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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.

Persona 4 Arena in Review

If you’re one of these oh-so-with-it 8-bit indie hipsters that think that the Japanese game industry is over, odds are that the notion of fine purveyors of “soulless” Japanese fare such as Atlus and Arc System Works teaming up to produce a fighting game based on a venerated JRPG series will make you turn up your nose. But if you like colorful, stylish, exciting, and purely fun to play video games then I’m happy to report that Persona 4 Arena is those things and it’s imminently accessible to dabblers in either genre as well as those who don’t know a Zio from a Bufu. It’s as hardcore a fighting game as any out there, but it’s as pick-up-and-play as they come. The depth is there, the range of playstyles is there, and the balance is there. This is a top shelf fighter, and it’s one that I think will have a following for years to come in both casual and competitive circles.

Building from their experience developing the Guilty Gear and Blazblue games, which have to my mind always been on par with the best that Capcom or Namco has to offer, Persona 4 Arena continues the tradition of spectacular anime-style sprite-based fighting with outrageous animations and mind-blowing special attacks. It looks awesome, and the graphic design of the menu screens and interstitials scorches with a hot pink and yellow palette struck with sharp angles, TV static, and hilariously hyperbolic slogans. Melodramatic, over-the-top, and stunning. It looks and moves every bit as beautifully as Capcom’s recent titles, if not more so.

The game most closely resembles Marvel vs. Capcom 3 both in its accessibility as well as its ridiculousness. It’s fast, frantic, and summoning your character’s Persona into battle is similar to the team-up attacks from that popular series. Controls are likewise simpler, favoring easy quarter circles and shorter button combinations to keep the coolest and most effective attacks close at hand. Each of the 12 characters is completely different, there’s no Ryu/Ken analogs among them. As in Blazblue, it’s definitely a quality over quantity impetus in terms of the character selection. Players of Persona 4 will be familiar with the cast. I haven’t played it yet because I’m waiting on the Vita edition, but there’s a couple of faces from Persona 3 that I was pleased to see. Each character brings with them their titular Persona and a range of special attacks and combinations. Personas can also be destroyed during the fight and their ability is limited by a power gauge.

The mechanics aren’t as complicated as Guilty Gear or Blazblue, and the attendant tutorials are more than adequate to get you up to speed with the particulars of cancelling, evading, bursts, and other unique features. Training and challenge modes are de rigeur in fighting games, they’re available here and appreciated. The story mode is almost obsessively complete compared to other fighting games and it follows directly on from the events of Persona 4, which may or may not make any sense to you.

The problem with the story mode is that it’s told through text boxes that ramble on and on and on, leaving you pressing a button to advance through them and literally waiting 10 or 15 minutes to get to the action. If you’re heavily invested in the characters, then you’ll likely dig the long-winded tales it tells about each of the characters. If you’re impatient like me and do not consider Persona to be one of the Great Works of Modern Literature, the Arcade mode actually sums up everything in the context of a basic ladder sequence. Multiplayer is, of course, available and of course you’re going to die unless you’re a P4A master.

I love fighting games in general and there have been a lot of great ones over the past couple of years. It’s a tough call as to what the best of the lot has been, but the shortlist would include pretty much everything Arc System Works has put out include this game. I’m absolutely loving the roster, the action, and how easy it is to dig in and enjoy the game without feeling like I’ve got to have a fight stick and spend endless hours against a training dummy to feel competitive or even able to beat the AI at a respectable level. I bought this game on launch day and paid full price for it, and I don’t regret it at all- that says a lot given the current climate in the industry and my attitude toward it. If companies like Atlus and Arc keep putting out such “soulless crap” like Persona 4 Arena, then I’m happy to give them my money for it. Now, if they can come up with a Dark Souls fighting game together, I’m all in.