Injustice: Gods Among Us – Review

Title   Injustice: Gods Among Us
Developer  NetherRealm Studios
Publisher  Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platform  iOS, Xbox 360 (reviewed), Playstation 3, Wii U
Genre  Fighting
Release Date  19th April 2013
Official Site

Videogames have taught me many important lessons: you have to fight for what you want, love is worth visiting a few castles for, diversity is the key to a good team, and Superman is a dick.  In retrospect, I think that I knew that last one all along, but sometimes it’s nice to be validated, and in any case, Injustice certainly confirmed my opinion of Clark Kent. In reality, calling him a dick is probably pretty harsh; I have nothing expressly against him – he is a superhero after all – but I find something about him utterly insufferable. Maybe it’s that he is essentially all-powerful, or maybe it’s just that he comes off as rather arrogant. Whatever it is, he is one of my least favourite superheroes, so the opportunity to beat the crap out of him was much appreciated.  Injustice provides not only the opportunity, but the motive, too.

If you were to take Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe and remove all the blood, gore and, well, Mortal Kombat, then you would have the beginnings of Injustice: Gods Among Us. The developers of the long-running Mortal Kombat series, NetherRealm took those bare bones and fleshed them out into a meaty, tasty, hugely enjoyable fighting game that samples the best that DC has to offer.  Having said that, you wouldn’t be blamed if you thought this was actually a Batman title – five of the 24 character slots are made up by friends and enemies of The Bat, and the man himself also takes up a slot. Apart from Gotham’s finest – and worst – there are heroes from a myriad of other universes, including Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Shazam (or Captain Marvel as he used to be known) and Superman himself. Each of the characters fall into one of two classes – power or tech – that dictate how they fight, ensuring that there is plenty of variety among the roster.

The classes that the characters fall into not only affect their style of fighting, but also how they interact with the stages that they fight upon. Throughout matches there is the ever-present option of turning the tables on your opponent using items that seem to be in the background. It’s a balm when you’re stuck in a corner and suddenly hit your enemy square in the face with a missile. Power characters like Bane and Superman do just that, while tech characters like Batman and Deathstroke instead use the missiles as a pad to launch over the heads of enemies, often planting a bomb in the process.

The way stages work are a genuinely interesting change to the old formula of just giving players something interesting to look at while they hand out a beatdown, instead using them to reflect the action that is happening in the match. As the biggest hits are landed the environment shakes and shudders, falling apart around the two combatants, and should it get boring there is always the option to smash your opponent through a wall or two into the secondary part of the stage, where there are even more things to interact with and make fall down around your ears.  The reason this whole ‘reflection of the fight’ business works so well is the feel of impact that there is in each battle. Each blow that the combatants land is wonderfully meaty, and you certainly feel the impact of attack after attack. When you’re under attack the impacts will certainly make you wince, and when you’re on the attack you’ll suddenly get that sadistic glow all the best fighting titles invoke.

Pulling off the moves that invoke that glow is not that difficult, as Injustice has a rather simple system: there are light, heavy and strong attacks mapped to the various face buttons, with the last of those buttons triggering a unique ability that can range from buffing attack strength to switching weapons, with everything and anything between. It’s another thing that keeps each character interesting and unique, with some of the abilities genuinely useful and others less so. Bane’s Venom – for example – buffs attack damage but leaves him slower and more vulnerable once it runs out. Weighing up when and how to use these custom abilities is a huge part of being successful, as using them correctly can either leave you victorious or crushed into the dust. The combat is perhaps a little loose on occasion – every so often you’ll do a move you didn’t intend to, even when you know that you’re pushing the right buttons.

Each character is equipped with a grab and a plethora of special moves, all of these filling up the little super bar that’s fast becoming a fixture of any 2D fighter. Much like most other super bars, you can burn segments to power up certain moves, but NetherRealm have introduced something new in the form of clashes. When a clash is instigated both players have to wager up chunks of their saved up special bar, and whoever wagers the most wins the clash. If the defending player – the one who instituted the clash – wins then they get up to a third of their health back. Should they lose however, they take damage within the same range. It’s a risk, but as clashes can only be initiated after you’ve lost a round, it can certainly be rewarding. Alternatively, you can save it up in order to use a super move, all of these dealing plenty of damage and are visually impressive and then some.

In fact, this whole title is pretty good looking, things are occasionally muddy, but that’s more than made up for by some of the character designs, which see the DC characters given NetherRealm twists. That means armour-plating, damage after a fight and characters that seem ever so slightly bigger than other inhabitants of the world. It all combines to make the fights a pleasure to watch, even when you’re not really taking part.  That same visual splendour is extended to the story mode, by far the stand-out element of Injustice. It takes a lot from Mortal Kombat 9 – NetherRealm’s last release – in format, with fights being interspersed with extended cut-scenes. This presents the opportunity for a detailed narrative, and one that is delivered with aplomb and pulls no punches – Injustice has a far darker tone than the superhero films we’ve grown so used to, beginning with the destruction of Metropolis and growing ever darker. It’s a wonderful story that wouldn’t be at all out of place in an animated film or television series. There are some genuinely emotional moments, and the climax to the tale is satisfying and in line with the characters that they are using.

Not everything about Injustice is perfect, and unfortunately in this case the problem is a big one. There is plenty of single player content – twenty different battles (arcades) to play through, each with a different condition attached, and a mode that is quite similar to MK9′s challenge mode – putting each character through situations both wacky and otherwise that test the players skill with them. As brilliant as this is, it does show off rather clearly the problems that the online modes have – namely that they’re not very good.  In non ranked matches you can join in King of the Hill and Survivor matches, setting players against each other in lobbies where the winner stays on. There are minor changes between the two modes – you can vote on who you will think will win in King of the Hill mode, and in Survivor mode the winner doesn’t regain health – but they are essentially the same thing, and basically amounts to playing a few matches – if you’re good enough – and then waiting ten minutes or so to try again.

Ranked matches – likely to be the online staple for most people – are even worse. It takes ages to find matches, and when you do they are almost constantly frustrating, simply because of the tactics employed by the players. It’s probably harsh to bring up the behaviour of the players, but after you’ve been killed by Deathstroke half a dozen times in a row because he just stands at one end of the stage and shoots you over and over you get a little frustrated, especially if you’re waiting five minutes at a time just to find a match. You’re also taken back to the online menu after every bout – there is no option to just search again for a new one, so it’s all a bit clunky and unpleasant.

If you do manage to rack up a few wins you’ll start to move through player levels, in turn giving you credits to unlock things in the Archive. There are alternate costumes, concept art, music and experience boosts to unlock. The experience boosts work for up to fifty matches, depending on how many credits you are willing to spend. Unfortunately you lose any boosts that you have when you switch your console off, something that is a tad ridiculous and meant that I once lost forty matches worth of boost. It’s frustrating to say the least, especially when you consider how much experience you need to progress through the higher levels. Moving between levels 50 and 51 alone is well over 40K points, and you only earn about 1000 points per match – it’ll be a miracle if you reach level 100 anytime this year.

That’s okay though, because Injustice really is a great deal of fun to play. It would have been nice if the online mode was a little better, but even then there is plenty to do on the single-player side. With all the different battle modes to try out you won’t be getting bored any time soon, and should you play through the classic mode you are given a short character-specific ending on top of the wonderful story mode. There’s a large roster that will have something for almost everyone, and the DC character focus means that even if you’re not the biggest fan of fighters you’ll find something to enjoy in this.

I loved the look of Injustice when I played it at Gamescom and it didn’t disappoint. It’s fun, it’s meaty and there is plenty to enjoy, like beating the crap out of Superman. The story mode is also brilliant, and is, without a doubt, one of the very best I’ve had the pleasure to experience in a 2D fighter, and it’s almost worth buying this to experience the story alone. If you like DC and fighting games then it’s well worth getting Injustice. It won’t disappoint.

  • Fantastic story
  • High-impact combat
  • Interactive environments
  • Fantastic character designs
  • It’s DC. And that’s awesome
  • The online mode isn’t great
  • Combat is a little loose at times
  • Terrible level progression

DC has flirted with fighters before, but never with this kind of success. Even without the DC characters it would stand alone as a good fighting game, but with them it has appeal beyond simply decent mechanics. The story is superb, characters interact wonderfully and occasionally there is even some genuine emotion injected.

There is a concerted effort to make sure your attention is maintained, with dozens of different modes to try, stages with multiple sections and characters that have powers unique to them. It succeeds too, providing a genuinely enjoyable experience as long as you don’t try and play online.

In fact, apart from the dodgy online experience and the frankly awful level system, everything's good. It looks good, plays good, feels good. It is good. It just doesn’t have fatalities.

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