Before we begin I feel like I should have a moment of disclosure. I am obsessed with DC Comics; been a fan since I was old enough to know who Batman and Superman were, and I proudly stand on that side of the ridiculous war between the factions. Second, I am also a huge fan of NetherRealm Studios, and their fighting games in particular. That being said, anyone can imagine the excitement for me when Injustice: Gods Among Us was announced. Taking the foundation of the latest Mortal Kombat game and fusing it with my favorite characters was something I couldn’t wait to get my hands on.
The first glaring feature of NetherRealm Studios newest title is the plethora of content it packs. Those familiar with 2011’s Mortal Kombat reboot will be familiar with the formula. There is a story mode, complete with an original tale, which once again sets the bar for the genre. This two hour jaunt takes players through the events of the game explaining why Superman is so angry, as well as how the Joker can take a punch from the Man of Steel and not simply explode.
Story mode is broken up into multiple chapters, with each one focusing on a specific character. Not all combatants are included, but I got a good helping of them through this mode. The story itself is well told, albeit a little predictable if you read comics regularly. It is also worth noting that any game that can make Aquaman a complete badass garners plenty of respect. Voice acting is strong with staples such as Tara Strong and Kevin Conroy voicing their regular counterparts, but I was saddened to see Mark Hammil not reprising his role as the Joker, even if I do understand it.
After the success of Mortal Kombat’s story mode, this one feels on par at least. It never steps above and beyond the formula, but remains leaps and bounds above most others in the genre.
In addition to the robust story mode, Injustice packs all the traditional fighting game options with all the bells and whistles. There is a tutorial and practice mode, but the team has also included an online option for practice mode. This allows players to team up with friends and test specific strategies with particular characters in a controlled environment. The move list also aids in the beginner-friendly area. Being able to see an array of moves right on the pause menu, and even tag favorites to show up on the screen during fights, is truly revolutionary.
NetherRealm has not forgot about the hardcore players either. Every move has a list of its frame data including start frames and damage, as well as a quick description of what each move does. The metadata provided for each is imperative for tournament players, and considering they have once again given themselves the ability to update move damage and frame sets without a full-blown patch, means that hardcore players will see balancing issues disappear quickly.
Fans of NetherRealm’s last title also noted a severe disappointment with the lack of straight-up CPU versus. This has been included as well as the traditional arcade mode with a twist. Known as Battles, these sets of fights now include a ton of variables to keep them both challenging, and interesting. These can range from fighting the entire roster, to simply being poisoned and have to work quickly to finishing off opponents. I also want to note that I appreciate the CPU sporting alternate and downloaded costumes in these modes, keeping the field fresh, and delivering on yet another misstep in the team’s previous game.
The final piece of the content puzzle comes in the S.T.A.R. Labs mode. Think of this is a substitute for Challenge Tower and you get the idea. Each character possesses ten missions for a grand total of 240, with more coming in DLC, and some available now through pre-order bonuses. These missions focus more on obscure objectives as opposed to straight up brawling. For example Superman may have to stay in the sun to power-up, or the next mission may have Hawkgirl soaring through the air horizontal shooter style. The array of stuff here is impressive, and the three-star system with optional objectives means going back for more.
Injustice works on an XP-based system for unlocking its content. Story mode, Battles and everything else earns points that in turn unlocks new levels. Each level comes with new backgrounds and badges for your player card (called a Hero card here), as well as keys used in the Archives to unlock new content. Every character has a secondary costume to unlock, and there are the traditional concept art and music bonuses to receive as well. There are also XP bonuses that can be activated with keys to give double, triple and more per match. This becomes imperative as players start hitting the 40s and 50s. I am still working towards 100 even after a solid 30 hours of playtime, so unlocking all of the stuff Injustice has to offer will definitely last everyone a while.
The combat feels very similar to the team’s previous game at first. The characters carry that NetherRealm feel to them, and juggles are a major point for stringing combos together. There are plenty of new systems though that spice up the game play. For starters, this is a three-button layout complete with holding back to block as opposed to a button. Light, medium and heavy attacks are the main buttons, with the fourth face button assigned to character powers. This is unique for each combatant, and spreads a wide range of styles. For example Catwoman’s power builds up with landed strikes, tapping the button then unleashes a pre-programmed combo that can be chained. A character like Superman on the other hand, simply increases attack power. The button has a cool down that is also character-specific, and its addition plays heavily on who to play as, and who to choose against certain fighters.
There are also a complete set of defensive tactics that can be performed during matches using the super meter. These can consist of armor cancels (allowing players to power through attacks) or even the new clash system, which lets players wage their super meter against their opponent for a minor advantage. I like to think of clashes as the combo breakers. There are also plenty of other moves that meter burning can achieve. Distancing after an attack, wake-up combos and even special versions of regular moves, fairly similar to EX versions in Mortal Kombat are just a few to mention. NetherRealm has given players a ton of ways to fight off every attack, and mastering all these systems can definitely take some time.
The next change is the environments. Playing a pivotal role in every match are the stage transitions, and interactive backgrounds. Almost every stage in Injustice allows for players to send each other through the background into a new area. These are accompanied by drawn out animations, and a healthy dose of damage. They are as simple as holding back and heavy attack in the specified corner and hoping it lands. These attacks can also be charged to delay the strike, and mix things up.
Interactive backgrounds are much more on the surface. With the tap of the right shoulder button characters can pick up cars, grab guns and more to attack foes with. What I loved was how the various characters handle things completely different. Power characters such as Shazam can lift cars, while others such as Batman simply slam their opponents head into them. There are tons of these interactive devices and none are required to win, but they do add a new dimension to the combat.
Much like the rest of the game, online brings plenty of options. The aforementioned practice mode is certainly appreciated, but the newly designed King of the Hill, where up to eight players enter one room seeing who the best is, is truly where things shine. The new wager system for spectators really adds to the mix, and daily and weekly challenges online in general keep things constantly interesting. The lobby system also returns with the ability to chat with other players before matches, and all the standard modes are present and accounted for. It is worth noting that lag rarely became an issue throughout many sessions. Getting into ranked matches did sometimes cause me issues, but whenever I had a group, things ran smoothly. This was a relief considering how long we waited before MK’s online functioned properly. With more characters and costumes coming as DLC, it is hard not to imagine Injustice having some really long legs.
Visually the game definitely has its own style. Characters look great design-wise, though some of the animations are starting to show the current console’s age. The environments are outstanding, and seeing the transitions the first thirty or so times is impressive. The amount of detail and care that goes into each one is appreciated. I also really loved how destroyed they become over time. Sound excels in most areas with some solid voice performances. The effects are great. Hearing Superman slam his head into the ice in the Fortress of Solitude always sounds painful. The music is pretty much the definition of heroic. I found myself humming the title screen track after playing too long more often than not.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is a great fighting game that just so happens to be a love letter to fans of DC Comics. Those who enjoy at least one of the two will no doubt get their money’s worth with NetherRealm’s latest. People like me will be in absolutely bliss with what the team has created here. The promise of future DLC only makes me salivate (and speculate) on who will eventually join the already robust roster, and I can see myself playing this game long into the next generation. I am excited to see what NetherRealm does next, but if it is anything like their current efforts, we are all in for a treat.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.