"Let me be frank with you: If you are approaching anything comic book related without a willing suspension of disbelief, you’re doing it wrong."
While Injustice: Gods Among Us is still firmly planted within the fighting genre, it does mark developer NetherRealm Studios first trip outside of the Mortal Kombat universe since 2011’s Mortal Kombat, the first fighting game post-Street Fighter IV to enjoy such widespread popularity with gamers. So, did NetherRealm do it again? Can they win the hearts and minds of their core fan-base and please your everyday gamer? Let’s find out with our Injustice: Gods Among Us review.
There’s been a lot of stink made about the relative position Injustice occupies on the “reality” spectrum. Some reviewers have found it difficult to stomach the manner in which this particular interpretation of the DC Universe is presented, while others have found it more than serviceable. Let me be frank with you: If you are approaching anything comic book related without a willing suspension of disbelief, you’re doing it wrong. So, if you couldn’t possibly be okay with a pill engineered to increase bone and muscle density by a couple thousand percent; if you couldn’t possibly find it within yourself to be pleased with the idea of Wonder Woman fighting the likes of a mere mortal like Harley Quinn; if you just simply don’t like anything that doesn’t align with the reality that you perceive to be the truth within the DC universe, than stay far, far, far away from Injustice.
"Much like Mortal Kombat, it’s broken down into 12 chapters with the player switching characters each chapter."
This game is crazy, absurd and absolutely bonkers in the best ways possible. Most of this comes through in the game’s story mode. I’m not going to ruin anything for you, but let’s just say that, aside from being predictable, it manages to be coherent despite the amount of ridiculousness that it contains. We’re talking alternate-dimension levels of ridiculousness here people. It’s cinematic and the presentation of the story is superb, as one would expect from NetherRealm. Much like Mortal Kombat, it’s broken down into 12 chapters with the player switching characters each chapter. In between some fights players can expect to play a few button-pressing events, standard “press X, then press Y, then press X,X,A” stuff. These events don’t feel out of place, they’re just simply bad. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m pretty done with the whole “press X to blow this car up” way of game design. I’d much rather you let me blow the car up some other way. Like, I don’t know, let me punch the shit out of it, or use my laser eyes to cut it into pieces, and don’t simply make me press a button to do it. These types of events have no place in fighting games.
Fleshing out the single-player experience are several other modes. You have Single Fight mode, which is exactly what it sounds like. There is also a mode called Battles which is your Mortal Kombat fight ladder experience. New to this type of mode, however, is the ability to set certain conditions for the fight ladder experience. For example there are rules you can activate that only allow you to do damage with special attacks, rules that require you to defeat all of your opponents in 30 seconds or less each match and there’s even a rule that requires you to defeat everyone in the ladder collectively in under three minutes. There is also Star Labs, akin to Mortal Kombat’s Challenge Tower mode. In Star Labs, players with play through a series of 10 missions per character. Some missions are button-pressing affairs like the one mentioned earlier. Others are full on fights with certain stipulations or environmental hazards. As a mode, Star Labs works, it makes sense and significantly lengthens the singe-player experience. You’re going to want to play these modes too, because this is where a good portion of the game’s ridiculous number of unlockables can be had.
"Every move of the joystick, every timing of a button press, everything hinges on there being no latency between when you push a button and when something happens on the screen."
The multiplayer components of Injustice are found in the game’s same-screen versus mode and online multiplayer. Players can square off in a standard 1v1 match or join a King of the Hill room where a lobby of players fight. If you lose you are sent back to the lobby; but, if you win, you stay and fight the next challenger, and you continue to do this until someone usurps you as “King of the Hill.”
Most reviewers were playing prior to launch, so their experiences may not necessarily be representative of how well the multiplayer works. Since we didn’t get a review copy, I’ve spent the better part of the last day online with the masses, trying to iron out how well the game performs when you throw an Internet connection into the mix. Fighting games are awful things to have to play online. Every move of the joystick, every timing of a button press, everything hinges on there being no latency between when you push a button and when something happens on the screen. It’s been the bane of fighting games for a while now, and it was a particular issue with NetherRealm’s last outing with online multiplayer in Mortal Kombat. The online play in Injustice is pretty hit and miss. If you are paired with someone who has a three or four bar connection than matches usually play out with relatively low latency; but, in matches where connections are less than three—and, boy, are there ever quite a few of them—there is significant latency. Luckily, the servers will almost always decide to disconnect the match and throw you back into the queue. I expect these sort of things to become less of an issue as time goes on and NetherRealm has released a few updates or maybe even a patch to optimize online play.
There are a few new systems in Injustice that anyone who is coming to the game from Mortal Kombat is going to have to get used to. This time around players will have the option of starting a Clash during a fight. A Clash has players place bets with their super meter, anywhere from 0% to 100% of it with the measurements being broken down into quarters. Depending on who initiates a clash and who wins or loses you either lose or gain health from the exchange. I found the clash system to be a nice little addition at first, but eventually—and especially after I started playing on hard difficulty—I found the clash system to be cheap. I felt cheated and slighted when the 17-hit combo I landed on Superman suddenly disappeared because he started a clash with a full meter whereas I had no meter. He won. The result meant that he gained back all the health he lost in the 17-hit combo and then some. I commend NetherRealm for throwing something new into the formula, but this particular mechanic felt more like a check on my skill as a player than it did a mechanic that adds a layer of tactical depth to fights.
"The super moves, however, are preposterous, ridiculous and entirely nonsensical, and I absolutely love them."
Destructible environments are also featured as a new mechanic. There are certain odds and ends that the big guys can grab and throw at you, but smaller more gadget oriented characters simply jump off of them. The ability to use the environment is a cool addition, but it doesn’t take long for everything to disappear. And Cthulhu help you if you happen to be one of those gadget oriented players fighting one of the big guys, because odds are you’ll spend the first 10 to 15 seconds of a match dodging everything your bigger opponent can grab and throw at you. Not only does it seem a bit unfair, but it also takes away one of the gadget character’s main draws, the fact that he or she can circumvent their opponent with superior acrobatics. Well, when Solomon Grundy picks up a gigantic glass fish bowl and hurls it across the room, your gadget character-specific ability disappears entirely at the expense of an advantage to your opponent. You do have the option of turning the objects off during a fight, so purists can have a more traditional experience. The destructible environments are very cool, don’t me wrong. I just wish a little more thought had gone into how those destructible environments played across the roster.
Each character also has access to a character-specific character power that is activated by pressing the B or circle button, respectively. With a press of a button Wonder Woman can switch between her lasso and sword and shield, Superman can add extra damage to his attacks for a short time, or Killer Frost can coat her hands in ice, freezing and therefore slowing the attacks of her opponent. Some characters rely on their characters power less than others, like Harley Quinn for example. For the likes of Green Arrow and Batman, they are essential. The super moves, however, are preposterous, ridiculous and entirely nonsensical, and I absolutely love them. My hat is off to NetherRealm for giving the finger to realism and saying, “Yeah, that’s just too cool not to do. We’re doing that.”
The combat itself is the same rigid, twitchy style of play that players may be familiar with from Mortal Kombat. Some who initially approach Injustice’s combat may be inclined to label it as shallow and that oft-used phrase “dumbed down.” But, this isn’t the case at all. Yes, it’s true that there was clearly an effort made by NetherRealm to make the game more accessible in a “pick up and play” kind of way; but, the ease with which one can initially pick up the combat belies the depth and complexity that players will find if they stick with it. Initial mechanics soon give way EX moves, juggling combos, bounce cancels that alter the properties of special moves, and overhead bounce moves that can bounce players in certain directions to set up the use of a particular special move or series of combos. It really isn’t as simple as it may first appear, and the game can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. You can determine the level at which you wish to engage the game’s combat mechanics.
The biggest thing that Injustice has going for it though isn’t any of the stuff I mentioned above. It isn’t the fantastic single-player modes, or the well-designed combat. Nope. Its x-factor lies in its ability to let people who have ever wondered what would happen if Batman squared off against Raven, if Wonder Woman took Superman to task on Themyscira, or if The Joker and Harley Quinn ever decided to have it out, act out and actually experience their fantasy through an interactive medium. It’s an undeniable “cool” factor that not too many games can claim to have. With Injustice: Gods Among Us, NetherRealm Studios has created a game that’s simply a blast to play. It makes me excited about games, and there aren’t too many games coming out these days that do that to me.
Review by: Jon Hamlin | Reviewed on: Xbox 360