Injustice: Gods Among Us in Review

calendar man 4-15 injustice shot 2NetherRealm’s 2011 reboot of Mortal Kombat was an unexpected hit- not to mention one of my favorite games of that year- yet the follow up, Injustice: Gods Among Us has still managed to surprise me and in some ways it’s the superior game. Following on from Kombat ’11, it’s a brutal one-on-one fighting game that manages to pull off that very tricky balance between technical, skill-based gameplay and populist accessibility. It’s packed to bursting with (get this) single player content and of course a great roster of fighters including some of the biggest names in the DC Comics universe. That’s right, this is the game that will finally let you put to rest the question, “who would win in a fight between Harley Quinn and Doomsday?”Unlike Capcom’s Marvel vs. Capcom series, which absolutely wallows in colorful, hyperkinetic absurdity, Injustice is a gritty comic book concept where the characters have to take some kind of Kryptonian pills to withstand being stabbed, shot in the face, punched into orbit, and run over by the Batmobile. And it’s also one of those preposterous alternate universe deals, where Superman is a bad guy in another world. It’s every bit as ridiculous as watching Spider-Man and Okami duking it out, but a much greater attention to framing story and Machiavellian subtext creates an at times awkward atmosphere that juxtaposes the grim with the laughable. Speaking as a comics fan that has long outgrown the whole “endarkening” of the medium that occurred in the late 80s and on through the 1990s, I am somewhat disappointed that it’s not a brighter, more heroic game in a Silver Age vein. Everything is dour- Superman even kills Lois Lane and their unborn baby in the storyline..

But there again, this is a game made by the guys that made Mortal Kombat (and the execrable Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, for that matter) so it stands to follow that this was never going to be a Batman: The Brave and the Bold style title, and there’s nary a place in the game for Plastic Man at all. It feels very much like a mostly bloodless Mortal Kombat apart from the removal of the block button and there aren’t any fatalities or X-ray attacks. They’ve played fast and loose with the formula and have come up with some fun, exciting innovations like a mid-battle power meter wager and ridiculously interactive, destructible environments with multiple areas that I think make Injustice a very strong competitor in what has, in this console generation, become a very crowded genre spoiled by riches.

The mechanics are rock solid, with easy combos and tight timing. The fighters are almost all exciting (apart from Killer Frost) with unique styles and signature attacks. Aquaman is a freaking beast. Normal humans like Catwoman and Joker don’t seem to have any difficulty taking down the more Olympian characters, let alone Superman. This is where the more “realistic”, gritty atmosphere is at odds with the content. But it’s grousing, because when you’re a DC fan and you fire up this game, you’re going to be grinning ear to ear the whole time- regardless of the incredibly ugly, overwrought costumes in which they’ve dressed these classic characters (and Killer Frost).

The first thing I did was to go into the single battles and do pretty much every fight you want to see out of the box. Batman versus Superman, that’s a no brainer as is said Dark Knight versus Joker. Superman versus Doomsday and then against Lex Luthor. Green Lantern contra Sinestro.  Nightwing versus Catwoman, why not? Then you just get silly with Green Arrow up against his hard travelin’ buddy Hal Jordan, Bane squaring off against Solomon Grundy, or with Harley and Joker having a lover’s quarrel.  These first fights- nerding out while breaking in the game’s mechanics and discovering the depth of what it has to offer- were hugely fun. Likewise, the story mode is an absolute blast to play through, even though the writing is god awful and the scenario is like a bad DC Comics summertime crossover event. It’s much like the Mortal Kombat campaign, shifting you between characters and perspectives to tell an actual story beyond “beat these ten guys and then the boss”.

But you want ladders? They got ladders in tons of different mutations with different selections, parameters, and modifications. There is also an analogue of the wonderful challenge tower from Mortal Kombat, a series of often hilarious, frequently difficult mini-challenges that never fail to surprise or excite. It’s also an area of the game where even more DC fan service shows up, including a lot of non-combatant characters. Full tutorials and training are available, and there is a lovely option to show tagged moves from the move list during the game. The developers wanted you to enjoy the game, not be daunted by it.

But if you do want to be daunted, make your way to multiplayer. It’s the usual shark tank. I go on, die a few times, and go back to the single player game. There’s so much of it, and I find it so much more rewarding than nameless, faceless versus matches. That said, if you’ve got some comics and/or fighting game buddies, this game is a couch rocker for sure.

There are a lot of little things I don’t like, but they’re mostly nerdy nitpicks. I can’t stand some of the character models, Wonder Woman in particular. Batman, at least in my experience, kind of sucks. Some of the special attacks lose their spectacle after the 20th or 30th time you’ve seen the fairly lengthy animation. The roster is an easy target, even though it’s stacked with 24 mostly great characters (and Killer Frost). Any DC fan could probably rattle off a list of 20 or so characters that are criminally or sinfully missing- my list would be topped off by Mr. Miracle, Darkseid, Professor Pyg, Ra’s Al Ghul, and John Constantine- but there’s also the promise of DLC characters. But I have a huge problem with paid DLC fighters, hailing as I do from days when you simply unlocked characters by playing a complete-out-of-the-box game. I would advise anyone to consider whether this is a practice you want to support or not by voting against such practices by not buying the season’s pass or whatever else they digitally hawk as add-ons. There’s enough here to enjoy without spending another dollar, unless you’re just a huge Lobo fan. God help you.

Marketing schemes aside, Injustice is a tremendous fighting game with huge play value even for the solo player- and you don’t even need a fight stick to get the most out of it. Comics fans will love the match-ups, attention to detail, and extensive fan service. Fighting game fans will love the tight mechanics, robust mechanics, and innovative concepts. Everybody will love experiencing such a well designed, feature-packed game with virtually endless gameplay.

10 Responses to “Injustice: Gods Among Us in Review”

  1. Crimson Dragoon April 22, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

    I played a couple online matches so I could unlock Green Lantern’s Sinestro Corps costume (you have to win one ranked match), and I have no plans on returning again. Online fighting isn’t for me either.

    And I have to wonder, why all the Killer Frost hate? Is it that she’s not a major character (because there’s a couple others in there) or something more?

    • Michael Barnes April 22, 2013 at 6:51 pm #

      It’s just disheartening to have somebody you don’t know beat your face in mercilessly because they’ve either made a deal with the devil to be good at the game or they’ve got some kind of ridiculous time to devote to practicing or whatever. One of the things about both this and Mortal Kombat that I like better than any other fighting game is that they DO NOT skimp on the single player activities, and it’s more than just ladders or one-off fights.

      Killer Frost is lame. She’s a fourth-string character that feels tacked in just fill either/or the “female” and “cold” character slot. Thing is, there’s plenty of other females they could have gone with- Big Barda, Zatanna, Poison Ivy, Black Canary, Huntress (I MEAN COME ON!)…if they needed a chilly/icy character- duh, Mr. Freeze. Or Captain Cold, since there’s a not a Flash rogue in the set.

      I’m not crazy about Raven either, actually, but I’ll accept her as a Titans rep (although Cyborg is in there too).

      There’s SO MANY DAMN characters that would be awesome to see…Kilowog, Red Hood, Orion, Gorilla Grodd (I MEAN COME ON!), all of the Doom Patrol (1960s version or Morrison version), Kamandi the Last Boy, Red Tornado, Catman, Etrigan, Animal Man, Swamp Thing…the list just goes on and on and on.

      But yeah, Killer Frost. Ares is the other blunder, he’s just really blah in a game where you’ve got such awesome characters.

      • Crimson Dragoon April 22, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

        I can understand that. With Ares, at least, I can kind of see where they’re coming from. They need a big Wonder Woman villain, and Cheetah is probably too similar to the much more well-known Catwoman, as least in the general public’s eye. But still, you’re right, why no Flash villain, or Aquaman villain (Black Manta is my big WTF missing character)?

        • Michael Barnes April 23, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

          Yes, thank you, where the hell is Black Manta? He even had a good showing last year in the New 52 Aquaman book, and he’s a really distinctive-looking character. Ares just looks like…a Mortal Kombat character. Maybe that’s what the thinking was, I dunno.

          No Flash villain is a crime…Mirror Master, Weather Wizard…so many fun rogues. But they’re not all hard ass and dark.

  2. nicthaninja April 22, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

    How do they deal with the fact that Superman is fighting people like the Joker? Does everyone get infused with some kryptonite? The answer has no bearing on my purchasing I will pass because it’s a fighter and I hate fighters.

    • Michael Barnes April 22, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

      They literally go out of the way- with the Joker in particular- to explain this in the story. There’s these…uh…Kryptonian pills…that everybody takes to be able to withstand things like getting shot in the face or punched in the balls by Superman. It’s kind of hilarious because it’s so unbelievably contrived. It’s more of an explanation than you get from Marvel vs. Capcom, where you learn that Mega Man is fighting Thor…just because.

  3. Autistic Angel April 23, 2013 at 9:41 pm #

    I think we need a special edition podcast where Barnes and Brandon lay down some knowledge on the Injustice story line. For example:

    1) Slade from Teen Titans is the same guy as Deathstroke from Justice League Unlimited? When did this happen?

    2) Damian Wayne. What the who now?

    3) If Raven’s powers are governed by emotion, how can she be seething with so much rage in this game?

    4) I thought the dude who yelled “SHAZAM!” all the time was named Captain Marvel, but everyone in this game just calls him Shazam. Is that a thing, or are they just trying to avoid confusion with Marvel Comics?

    5) Is the CW television series ‘Arrow’ any good?

    6) What’s the deal with those two giants slugging it out in the background of one of the stages? Even with all the crazy stuff going on by that point in the story, that seems like the sort of thing people would comment on.

    7) If taking Kryptonian Advil gives a normal person superhuman resilience, what would it do for Superman? Or Doomsday, for that matter?

    8) Why would Batman invent a [SPOILER] that requires so many [SPOILERS] on hand for him to access? All things considered, his safeguards seem designed to prevent him from ever [OMG SPOILERZ] on a whim — they sure wouldn’t slow down the average wall-shatting superdude.

    9) What’s Martian Manhunter up to, hanging out in the background while Harley Quinn pounds the everloving crap out of Solomon Grundy on the Watchtower concourse? Does he have a rule about non-intervention in human affairs and hilariously unlikely matchups?

    • Michael Barnes April 24, 2013 at 12:14 pm #

      I can field these:

      1) Yeah…I think it comes from way back in ’84 or so, the Teen Titans storyline “The Judas Contract”. Not sure if that’s where it originated, but it’s part of that. It’s regarded as one of the best Titans stories, I wasn’t particularly impressed with it…but I also didn’t read it in ’84, when it probably had more impact.

      2) Damian Wayne is Bruce Wayne’s son via Talia al Ghul. He’s been in the comics for the past several years, courtesy Grant Morrison’s AMAZING run on Batman. He was raised by Talia to be the successor to Bruce Wayne, but he was also trained by the League of Shadows to be a ruthless killer. Bruce takes him and he becomes Robin, but a very different kind of Robin- he’s more or less a psychopath. Over the course of the run, he changes quite a lot and becomes a rather amazing character. He never takes on the Nightwing mantle, but I think that’s a feasible course of action considering he has this sort of brotherly rivalry with Dick Grayson. Read the Batman & Son trade.

      3) Because NetherRealm. There is no emotion other than anger.

      4) Yeah, there was some litigation many years ago so he sort of just became Shazam…it’s still the Marvel family though.

      5) I didn’t like the first couple of episodes- it’s obviously taking a huge nip from the Batman Begins bottle, but I don’t like Green Arrow as an ultra-serious, dark character. That said, the last couple of Jeff Lemire-penned issues were quite good.

      6) Atom Smasher (JSA member) and…uh…Susan the Giantess? I can’t remember her name for some reason.

      7) Increase bloodflow to that certain part of the male anatomy.

      8) Yeah, that is kind of weird. Typically when they do the whole “Batman has plans for you” story (see Mark Waid’s “Tower of Babel” from JLA or the Doom animated film), he’s definitely not designing his failsafes to require vetting from other folks. I think it was mostly to show that cool hand imprint thing, color coded to the characters. “Yellow, great.”

      9) I KNOW! He’s all like “I ain’t gettin’ involved in this”. You’d figure he’d be saying “Hey guys, can you take this out of the control room?”

  4. Beeblebrox April 24, 2013 at 5:05 am #

    I want this game so bad – demo was nice, reviews are universally positive, and even people/gamers seem to like it. Trouble is, I don’t want to watch new characters being released as DLC, so I’ll wait for some Ultra Arcade Super Duper Komplete edition with all DLC (it won’t take longer than 1 year… hopefully, because I’m still waiting for SFxTekken Super Arcade Whatnot edition).

    • Michael Barnes April 24, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

      Yeah, I would have too but the PR man at Warner Bros. was kind enough to send a review copy. There probably will be a collection, and I would actually probably buy it. Or trade this copy in toward it, at least.

      Thing is, I do want more characters and I hope they do some really cool ones…but I don’t buy DLC, so there’s that.

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