The last time a game with DC comic book characters met up with Mortal Kombat influence, we were subjected to a rather dull, boring, and mainly bullshit game. Understandably it was an attempt to bring DC into the fighting game genre. We’ve had Marvel based fighting games for a long time, but any foray into the DC universe is met with a resounding failure. The more recent attempts at a DC universe game presence, such as the Batman: Arkham series seems to have put new life into a tired idea. What we get, is a rather pleasant surprise with NetherRealm Studios’ Injustice: Gods Among Us.
Most of the early fighting games were based solely on the vs. mode. Sure, there was the challenge tower, scale up the ranks versus ever increasingly difficult AI players (Curse you Goro!), but there was never a real story. In later years, games attempted to bring in a story to match up with the fighting, but the script never really consisted of much, just a lead in to a new stage and a new opponent. In more recent years, story lines have gotten better and more fleshed out, but they were mainly gimmicks to try and keep the game fresh.
The story mode in Injustice is where this game goes above and beyond most fighting games. The story follows the Injustice comic book arc, which is actually fairly riveting. There won’t be any real spoilers in this review, so for a succinct explanation: Parallel DC Universe, something bad happens, Superman goes insane, heroes take over the world to stop crime, other heroes from a parallel parallel universe show up. The plot line allows for a bit of realism when Batman has to face Batman, etc. It operates like the usual Mortal Kombat scenarios where you follow a certain character for a chapter, then switch to a new version, all the while taking on different opponents. To top it off, the game merges these fight sequences almost flawlessly, never interrupting the story.
Gameplay is what this title is really about so lets get more into that aspect. Mixing up the heroes and villains of one of the most complex comic universes in a mash-em-up arena just screams fanboy. Pitting Superman vs Batman is a big time conversation piece when discussing the comic universe and now you get to fight it out. Of course, there is no kryptonite and Superman can’t liquify Batman using his heat vision, but the battle is still fun nonetheless. One lackluster part to the fighting is that nobody ever dies (aka no MK fatality system) although some super moves would kill just about anyone. For instance Doomsday punching an opponent through the Earth’s core and back again (molten magma just isn’t hot enough anymore) or Joker shooting someone in the face and then putting a bazooka to their head (he’s just too old to not be shooting blanks). They simply keel over or sink to their knees in defeat. It would have been much cooler to see Deathstroke cut off a limb or see Superman knock a guy’s head off. It makes sense that there aren’t any fabulous over the top gore since this is DC and not MK we are dealing with, but some additional brutality would have made the game even cooler.
Earlier fighting games always took a standard approach to their balancing systems. The same button sequence would initiate a combo that did the same amount of damage, but might have one character uppercut while another kicked upwards. While this worked fine for many years, fighting games have moved on from the “pick your favorite and let’s duke it out” idea. Characters have become more refined, their combo moves unique, their abilities more pronounced, and as each of these characters have specific move sets, practice mode has become a necessary addition. With Injustice, players can hotlink different combo keys to the top of their screen so you don’t have to continuously pause the game to check a list. This comes in handy when trying to hit higher percentage combos without having to check and recheck the menu screen. Another added addition that Injustice brings to the table is the inclusion of frame rate data displayed for every individual move and combo.
Along with the characters, maps have evolved over the years as well. Screen transitions and destructible environments are no longer casually added in, they are expected. These additions change how the map can play out for each different character and their opponents. Using a lighter gadget character (Batman, Catwoman, Flash, etc) allows you to navigate the map using quick jumps off of certain environmental hazards or use a smaller attack version, whereas the power user characters (Superman, Wonder Woman, Solomon Grundy) can use these same hazards as projectiles and explosives. Knowing where these hazards are and how your opponent can use them can mean the difference between victory and defeat. These hazards are unblockable, so you need to either be on your toes and attack them as soon as they pick them up, or use them all yourself.
Unfortunately in regards to the maps, the random selection process is rather problematic. It’s been the system for decades, however maps and their interactive character/hazard relationships have never been as pronounced as they have in this game. Each time players put up a map they feel will most benefit their character, they run the risk of being on a map that will leave them practically defenseless. It’s not the most ideal system, but it still works better than most games out there.
Other than the story, there are several other local single-player modes for gamers to explore. One interesting new mode is the S.T.A.R. Labs missions. They work on the same principle as the Mortal Kombat challenge towers, whether it’s a button mash of Flash and Superman racing each other, or a timed beat em up. Rewards from these missions can purchase new modes and costumes for your favorite characters.
Overall, the game is a satisfying fighting game that adds in some of the favorites in the DC Universe. The controls are a little temperamental and sometimes the blocking system doesn’t work 100% of the time, but the combos flow well, and you can block the majority of superpowers. Character traits add a unique element to the genre, and they work well against each other. The game is fairly balanced and rewards the players who controls the characters more than the characters that the players choose. While it would have been a better improvement to add the option of turning off destructible hazards, they do add a new challenge to the playing field. The online netcode is very consistent for a fighter, although you will get a disconnect notice every now and again. The game provides any fighting fan countless hours of fun and challenge and is definitely worth a purchase.
On another note, someone at NetherRealms is a huge Aquaman fan because he goes from being a ridiculed background character to being the most overpowered egomaniac you can play as. Cheap bastard.