Smashing its way onto your Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 is NetherRealm Studios’ fantastic new brawler, Injustice: Gods Among Us. The people who brought you Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe and 2011’s Mortal Kombat have learned from past mistakes and expanded on what works well to bring you this finely-tuned, polished fighting game set once again in the DC Universe.
To compare Injustice to its predecessors is perhaps a little unfair. Sure, the gameplay feels familiar to Mortal Kombat veterans and the game certainly borrows many elements wholesale from the last two NetherRealm outings, but Injustice introduces many new elements to the individual fight and to the overall game. It stands proudly atop the pile of modern fighting games and is a serious contender as one of the best of the genre in the last few years.
So, what’s it all about? Why have 24 of the world’s greatest heroes and deadliest villains gathered together, and why should you care? In true NetherRealm fashion, and going against the norm for the fighting genre, the story is rich with plot, personality and intrigue.
Without giving away too many spoilers, Superman has been tricked into detonating a nuclear bomb by the Joker, killing his pregnant wife, Lois Lane, and levelling Metropolis to boot, killing millions more. Well, that’s how the series of events occurred in one dimension.
In another, the bomb failed to detonate. This forged two separate realities based on the outcome of this single event. The one where the bomb exploded sent Superman into a downward spiral of rage, resentment and a maniacal desire for power. Some heroes follow suit and fight with Superman, others hide underground and plan an uprising against him. Allegiances fall and old grudges are forgotten as heroes work side by side with sworn enemies to serve a common purpose. Batman forges an unlikely alliance with Lex Luthor, and the Green Lantern joins enemy, Sinestro, and becomes the Yellow Lantern (Yellow = Evil).
Characters from the world we’re more familiar with, where Metropolis still stands and Lois Lane is still alive, get pulled from this dimension into their counterparts’ world, and this sets the scene for some mind-breaking plots and some unlikely fights. Batman takes on Batman, and the Green and Yellow Lanterns duke it out with each other.
Enjoyment of the story can easily be measured against how familiar you are with the DC Universe, or even how much you care about the characters you’ve heard of. If you’re just a fighting game fan with no prior DC knowledge, you can still sit back and enjoy the ride as NetherRealm have really gone to town weaving a story seamlessly into fighting and back to the story again.
What’s also impressive is how NetherRealm have stayed true to many of the characters’ individual personalities, and not have it feel forced or contrived. Batman’s classic dry stoicism, Green Arrow’s cynical sarcasm and the Joker’s black humour are all present and, what’s more, very well-written. The serious storytelling goes hand in hand with its own sense of humour, and done so fantastically well. The Joker declares to Hawkgirl, who’s about to ‘take him in’, “Not tonight, dear, you have a headache” before beating her to a pulp. Cyborg puts his victory over Lex Luthor – Robot vs. Robot Suit – down to a “wardrobe malfunction”.
Perhaps most impressive of all is making Aquaman seem credible. One of the more prominent characters within the story, NetherRealm took a huge gamble giving the most hated character in DC Comics any spotlight, and it paid off. Aquaman is a worthy fighter and has a pivotal role in the story, and this speaks volumes about NetherRealm’s dedication to cater to fans of DC. Love him or hate him, Aquaman is a key figurehead in the DC Universe and a member of the elite Justice League. A game about DC would feel incomplete without him, so it pays dividends to see him here and given a key role. Hats off, NetherRealm.
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was the first game to have a really committed story within a fighting game, and despite making no sense, did a great job in bringing the fighting genre out of the stagnant, samey arcade / ladder mode of combat. Mortal Kombat kept with this original concept with a great story, and now Injustice trumps them both.
And it’s great that as much effort has been put into the fighting mechanics as the story, as Injustice offers what a lot of fighters rarely get right, namely a fighting system that is for beginners and experts alike. A game like Street Fighter IV is fun to play, but at its heart is very combo-heavy and requires split-second timing to pull off a string of hits. The same can be said about the more advanced side of Injustice, but it only takes a little practice to begin stringing together impressive-looking combos.
The tutorial even touches upon juggling your opponent, a particularly difficult aspect of Street Fighter and Tekken games, but actively encouraged in Injustice as it holds your hand through the process. For the fighting gods among us (see what I did?) the moves list even includes frame data and recovery times for each and every move. This is very advanced data for professional gamers and NetherRealm’s admittance into the world of really credible fighters.
Overall, the fighting is solid and balanced. For a game featuring the strongest people in the world, the punches feel as they should – at times you can feel the bones and sinew tear as fist crunches against face. Although not as violent as the studio’s heritage, the tone is spot on.
Amongst the flying fists come interactive background objects which you can use to your advantage in the heat of combat. Kick your opponent into a helicopter or throw a metal garbage dumpster at them, even ride a nearby motorcycle into them. These can backfire and leave you a sitting duck, or machines can explode on you if your opponent hits you before you can deploy them, so they are to be used wisely.
Different characters use these objects in different ways, too, adding yet another level of originality and depth to Injustice. The more powerful amongst the roster, like Superman, Bane, Doomsday and Solomon Grundy, will for example tear the Bat Signal off the rooftop and smash it into their opponent’s face. Other relatively weaker characters like Batman and the Flash will use the Bat Signal tactically rather than offensively, jumping from it out of the corner to land behind their opponent in a more advantageous position. It’s a system that works well, and sets up truly destructive bouts between powerhouses and a battle of wits amongst the physically weaker ones.
Other nice inclusions are clashes, little wagers mid-game where you can bet some of your super meter to either regenerate your health bar or decimate your opponent’s; and meter burns, a second, more personal bar next to your super meter which are specifically tailored to the character you have chosen and provide extra moves or defences. The Flash uses his meter burn to speed up time (essentially slowing down his opponent), and Bane uses his to inject himself with potent drug Venom, giving him extra strength but also eventual withdrawals. Little extras like these polish the fighting aspect of Injustice beyond the relatively bland aspects of its rivals.
S.T.A.R. Labs is Injustice’s game mode akin to the Challenge Tower from Mortal Kombat. Great character-specific mini-games and handicapped fights for every character in the game, complete with their own little stories, litter this satisfying mode and offers greater value for money and additional fan service. Keep your eyes peeled for a string of DC cameos!
Even the traditional arcade match mode, a staple amongst all fighting games, has been reimagined here and offers 20 varying forms of ladder matches, like fighting only heroes or villains, Survivor mode where your health bar doesn’t replenish after each fight, even Impossible mode for the die-hard players, pitting you against all 24 combatants in the game with one health bar.
With all these positives it’s hard to imagine there are any shortfalls, but there are. There is an issue with the game’s collision detection which for the most part is fairly solid, but every so often you’ll find yourself losing the tide of battle as your opponent sails over your head, missing with a flying kick but somehow connecting. Some background objects simply pass through opponents as you fling them, too. This is normally the make or break aspect for a fighting game, but it doesn’t occur all that often so can be excused as a slight niggle rather than a deal breaker.
Multiplayer is sadly lacking too, despite the game modes on offer. It is always fun to fight a human over the CPU, but even when both players have a full signal the multiplayer is prone to some serious lag. Again, this is occasional rather than constant, though it happens enough to let down the overall package Injustice offers.
Other silly oversights include super moves occurring on specific levels which make no sense. Batman orders the Batmobile to run over his opponent – even when fighting on a space station! The Flash’s run-around-the-world punch still happens on the space station too – he’s not even on the world.
Injustice is great. Despite a few niggles here and there NetherRealm have thrown down the gauntlet for future fighters to follow. It not only offers true, balanced and satisfying combat but also an overall package that offers serious value for money and fan service. All the modes will keep you occupied for weeks and fighters are so varied it’s just fun to learn all the characters’ moves over time, and it helps that there are very few duff characters in the mix.
Don’t let a lack of DC Comics knowledge or interest in fighting games necessarily put you off, this game is well worth checking out if you are unsure in any way. It would be an 'Injustice' to miss out!
Injustice: Gods Among Us (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
Smashing its way onto your Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 is NetherRealm Studios’ fantastic new brawler, Injustice: Gods Among Us. The people who brought you Mortal Kombat vs.