, Injustice pushes the TEEN rating with some over the top brutality. Personally, I don’t miss fatalities, it wouldn’t feel right to see Batman tear a guy’s heart out.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is a truly complex fighter. Easy to pick up but hard to master. I loved every minute of the story mode, and like I said earlier, Injustice is the best Justice League movie ever. I’ll be looking forward to future DLC characters and perhaps some of my favorites may make the cut (crosses fingers for Red Hood). I thoroughly enjoyed this game and while I did not find much use for the STAR labs mode, I appreciate the attention to detail Netherrealms put forth in making this game... can’t wait for a sequel! There will be a sequel right?