For some reason, developers like to use comic book characters in fighting games. I understand the draw; big, garishly costumed people beating the crap out of each other with fists, gadgets, or superpowers. Next round; rinse, repeat. But to reduce a comic book to simply a street brawl is insulting to comic fans. Batman is a detective first, fighter second. Flash seldom fights face-to-face, instead using his speed to let his adversaries beat them selves, and only a small handful of characters can actually stand toe-to-toe with Superman. So, last year when Warner Bros. Interactive announced Injustice: Gods Among Us using the characters of the DC Universe, I wasn’t impressed and I wasn’t excited.
Boy, was I wrong.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is easily one of the best comic book games ever conceived. Fighting or otherwise. Developer NetherRealm, veterans of the fighting game genre having created the Mortal Kombat reboot two years ago, has delivered an incredible experience that captures the essence of what makes a comic book story thrilling, all the while keeping the fighting game fully intact.
In the game’s story, Superman has snapped after Joker kills Lois and Clark Kent’s unborn child (as well as blowing up half of Metropolis). Superman, in grief, realizes that the world is too dangerous for regular people to rule it, so he, and a select few “heroes” put the entire earth under Marshall law with Superman the supreme ruler.
Yes, Superman is the bad guy here.
There is a resistance, lead by Batman (of course) and a few others, including some villains. Batman’s master plan is to locate another set of heroes from one of the other 52 universes that make up the modern DCU, and bring them over to help him overthrow Superman.
This story works, because if gives a viable “comic book” reason for heroes and friends to beat the living $#!t out of one another, and it is fantastical enough to fit snugly into one of the many DCU “elseworlds” storylines.
Plus, Superman is the bad guy here!
Yes, that Red, Blue and Gold incarnation of Truth, Justice and the American Way is a fascist dictator with a God complex who basically enslaves all of humanity.
But take the fantastic story away, and NetherRealm has still delivered an incredibly deep fighting game that improves much upon 2011’s Mortal Kombat. There are light, medium and heavy attacks, and a block move, and a meter, that when filled unleashes a ridiculous move that, when it connects, does serious damage. But instead of 14 ninjas of different colors, three scantily clad – yet well endowed – girls, and a guy with a lampshade on his head, you get the best of the DC Universe to fight with. Twenty-four unique fighters on disc, with the promise of others via DLC, to be exact. Most of the classic Justice League is present, with Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Flash and Wonder Woman all available. The villain roster contains Lex Luthor and the Joker, but also fan favorites like Deathstroke, Catwoman, Solomon Grundy, Bane, and Doomsday. The latter two villains having literally broken or killed their respective rivals in the comic books, adds a level of intrigue in the potential matchups.
The fighting is fast and intense, with most matches taking just under :40 to complete, and that is a long match. There is no time for posing. After a brief intro, the battle starts and it is “beat or be beaten.” The best part is the over-the-top super power move that can be pulled off once the character’s fight meter is full. These moves are character-driven and some are so ludicrous that they border on funny. Batman, for instance, will Taser an enemy combatant, distract him with a smoke bomb, and then call the Batmobile to run him over, all fully rendered in CG. It’s beautiful to watch and a joy to pull off. Also, the game has a decent pick-up-and-play mechanic that makes it approachable for gamers of all skill levels.
Each level has plenty of interactive environmental weapons to use against each other, and each use is dependent on the chosen character. A fast tech fighter, like Catwoman, can’t lift a stone statue and throw it like Wonder Woman can. And most levels have a transition (or two), where characters can be thrown, tossed, or buried to another level (usually in the same city or general locale) altogether. Finding these transitions is fun and executing them is very satisfying.
The levels also contain a plethora of DCU goodness. In one, Gorilla Grodd is in the background, fighting off would-be captors. In another, Martian Manhunter is floating there, watching the battle unfold. And in Arkham Asylum, Hugo Strange skulks in the darkness, and the Scarecrow himself plays a role in that level’s transition. It’s just so much DCU goodness rolled into one game.
While the story is excellent and the fighting is fun and challenging, the best part of Injustice: Gods Among Us is in the sheer amount of content that NetherRealm included. In addition to the story, there are over 20 distinct battle modes to play, and each of the game’s 24 fighters can be taken through a battle to unlock new stuff like character cards, icons, and even skins. The Classic battle mode gives each character a chance to fight 10 opponents (always ending with Evil Superman), which unlocks that character’s ending. So, there are 240 battles waiting for completests, and that’s just one of the twenty battle modes. Its madness, I tell you!
And if that weren’t enough, there are also 240 S.T.A.R.S Labs missions (ten for each character) that range from fights with a weird handicap like “don’t take damage” or your character is poisoned and their life drains quickly, adding a time element to the match. Also, there are mini-game-like missions to extend the fun. All in all, there is so much content included here that you can play for days without ever even going online. But when you do, know that you are in for something special.
Online play consists of Daily challenges that award huge amounts of XP, and there are ranked matches and regular player matches that include a simple one-on-one fight, a King of The Hill mode, and Survivor. King of the Hill most resembles the days in my teen years sitting in arcades with friends around a cabinet with stacks of quarters lined up for whoever was next to challenge the champ. In this version, XP is wagered and the winner gets to keep it. Also, the seven other combatants waiting to knock the king off his or her pedestal can bet XP on who they think will win. Chat is fully enabled on all levels for trash talking and fight commentary. So far, KOTH is my favorite part of the online experience.
There are also private matches and room creation for up to 100 fighters. There is just so much to do in this game.
It needs to be pointed out that the character designs are out of this world. Team lead, Ed Boon, and his crew at NetherRealm really hit this out of the park with the costume designs. In fact, Injustice: Gods Among Us is just gorgeous to look at. The colors really pop, as a comic book game should, but there is also a darkness hidden beneath and the character designs bring all of this out very well. The in-game writing is superb on every front. I’ve laughed at some of the jokes and got pumped when a new character appeared, spouting classic lines and classic moves. And the voice acting is near perfect, as expected. Kevin Conroy reprises his now-famous Batman and George Newbern owns as Superman. Stephen Amell, from TV’s Arrow even voices Oliver Queen/Green Arrow, which seems to keep it all in house. These are all voices that are familiar to fans of DC works and help create a synergy between Injustice: Gods Among Us and the DC Universe as a whole.
I was not looking forward to Injustice: Gods Among Us when it was first announced. I saw all of the artwork at last year’s E3 and even talked to some folks from Warner Bros. Interactive, and yet I still was not impressed. I freely admit that.
Now I publicly admit that I was mistaken. NetherRealm has taken the DC license and crafted an excellent game – not just a fighting game – but an excellent all-around game that transcends the fighting game genre and creates something new and exciting. It’s a fighting game, sure, but with a narrative that makes sense, excellent, deep-seated love of the subject matter, and a fine, well-polished package. With content pouring out of every direction and so much comic book love in every aspect, Injustice: Gods Among Us is easily one of my favorite fighting games ever, and definitely one of my favorite comic book games ever. I was wrong. And Superman is a bad guy. Who knew these two things could ever happen?
Injustice: Gods Among Us was reviewed on Xbox 360 and was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive for this review. It is also available for Playstation 3 and Wii U.