The heroes of the DC universe are no strangers to fighting each other in videogames. Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is one such example. Of course, when recently speaking with Co-creator Ed Boon (NetherRealm Studios) about this, he admitted that fans of both franchises wished to keep those franchises separated. Thus, Injustice: Gods Among Us was revealed in the latter half of last year, prompting some valid questions. For instance: how do you create a game in which a villain like Catwoman can stand on equal footing with a hero like Superman? How entertaining could a game like this possibly be? Well, you will have to read on to find out the answers to these burning queries.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is a Mortal-Kombat-like brawler wrapped in a very compelling story. Those who have read any of DC’s Elseworlds books, or have watched the Justice League series that first aired between 2001 to 2004 will already know that there is more than one Earth in the DC Universe. There are, in fact, parallel dimensions in which everything is almost identical to ours, but but for a few key differences. In this particular story (without giving away too much), Superman suffers a loss so tragic, in such a horrible way, that it causes him to make a critical decision: protecting humanity is not enough – he has to rule them. At first, it probably seemed like a good idea to everyone concerned; but when your ruler is practically a god who has no problem dealing with resistance, it’s only a matter of time before free will leaves the equation. Of course, people can only take so much; the fun in how the story proceeds must be experienced first-hand1 – so I will leave you discover the rest for yourself2.
The single-player campaign unfolds through various combat situations, and follows the typical fight-cutscene formula. What sets this apart from a lot of brawlers is that the flow between each of these elements is nearly flawless. The transition between the cinematic events and the fights is so smooth that the first time that it happened, I almost forgot to actually use my controller and do battle! During some parts of the story, before the actual fight, a mini-game will begin; your success during these stages usually dictates whether you will start the following fight with a full health bar or not. Most of the mini-games are easy enough – although some of them can ramp up in difficulty quite quickly near the end of their duration.
I bet you didn’t know that Nightwing does open heart surgery? Unfortunately, Harley Quinn didn’t know that either.
The fights themselves are epic. When I first saw this being played at FanExpo Canada 2013, I was admittedly worried that this would just be a re-skinned Mortak Kombal clone. I’m happy to say that my initial thoughts could not have been further from the truth. While similar to Mortal Kombat, the fighting is definitely a lot different; in fact, I actually find it a lot more engaging. First and foremost, each hero or villain feels like they should when you take control of them. Their fighting style is definitely a function of who they are and of what kind of powers that they have. Even a lot of the regular moves seem to be “unique” to each character. Once you make the journey to the land of special moves and the super moves (which are charged when you get hit, or when you perform successful attacks), you are definitely going to see that each character has their trademarks stamped all over their pummeling style. I mentioned before that Catwoman and Superman stand on pretty much even terms. While I would like to reveal why this is possible, I also don’t want to spoil the story. Suffice to say, it’s a pretty neat plot device and makes perfect sense.
The environment plays a significant role in the fights, as well. Parts of the environment can be used to kick the tar out of your enemies. Hey, look at that car over there! I think that Superman could hit me wi- oh. He just smashed it over my head. Oh hey! Look at that button there on the Bat Computer. I wonder why Harley Quinn is pressing it and- oh. I see. It activates the remote missiles on the Batmobile – that I happened to be standing in front of. What is impressive is that different characters use the same parts of the environment in different ways. For instance, that car that Superman hit me over the head with may be a platform for Batman to strategically use as a springboard. The variation of having 25 different characters use their surroundings in different ways is a fairly big contributor to the re-playability of this title – seeing every single awesome sequence is going to take some time.
That Solomon Grundy is such a practical joker…
If you get tired of using parts of the environment to harry your enemy, you can switch gears and take advantage of a transition point, smashing your opponent into another part of the stage (they take damage en route). Almost all of the different stages have these areas that open up animated sequences that are both fun to watch and beneficial in your quest for dominance. Topping off the fight system is the Clash, which introduces the ability to -once a round- wager part of your built-up energy to try and get a health bonus for yourself or a damage bonus against your prey. The dialogue during some of these clashes is pretty amazing – well thought out and appropriate.
On top of a fully-loaded single-player campaign, you can also: engage in practice rounds (to bone up on your fighting skills), take part in a single-player fight sequence (there are a number of scenarios that have you fighting either a fixed or random sequence of characters), or even engage in either local or online multi-player battles. However, I would argue that the next best thing to the campaign are the S.T.A.R. Labs missions. In this gem of a mode, you are given a series of missions for each character; within these missions, you have to fulfill conditions to win stars that serve to unlock more missions. I have to say that this mode is way harder than the campaign. You will definitely feel like you have earned your rewards at the end of each mission3.
The visuals for this game are, for the most part, fantastic. Each character is painstakingly detailed and animated in such a way as to capture the essence of that character. I was seriously impressed when I played the retail release at home. The fight environments are just as detailed, which is even cooler when you realize that parts of the level get destroyed as you continue fighting (even the background – due to collateral damage). The problem, though, with having such amazing fight levels is that the cut-scenes don’t look as good. It feels as if the cinematics were denied the same level of love as the fights. It’s not game-breaking, but it is a bit jarring, especially considering how smooth the transitions are between each of these elements. Audio is all kinds of amazing. Surround effects are really well done and work well with the visuals to immerse you in the environments. Effective ambient noise, kick-ass fight sounds and a majestic score all add up to make this game a treat for your ears. Even better? Some of the voice talent from the Justice League animated series reprise their roles from the series.
“Clark. There has to be a better way to remove warts.” “Shaddap and hold still.”
It took me a some time to get used to the controls – and even after I did, I found them a little touchy. Sometimes I would want to do a particular move and find myself hopping around like an idiot; the difference between jumping and everything else seems to be separated by a hair’s breadth. I countered this slight annoyance by breaking out one of my SSF2 fight sticks, which worked just fine, thank you very much. However, I realize that not everyone has these. Difficulty of the fights in single-player campaign (no matter what difficulty setting you choose) slowly ramps up. Luckily, if you lose a fight the first time, the game seems to scale down the toughness just a bit, allowing you more chances to forward the story. S.T.A.R. Labs is always difficult – so don’t even think you’ll breeze through it4.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is a masterpiece of a fighting game from NetherRealm. DC Universe superheroes are wonderfully recreated in a bone-jarring brawler in which the story is as compelling as the action. Amazing graphics and sound couple with great action and a variety of modes to keep you in a state of constant, bloodthirsty enjoyment. A variety of modes and unlockables (including some pretty cool costumes) will keep you playing this game for a while. On top of that, there is reportedly DLC that will eventually be released. Injustice: Gods Among Us is available now for the Playstation 35, Xbox 360 and the Wii U.