Stop reading my mind, Ed Boon!
I am, admittedly, a creature of habit. I spend 6.8 percent of my day thinking of friends and loved ones, 9.4 percent of my day thinking about what I’m going to eat for lunch and dinner, and the remaining 83.8 percent of my day thinking about comic-book “What Ifs?” Would Bane be able to go toe-to-toe with Solomon Grundy? Could Green Arrow ever stand up to Superman? Could Shazam, Earth’s Mightiest Mortal, strike down Ares? Could Nightwing surpass his teacher and beat down Batman? Now, NetherRealm Studios has provided me with an outlet for my musings that’s so perfect, so tailor-made for geeks like me, that there’s only one possible explanation: Ed Boon is psychic.
Potential clairvoyance aside, Injustice: Gods Among Us looks to answer many of those questions that I ponder daily by taking 24 of the DC Universe’s most infamous heroes and villains and pitting them against each other in a 2.5D fighter. Building off the foundation of NetherRealm’s last outing, the 2011 Mortal Kombat reboot, Injustice offers a bevy of modes that provide more depth than most other fighters in both its single player and multiplayer menus.
Being the massive comic-book fan that I am, I was initially drawn to the single-player story mode. We open with the revelation that the Joker has committed the unthinkable—he’s detonated a nuke in Metropolis, annihilating the entire populace, including everyone that Superman knows and loves. We then follow the fallout from this horrendous incident as Superman is pushed past a line he never knew existed.
The story unfolds across nearly 50 fights and a handful of minigames—ranging from button-prompt challenges and “Test Your Might”-style button-mashing marathons—through a dozen chapters, each marked by the player taking the helm of a new hero or villain. These are linked together then by gorgeous cutscenes that set the stage for a conflict of the most epic proportions, all as Injustice’s story hits notes reminiscent of some of DC’s most thrilling comic arcs from days gone by. And it even finds an interesting way to explain how the likes of the Joker and Batman can so easily go against Superman and Green Lantern.
But the story mode barely even scratches the surface of the depth this game offers. If you’re more an old-school arcade ladder fan, then Battles mode offers you plenty of options. Not only is there a classic mode where you get a short cutscene tailored to each character after you best 10 different enemies, but there are dozens of stipulations you can select from to add to your challenge. Want to face off against the whole roster? How about doing it with a single lifebar? Or maybe you want a series of mirror matches? These are just a few of the plethora of other challenges available in Battles mode and that’ll keep this disc warm in your system for hours.
But wait! There’s even more! Continuing to build off that Mortal Kombat foundation I mentioned earlier, Injustice also includes S.T.A.R. Labs, a spandexed twist on Mortal Kombat‘s popular Challenge Tower mode that provides each individual character with 10 unique missions that offer a variety of gameplay situations that deviate from the standard fighter formula—all while still providing a fun and interesting set of challenge parameters.
And if that weren’t enough, you’ve got the local and online multiplayer, with the online offering not only your standard ranked 1-on-1 scenarios, but also King of the Hill, where you can enter a queue in a room of fighters and watch other matches take place, or Survivor, where your lifebar and character selection carries over in each match.
Now, I know what you’re saying. If you’re a fighting-game fan like me, you know that a game could have a story from the likes of Marv Wolfman or Frank Miller and have 100 modes that are as deep and well thought out as the ones I’ve described in Injustice, but if it doesn’t handle well, it’s all for naught. The gameplay itself has to be there, the combos have to flow smoothly, and the fighting can’t get dull or boring.
This happens to be where Injustice shines like the Brightest Day.
The thing that surprised me the most was the removal of the traditional rounds we see in most other fighters. Taking a page out of the comics Injustice is inspired by, most monumental bouts between superhero and villain heavyweights will just continue non-stop. In order to embody this idea, Injustice gives every fighter two lifebars, with only a small pause in the action signifying someone has lost their first life bar and a new “round” is then starting. I admit, I was skeptical of this gimmick, but after only a few fights, it became a natural part of the conflict for me. The old premise of rounds was almost completely wiped from my memory as new strategies formed to take advantage of this inventive new wrinkle.
After putting several more matches in, I didn’t see, but I felt the combos flowing like Aquaman riding the surf, as it was easier than ever to pull off some ridiculously long hit combinations, especially with quicker characters like Harley Quinn or Nightwing. As anyone who’s been pinned against an invisible arena walls until the match is over knows, though, this isn’t necessarily a good thing. To balance this, there are a couple of new ways to counter or interrupt these combos and give you a chance to deliver your own punishing pounding.
The power meter system, another Mortal Kombat element, returns to allow players to pump up their special attacks. A full meter allows for the amazing, over-the-top specials that decimate opponents when they hit, but it also acts as a currency for moves called Clashes. A Clash is when a player decides to initiate a forced confrontation with his opponent and gambles some of his special meter. Depending on how much you gamble and who initiates the Clash, you can instantly cause huge damage to your opponent or heal a large chunk of your lifebar. These Clashes, when used properly, can very easily turn a match if not careful. Several times, my opponent and I were down to less than half of our last lifebars when one of us hit a Clash, regained a third of our health, and were able to ride this late boost to victory.
The most ingenious additions to the gameplay, though, are the interactive environments. Across 15 different levels—most with multiple transitions to different sections of the world—you can interact with the background and drop surprisingly powerful attacks on your opponents that take advantage of your particular character’s natural abilities. Get backed into a corner as Bane? A quick tap of the right bumper will have him pick up a car and smash it over your opponent. Should you be playing as the Flash, though, you’ll simply jump off the car to then get behind your opponent and put them in the corner. Laser cannons, chandeliers, statues, robots, jet engines, and anything else you come across can be used to turn the tide of battle and I still haven’t found them all after literally pouring nearly 30 hours into the game.
When all is said and done, Injustice: Gods Among Us isn’t just another fighting game. It’s the ultimate in fan service and an unmistakable labor of love. This is the kind of game DC fans have been dreaming of seeing their heroes in for a long time. On top of the stellar gameplay and cornucopia of modes, there’s a treasure trove full of unlockables, amazing graphics, and superb audio, with a voice cast pulled from the annals of DC Animation’s greats—even if not all of them are in their traditional roles (i.e., Phil LaMarr as Aquaman). And the only knocks against this entire experience are minor. The load times are obnoxiously long and frequent between each battle, but even that can be forgiven when you see what you can do in the levels and how smooth every single fight is once it starts. A few character move sets have shades of Mortal Kombat leak through like Batman/Scorpion, Raven/Ermac, and Killer Frost/Sub-Zero, but everyone else seems truly and wholly original. And I wish the mirror match clones were more easily discernible as they look exactly the same as you do. I’m really nitpicking there, though. I can’t stress enough how polished this game is in nearly every facet. This is a satisfying, must-have gaming experience on every level.
|Developer: NetherRealm Studios • Publisher: Warner Bros. Int. Ent. • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 04.16.13
One of the best all-around fighting experiences you’re likely to find—and fans of both DC Comics and Mortal Kombat-style fighters will be blown away by this high-quality brawler of epic proportions.
||A story worthy of the comics, near-flawless mechanics, and enough collectibles to make this one of the deepest fighters you’ll ever see.
||Obnoxiously long and frequent load times.
||Solomon Grundy takes the cake here.
|Injustice: Gods Among Us is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii U. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.