Injustice: Gods Among Us
Developer: Netherrealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Home Games
Release Date: 04/16/2013
For a long time, the Mortal Kombat games were the red headed stepchild of the fighting game genre. Generally poo-pooed in terms of gameplay and balance compared to franchises like Street Fighter and The King of Fighters, Mortal Kombat still had a strong but loyal fanbase. All that changed with the release of Mortal Kombat Vs. DCU. The hardcore MK fans were disappointed by the T rating and the lack of gore and over the top fatalities but the game received more mainstream attention due to the inclusion of DC Comics super heroes while reviewers and the Fighting Game Community found the engine to be the best featuring Mortal Kombat characters yet. Mortal Kombat Vs. DCU went on to win our Best Fighting Game of the Year award for 2008. 2011 saw lighting strike twice as Mortal Kombat 9 showed developers and publishers alike the RIGHT way to do a franchise reboot and it also won our Best Fighting Game of the Year award to boot.
Now here we are in 2013 with Netherrealm’s first fighter to not feature Mortal Kombat characters at all. Injustice Gods Among Us gives us the first all DC Super Heroes fighting game since the terrible Sega Genesis Justice League game. Besides the core console game, we’ve also gotten a pretty damn good The King of Fighters variant of Injustice for iOS and a fourteen issue (so far) digital comic book series that acts as a prelude to the video game that has also been well received. With such a great build up, the hype and anticipation for Injustice: Gods Among Us is like nothing we’ve seen for a fighting game before. The question is whether or not the game lives up to it. Let’s find out together, shall we?
The Story of Injustice: Gods Among Us is an odd one. It involves parallel dimensions and time travel. You see, there are two earths, neither of which are the core earth in which the New 52 era of DC Comics is taking place in. The first earth is similar but slightly different from the pre Flashpoint earth of the comics. The second is more a “Justice Lords” from the DCAU cartoons. On this second Earth, Superman has gone mad with grief and guilt and become a despot, ruling the earth with an iron fist. The heroes of this world have aligned with Superman (along with some villains, which you think would be a clue that they had gone off the rails!) and created the One Earth government which only subjugates the populace of the planet. Not all the heroes have been corrupted by power. Batman, Green Arrow, and others still fight for truth and justice, trying to free the planet from the grip of Krypton’s Last Son. In order to do this, the Insurgency (as they call themselves) opens a portal to the first earth where the heroes are still good and benevolent. They then teleport key members of the Justice League over to their world seconds before the event that would have caused the first earth’s timeline to follow that of the second, thus preventing it from occurring. Make sense? Now the heroes from Earth 1 must team up with the Insurgency to topple the One Earth government of Earth Two, saving an entire planet from the grip of the most powerful being on it.
The core idea of the story is good and I enjoyed the characterization of the heroes a lot. Most of the characters felt exactly like they had been ripped from the comics except for the One Earth Superman and Wonder Woman, but as they are meant to be evil and insane, that’s kind of the point. I will say the events that led up to a despotic Justice League aren’t really covered in the game and that the comic does a wonderful job of it so you’ll need to read those for the back story. On one hand this is a bit disappointing that the core plot point of the game is glossed over so that you purchase the comics, but on the other the comics are quite well done and they are only ninety-nine cents each, so it’s a push. I was a bit let down that the storytelling in-game was nowhere as good as that in the comics, as the video game is pretty much “play as character A, fight four enemies, then move on to character B.” The plot is in no way shape or form as good as MK Vs. DCU and/or MK9, and the in-game reason for why someone like Green Arrow can now go toe-to-toe with Black Adam had me rolling my eyes, but it is a serviceable bit of fan service that should keep you entertained for the four hours or so it will take to get through it all. Probably my biggest complaint about story mode is that you earn the most XP in the game going through it and you will probably need to do it two or three times to hit Level 100, but there is no way to skip the story points and just go into the battles (saving you 75% of the time with this mode), which is unfortunate, especially if you’ve already played it through once.
Besides story mode, the game offers several variants of multiplayer, both online and off and there are twenty different variants of the standard battle tower, most of which you have to unlock in this game’s version of the Krypt. Classic Battle is where you earn the character endings, which aren’t as good as ones in previous NR games. Perhaps the only one I really loved was Doomsday’s, as it pits him against my favorite bastich. The others are a mix of forgettable, weird, not really endings or just meh. The game also offers a “S.T.A.R. Labs” mode, which is the equivalent of MK9′s Challenge Tower. You have hundreds of short challenges to play through here that range from doing combos to correctly to beating a mess of villains while sporting a handicap.
Overall, there’s not as much to Injustice as there is in previous Netherrealm releases. Story Mode is shorter and not as gripping. There are less play options and the Krypt is a fraction of the usual side, but what’s here is still enjoyable. My first day with the game I beat Story Mode, a bunch of S.T.A.R. lab missions, and Classic Battle with six characters (Nightwing, Deathstroke, Aquaman, Doomsday, Green Arrow and Bane) and that was in about five hours. So yes, the game isn’t as long or as expansive as the last two Mortal Kombat games, but there is still more here than you’ll find in most Capcom or SNK fighters, so you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.
Graphically Injustice: Gods Among Us looks amazing. I’m not a fan of most of the costume redesigns or some of the character models in general, but this really is the best looking fighting game I feel I’ve played besides Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Wii U Edition. Everything is so highly detailed, crisp, and jaw droppingly gorgeous, I’ll be shocked if this doesn’t get our Best Graphics award this year. Everything looks awesome, whether it’s a giant shark, a crumbling Wayne Manor, or beautifully animated violence. One thing Injustice doesn’t do as well as well as MK9 is the in-game battle damage. In MK8 and 9 damage would appear on characters based on where you struck them. In Injustice, it just seems to be randomly occurring. I can’t remember any facial damage for example, but I regularly saw torn shoulder regions. Still, this game is one of the best looking fighting games I’ve ever seen as well as one of the best looking games of the year. Graphics fans, prepare to drool.
The audio aspects of Injustice: Gods Among Us are probably its weakest area. It’s by no means bad, don’t get me wrong; it’s just not as good as the rest of the game. The music is all over the place. The tracks for each stage are fine for what they are, and have that whole Batman:TAS or Richard Donner’s Superman feel to them, but they don’t fit in with what one would expect for fighting game music. The tracks are all very slow and methodical. Perhaps this is the long time KoF gamer in me, but I just prefer something faster or more frantic sounding. Again, the tracks are good, but they feel out of place with a fighting game. Same goes for the credits music. That song is just laughably bad. It sounds like a third rate Nine Inch Nails wannabe and it just doesn’t fit the tone or pacing of the game.
Voice acting is pretty good though. While none of the big name DC voice actors like Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, or Tim Daly reprise their usual characters, the replacements for Batman, Joker, and Superman do a pretty good job of sounding like them. Deathstroke sounds exactly like he should and I really enjoyed most of the voice acting choices. The only one I really couldn’t stand was Harley Quinn as she couldn’t keep her accent solid. Her voice just constantly wavered between doing a terrible Arleen Sorkin impression and just wooden line delivery. I was pretty happy with the acting job across the board with delivery ranging from Captain Marvel (HE IS NOT SHAZAM!) sounding like a boy trapped in a man’s body to Green Arrow’s dry wit.
The gameplay of Injustice is a bit hard to describe. It feels very reminiscent of a Mortal Kombat game, but that’s not quite accurate. Inustice really is its own beast as command input is a lot simpler than in most fighting games but the background is also the most interactive out of any fighting game since Fighting Vipers. You can throw opponents through walls, leading to new locations ala MK Vs. DCU, and you can interact with objects on the screen. Characters with super strength can huck objects while those without can use other items on the screen to dodge or do damage with. It’s pretty intricate at first, especially as you see the stage’s background crumbling whilst you do battle. In truth, though, there isn’t a lot to each stage interactivity wise and you’ll see it all in about an hour or two. It’s still fun, though, and it adds a new dimension to fighting, but go in expecting it to be more shallow than deep and you won’t be disappointed.
The triangle, square, and X buttons all correspond to weak, medium, and strong attacks. The O button changes for each character though. For characters like Nightwing and Wonder Woman, O switches you between weapons and gives your character different attacks. Batman summons robot bats, Doomsday gains armour, Solomon Grundy gets a special throw, the Flash causes his opponent to suffer massive slowdown, and Deathstroke gains unblockable bullets. So on and so forth. This means each character plays noticeably different from each other, far more so than in any other fighting game, so you know have more than rote move memorization to stick in your brains; you also have to remember each character’s special power and how it works. The game also features over-the-top “X-Ray” style moves ala MK9 where the characters do some insane stuff. Superman knocks his opponent off the planet, Doomsday pounds you through the earth, Aquaman summons a giant shark, Wonder Woman has some Amazons come and beat you up, and Nightwing clotheslines you with his staff while driving a motorcycle at top speed. The moves all do a lot of damage and are fun to watch at first, but they do drag on a bit with no way to escape the footage, ala Final Fantasy VII summons spells.
For the most part, gameplay is similar to most fighting games. Every character has special moves, and there’s a power meter than can be used to enhance special moves or to earn that super attack. There are two ways where the game is pretty different from what you are used to, though. The first is the life bar. Injustice does health similar to Darkstalkers 3 in which you have one giant life bar. Once you hit the halfway point (the silver part is gone), action continues going without a round end message or any stoppage. Players don’t regenerate life either. So the loser of the first “round” now has to get rid of all his opponent’s remaining silver and then get rid of the red life bar, while the winner of the previous “round” just has to knock the full red life bar off. I was surprised to see Injustice go this way, but I rather like it. I don’t miss the pause between rounds at all and the one long life bar is a nice call out to one of my favorite franchises. The other new implementation is one I’m not so keen on. There is an option to start a Wager once per match. Here, the game takes a time out and both players bet a portion of their special meter. If the person with the least amount of health wins (by betting more), they gain a portion of health back based on the difference between the two betting amounts. If the player with the most health wins, the other player takes damage based on the difference between the two amounts. I just really hate this feature. It breaks up the action and it seems so useless to me. Anytime anyone has pulled a Wager on me, I don’t bet anything. Then my special meter is still full and the second after they get their health boost, I use my crazy over the top super special move and they’re right back down to where they were. EVERY TIME. So now not only are they back where they started, but their meter is empty and they are at even more of a disadvantage than they were before. I don’t know who thought the Wager was a good idea in theory or practice, but it is just a stupid idea and it breaks up the actual fight.
My biggest disappointment is with the loading. The time to load a match is longer than actually playing it. Then, after each match you have a very long winning segment that can’t be skipped. A typical ten match battle ladder lasts about fifteen minutes, but only four to six of that is actually from playing the game. The rest is winning screens and load times. Ick.
Overall though, I enjoyed my time with Injustice‘s gameplay. There are a lot of neat ideas that make the game stand out from other fighters and even other Netherrealms titles, but I do think they should have cut the loading times in half and made winning scenes (especially the end one when you beat evil Superman) skippable. The game is a bit more shallow than Capcom or SNK fighters, but it’s also easier to learn moves and far more accessible than those same fighters, so checks and balances here. It just depends on what you’re looking for in a fighter.
Replay-wise, Injustice is a few steps back from MK9. There are less characters, less challenges, less to unlock and thus less time to spend with the game. As mentioned earlier, I completed a massive chunk of the single player options in just a few hours and although I’ll probably get a dozen or so hours of playing time out of the game, there’s nothing here that I’d come back to in the long run. MK9 and MK Vs. DCU at least offered stories I’d want to sit through again, but Injustice doesn’t have that. Nearly everything about Injustice is a “one and done” affair, but at least there’s a lot of content here and still more than most fighters. Again, Injustice is a good game – it’s just not a keeper to me. The iOS version, however, IS as it offers FAR more replay value and options, which is a bit sad considering it is a free download.
Balance-wise, Injustice: Gods Among Us is one of the easiest fighting games I’ve ever played. Not only to learn the moves of, but in terms of A.I. Even on the highest difficulty setting, the computer opponents are laughable and at least half of my rounds were perfect. Hell, I double perfected Superman with Bane while my wife watched. The good news is that means this game will be accessible to pretty much anyone, especially those who have given up on the fighting game genre in the past due to crazy long strings of command input needed for various moves (Hello KoF!). It also means the game can be beaten by those who just want the story and battle tower endings. This is great as Injustice just might be the most welcoming fighter ever made, but it also means there is a portion of fighting game fans out there than will crap on the game because it was made for everyone and not their tiny little niche. Is the game so easy that I’m 150-0 without having lost a single round regardless of difficulty? Yes. Are there certain characters that are definitely top tier and unbalanced compared to others? Yes. But I’ll take accessibility to the average gamer over something that features SNK End Boss syndrome constantly any day, and this is coming from someone who didn’t rest until he perfected Galactus in Marvel Vs. Capcom 3. Why? Because it brings in new blood to the genre, which is never a bad thing.
In all, I think Netherrealms has hit on a winning combination. Trying to compare DC’s Injustice to Capcom’s Marvel oriented fighters is like comparing apples to muskrats. Capcom’s Marvel fighters are faster paced and offer little besides the core fighting experience, but are definitely for the upper echelon of fighting game players. Injustice is slower paces, more accessible to newcomers, offers a several hour long story, and some 250+ missions, with DLC coming. It all just depends what you are looking for. I think Injustice adds a several new things to the concept of a fighting game, both good and bad, and although it will be traded in once I finish the missions and get all the endings, it was still a blast to play and I had a hard time putting it down whenever the controller was in my hand. It’s definitely a game that any gamer can pick up and enjoy without having to worry about command strings, Rugal or Geese end bosses, or the like. As long as you are remotely interested in DC characters, you can pick this up and have fun with it – at least for the short term. My biggest complaints about the game are are minor ones, like my disdain for the wager or how I would have rather seen different characters like Booster Gold, Swamp Thing, or Animal Man instead of some of the ones featured here, but that’s because those are the characters I like to read. Plus Booster Gold is pretty much DC’s Johnny Cage in a lot of ways. My hope is that we will see some of those or guys like Lobo and Gorilla Grodd as the DLC characters (Grodd is in the end credits, which I thought was odd since he’s not in the game – yet.) and perhaps the DLC will expand the time Injustice: Gods Among Us stays in my collection. The game IS gorgeous, but I do find the comics line tells a better story and the iOS game offers a lot more replay value and is far more challenging than this console version. When you think about it, though, this means the Injustice franchise has something for everyone and it’s my hopes that this is the first of MANY DC Super Hero fighting games but out by Netherrealm Studios. Perhaps we’ll see them go back and forth between this and Mortal Kombat. I know I’d be there throwing money at them for another one of these, especially if they learn from their mistakes in this game.
Short Attention Span Summary
Injustice: Gods Among Us is a well made and fun game. It’s one of the best looking fighting games ever and the controls are accessible enough that even newcomers to fighting games can play and beat this without having to memorize long command strings and have precision timing. The game is insanely easy compared to other fighters, though, so for those looking for an A.I. based challenge, this probably isn’t for you. Injustice‘s story mode length, playable characters, unlockables and playable options are all a fraction of what Netherrealms gave us in Mortal Kombat 9, so that’s a slight disappointment, but this is also the potential start of a new franchise so I can give them a break there. I will say the Injustice comics do a better job storytelling and the iOS version of the game offers more of a challenge and replay value, but anyone with the slightest interest in DC comic characters or MK style fighters will have a blast with this. It might not be a game you keep in your collection, but it is definitely one well worth experiencing.