Injustice: Gods Among Us

The union seemed rather elementary, take a game studio that has long built their fighting franchises around spectacle and fantastical worlds, mix it with a comic book universe filled with awesomely powered metahumans.  The result is Injustice: Gods Among Us.  The game takes limitless characters like Superman, Doomsday, Green Lantern, and Bane, then sends them on a collision course.  The end result is a game that, while suffering the occasional misstep, is a power fantasy worth indulging in.

NetherRealm Studios first game, a reboot of their infamous Mortal Kombat series on the PlayStation Vita, was a minor success.  It featured an extensive list of characters, from the beloved favorites like Johnny Cage and Kano, to the lesser knowns such as Cyrax, Jade, and Stryker.  A lot of what made the reboot good, is back in Injustice.  However, with those additions–and even some improvements–comes the same issues that NetherRealm have been battling since they were Midway.

To really get the full brunt of Injustice’s story, it would behoove players to read the the 14-part comic the preludes the game. The comic delivers some key pieces of information that Injustice chooses to skimp over.  Injustice begins with Superman being tricked by the Joker into killing Lois Lane who is pregnant with Superman’s unborn child.  Going off the deep end, Kal-El  declares a worldwide ceasefire and uses his God-like abilities to enforce it.  It all seems well and good, until Superman’s dominance begins to border on a dictatorship.  Slowly, the Man of Steel succumbs to a madness that creates a schism between himself and his Dark Knight counterpart.  While Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Flash, and other metahumans rush to Superman’s side, Batman reaches into another dimension and pulls members of the Justice League into his world, evening the odds between Superman’s Regime and the Caped Crusader’s resistance.

This sets the stage for a series of duels between some of the best characters the DC Universe has to offer.  The story is well told, and asks some interesting questions about power, control, and the true definition of “peace”, but Injustice tends to step on its own feet in moving the narrative along.  The aches and pains of Mortal Kombat are still present when the game conveniently transitions from character to character, turning the story into an elementary school playground game where a teacher tells the students that, “Everyone gets a chance to play”.  Only part of this is NetherRealms fault, the large issue is trying to tell this kind of story in a fighting game, where the narrative must conveniently be interrupted to sneak. in one more fight.

The story mode has some new twists to it, the best of which are little minigames inserted between the fights.  These games are a bit jarring and don’t flow as well as you would like, but being able to change things up before the next superpowered grudge match is a nice thought.  It would be nice to see NetherRealm perfect this quicktime-esque idea in the future.  In fact, the story mode could use even more inventive story features like this.  There are plenty of interesting modes in Gods Among Us, and the story could use a little more influence from them.  The fights are so repetitive, that the game’s climax feels more like a shoulder shrug.  NetherRealm seems aware of this issue as the story mode is a breeze and each fight gets easier with each failure.  Instead of dumbing down the story mode, NetherRealm could try adding more flavor to it.  Fights with poison rules, or survivor mode would be welcomed editions that simultaneously teach player different game modes while changing things up.

The mechanics themselves are solid, but not flawless.  The controls are responsive and the combos seems easier to master than in Mortal Kombat, but learning the ins and outs of multiple characters can still be a bit of a headache.  Where the gameplay really takes a hit is multiplayer, where almost everyone seems to be picking the same five characters and using the same five moves with each one.  These hurdles can be overcome by mastering one specific character, but if you’re looking to play with a wealth of characters, get ready for a long grind.  Moves that harken to the infamous Scorpion Pull or Shiva’s Jump attack still leave you feeling helpless, when cheap players master the timing.  However, when you are truly matched up against someone with the right skill level, the game is great fun.

Multiplayer matches are made even more interesting by a couple other additions.  First, each setting features interactive set pieces that players can hurl at each other, blow up, or simply jump off of to get a tactical advantage.  The way that characters interact differently with these “props” and the inequal way they are distributed can make fights unbalanced.  You can turn this option off, if you are seeking to eliminate the advantage, but they can be such fun to use it feels a bit wrong.  The supermoves are back from Mortal Kombat and are–for the most part–brutally awesome.  Managing the power meter then waiting for the right time to strike, is the most strategic aspect of the game, and getting it right is very rewarding.  There is also a wager or Clash System, in which player can “bet” an amount of their meter against their opponent for health.  While this is a good idea, and is particularly interesting in matches against AI, it seems like players are having some difficulty pulling it off, as I only saw it used once during my time with the multiplayer.

The art style of Injustice is truly a strong point.  The DC Universe has always been a myriad of styles that have ranged from the grounded world of Batman to the fantastical universe of Wonder Woman, or from the modern look of the New 52 to classic style of the Golden Age.  Injustice leans heavily on the current state of DC, with a lot of looks akin to the current run of comics, but it is well suited to the sci-fi, multidimensional tale Injustice is telling.  The background art is also a strength for Gods Among Us.  They might lean a little heavily on Batman’s locations, but the Hall of Justice, Atlantis, and the Fortress of Solitude all have their own stage, each unique and wonderfully detailed.

Graphically, Injustice looks great during the fights.  Playing on the PlayStation 3, there were almost no technical issues to speak of in the single player modes of the game.  Multiplayer takes a little bit of time finding players to match you with, but I only had one player disconnect on me, and the matches run very smooth.  Unfortunately, Injustice’s biggest flaw is really obvious and that is it’s story mode cutscenes.  The animations during these scenes are rigid and unbelievable, making the dramatic moments of Injustice fall extremely flat.

There are a few shortcomings for Injustice, but on the whole it is a really strong game.  Featuring a decent plot, with well oiled mechanics, and some great art, Injustice translates the DC Universe to your local console in a convincing fashion.  The wealth of game modes provides significant play hours for people looking to take their fighting skills online or stick to the single player.  In many ways Injustice feels like a natural progression from NetherRealm’s Mortal Kombat.  The pairing of the fighting game studio and the DC Universe has been a strong move for Warner Bros., let’s hope that this is not the last time we see it.

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