Injustice: Gods Among Us is an unusual game only possible thanks to the wide umbrella of Warner Bros.’ portfolio. Pairing DC Comics’ superheros and villains with NetherRealm Studios, makers of the Mortal Kombat games, WB hopes to answer fans’ burning questions about who would win a straight-up fight between Superman and Shazam, or Joker and Bane. The answers are about as satisfying – and silly – as you’d expect.
NetherRealm has some experience working with the DC property, of course. 2008’s Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was a wacky but competent fighter that more importantly laid the ground for MK’s wildly successful reboot in 2011. Injustice aims to do the same for the DC side of its roster while building on MK’s hither-to unprecedented single player suite of content.
MIRROR MATCH UNIVERSE
WB and DC Comics have heavily promoted Injustice’s single player mode, including releasing a full comic book series that ties into the storyline. In an alternate DC Universe, Joker has tricked Superman into setting off a nuclear bomb, destroying Metropolis and killing Lois Lane in a particularly gruesome mind-trick. Superman kills Joker in his rage, and over the next five years sets up his One World Government with him as the “benevolent” dictator.
Heroes and villains either sided with Superman out of a desire for order (or desperation), or be killed. Batman opposes this along with a small group of rebels, and he brings in heroes from a DC Universe where the bomb never went off – ostensibly the “regular” DCU fans will be familiar with, but I’m not even going to try to figure out which one considering DC’s love of infinite Earths.
Sound silly? That’s because it is. You’ll play as several heroes taking on Superman’s Regime, as it’s called, over dozens of fights set up by effervescent cutscenes that play out like an extended episode of the Justice League: Unlimited cartoon. The script, while often corny, hits all the marks you’d expect from this clash of heroes and villains. 2011’s MK transitions from cutscenes to fights, and vice-versa, return to great effect.
It’s not perfect, of course. You’ve got a few stinker scenes and lines, not to mention the Justice League’s nonchalance at being pulled into yet another alternate universe. Green Lantern’s “Time to kick my ass!” quip before fighting the Sinestro Corps version of himself pretty much sums it up.
Added to the story mode is S.T.A.R. Labs, a list of hundreds of special missions for each character to complete, much like the Challenge Tower mode from 2011’s MK. Unlike MK, though, these missions are mostly boring slogs with arcane and frustrating objectives. Additional objectives for all of them – winning the match with a throw, or avoiding Batman’s special Kryptonite batarangs, for example – are meant to extend the playtime but end up being tedious and not worth the time.
SINESTRO’S CURLY MUSTACHE
Fighting games are a weird beast. Basically their playability falls into two stages. The first is over once you’ve completed the story mode or other single-player challenges, and possibly dipped into the multiplayer mode with a friend. You mess around with all the characters on the roster, making sure to see every bombastic super move or crazy stage transitions – the scenes where one hero is shot through a series of buildings and into a miniature sun, for example – and then stopping.
The second is where the player digs deep into the characters they’re playing with, learning the right moves and tricks to be able to hang with others in the online multiplayer mode. It’s the most demanding by far, and potentially the most rewarding. The depth of a fighting game rests in how much there is to find beyond seeing the flashy (or Flash-y) super move sequences.
Injustice’s gameplay feels a lot like 2011’s MK, with a few interesting tweaks. Your basic attack buttons are a weak, medium and strong attack, along with a Character Power button. The last one allows Hawkgirl to fly, for example, or provides Superman an extra damage boost for a short period of time. Some are far more useful than others, though. You’ll probably get the most out of the ones that change a fighter’s stance, opening up an entirely different set of moves.
Injustice’s fighting is very combo-centric, and takes a lot of work to get the most out of it. Simply mashing a single punch button won’t get you far in the same way that mucking about in Street Fighter – or indeed, the Mortal Kombat games in the 1990s – will do. With a bit of experimentation, though, it shouldn’t take too long before you’re chaining some basic combos to inflict a satisfying amount of damage. Universal commands for overheads and ground and wall bounces make it relatively easy to try out which moves chain into each other easily.
For anything more complicated than that, though, you’ll have to go online and search tutorials or combo videos to get competitive at all in the cutthroat online scene. And you’ll need to do this if you want to spend more than an hour in the online-ranked multiplayer, as the speed of the action is relatively fast for a 2D fighter.
Stage interactions add a new wrinkle to the mix in a very comic book-y way. Hitting a shoulder button will knock your opponent into a background object, from knocking you into Aquaman’s throne to picking up a wrecked car and smashing it into his or her face. Some levels include stage transitions with incredibly silly animations that cause massive damage. Watching Superman punch Batman through a door in Arkham Asylum, then getting stabbed by the Scarecrow with Fear Gas, who then turns into a giant Scarecrow slamming you into the basement of the Asylum, is as stupid and awesome as you think it is, and will take a couple dozen times to get old.
The star attractions are probably the Super Moves, though. Each character can activate them with a full bar of super meter with an easy press of both triggers, so any player will be able to see them all before long. Superman knocks his opponent into the stratosphere, and then knocks him down somewhere in the range of 100,000 feet; Flash literally runs around the Earth in the craziest wind-up punch ever; Batman remotely controls the Batmobile to run over the opponent. It’s stupid, but in the best way.
True to its nature, NetherRealm takes the violence a few notches up with several characters’ vignettes and some cutscenes in the story mode. Occasionally the player will notice a drastic tonal shift from what is usually a very PG, safe, Looney Tunes-esque cartoon violence.
Joker marionette-ing a dead police officer’s mouth seems to cross the line of taste, but only because the baseline for so much of the action is essentially Saturday morning cartoon fare. You can tell that even avoiding the bone-snapping, guts-splattering Fatalities of the M-rated Mortal Kombat, the designers were probably working very hard to rein in their over-the-top sensibilities.
THE NEW 24
Injustice brings 24 heroes and villains together for a great cast with multiple playstyles that should be more than enough for any fighting game aficionado to sink his or her teeth into.
You’ve got your bruisers in Bane and Solomon Grundy, smashing others with command throws and slow power moves. Speed characters like Flash and Catwoman dash from one side of the screen to the other in the blink of an eye and present a lot of possibilities for the fledgling combo artiste. Thankfully, none of them seem too much like one-to-one analogues of the Mortal Kombat cast – even though Batman has a slide and a grapple gun, he’s not really like Scorpion once you spend some time with him.
You’ve got your flagship characters from DCU including Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman alongside others, such as Deathstroke, Raven and Killer Frost who long-time comics readers or fans of the Animated Teen Titans and Justice League cartoons will be glad to see. They all brim with character thanks to inventive costume designs and mostly great voice acting. The chunky action figure physiques inherent to the current NetherRealm style, though, fits some better than others. Wonder Woman is in clear violation of at least seven human anatomy lessons.
Unlockable alternate costumes run the gamut from a bearded Aquaman ripped from the 90s to “evil” versions of the characters as they served under alternate Superman’s Regime. For most it means a more armoured, militaristic look; for the women “Regime” can basically be translated into “slutty.” But then again, this is NetherRealm of the naked Mileena costume, so we shouldn’t be surprised.
Fans of 2011’s Mortal Kombat will have a lot to like about Injustice: Gods Among Us, as long as they’re willing to get to know a completely new roster of characters before jumping into the online lobbies. Comics fans will have a Daily Planet-sized ball with their favourite characters on display along with Easter eggs and obscure references aplenty while enjoying a satisfying full-length Justice League storyline. As long as you’re willing to put some time into practicing your moves after finishing the brisk story mode, fighting game fans should pick up Injustice in a flash.
– I understand his name power, but I maintain that Joker should never have been a character in a fighting game.
– Check out the attention to design for some alternate costumes: Green Lantern’s “Yellow Lantern” get-up replaces the Lantern logo for that of the Sinestro Corps, even on his Character Power icon.
– Speaking of alternate costumes, Elseworlds Flash looks awesome. It’s too bad you’re asked to three-star all of the disappointing STAR Labs missions to unlock it.
– Wii U owners will be able to play the entire game on their GamePad screen, but will lose the online lobby system that allows people in a room to spectate others’ matches while waiting in line for their turn. It’s a dubious trade-off.