Since I first laid eyes on Injustice: Gods Among Us at last year’s E3 Expo, I have been unreasonably excited to get my grubby little mitts on the final copy of the game. Fast forward to nearly a year later, and my excitement hasn’t waned. Normally, I try not to enter into things with inflated expectations, because that’s the quickest road to disappointment, but I’m pleased to report that Warner Bros. Interactive and NetherRealm Studios have hit the nail on its super-powered head. Injustice: Gods Among Us is a surprisingly deep brawler with a robust cast of characters that should satisfy even the most fervent of fanboys. A few minor grumbles aside, this is the fighting game that DC fans have been waiting for, so grab a friend, grab an extra controller, and get ready to prove once and for all that Aquaman would totally kick Batman’s ass. (I didn’t believe it either until I was on the receiving end of a trident assault).
First and foremost, this is a game that won’t just appeal to fighting game fans, but to comic book fans too. With a comic book tie-in, this is a classic DCU Elseworlds set-up: in another universe, the Joker tricks Superman into killing Lois Lane and his unborn son, detonating a nuclear device that was wired to Lois’ heartbeat and destroying Metropolis in the process. Mad with grief, Superman murders the Joker in cold blood, then proceeds to transform Planet Earth into a metahuman police state, ruling with fear and a Kryptonian iron fist. With plenty of twists and turns, the story mode manages to make you care about what’s happening and the overarching plot, a feat which not many fighting games can replicate. Chalk it up to nostalgia or familiarity, but somehow the stakes just seem higher when our favorite superhumans are involved.
Although comment sections across the world will inevitably fill up with, “OMG WHY NO [INSERT HERO HERE]?!”-style posts, Injustice‘s roster is to be lauded for its diversity. Balancing heavy hitters like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman with lesser known characters like Killer Frost, Ares and Black Adam, the game offers 24 fighters to choose from and early reports indicate that forthcoming DLCs will add 4 more powerful pugilists to the game’s ranks. That being said, I never found myself bored with the in-game selection, even though I did wish that I could control characters like Martian Manhunter or Atom Smasher, who I spotted lurking in the background of certain stages.
While the game boasts an equally impressive roster of voice talent, I found that one of Injustice‘s main issues comes from inconsistent voice acting. I might be alone in this complaint, but I found some of the line readings jarring or lackluster, to say the least. Overall though, there are some terrific performances and it’s nice to hear Kevin Conroy’s dulcet tones in any medium. It’s less of an outright gripe and more of an acquired taste, which is what I was told about Japanese plum wine, but that stuff is flavor poison, so take this with a grain of salt.
The arenas, however, are one of the game’s highlights. The interactive, multi-part stages are riddled with DCU references and subtle nods to the Universe’s history. At certain points on each stage, you can punch your opponent with such force that they’re launched into another part of the arena, triggering an awesome (and painful) transition sequence that deals damage to the unlucky punch recipient. One particularly memorable moment came when, playing as The Flash, I roundhouse-kicked Killer Frost into one of Superman’s fascist murderbots, who then threw her like a rag doll at 60 MPH towards Giganta and Atom Smasher, who were battling in front of the ravaged Hall of Justice. Catching Killer Frost like a gnat, Giganta then whipped her through a skyscraper until she landed on a nearby rooftop. I stopped for a moment to take it all in, but before I knew it, Killer Frost regained her composure and turned me into the Fastest Popsicle Alive. These moments happen all the time in Injustice, part and parcel of its giddy, childlike appeal. These are the moments I would envision as a child when I spent hours creating epic battle scenes with my action figures, so it gave me a true sense of nostalgic pleasure when I see them happening in real time (with much higher production value) on my TV.
Let me be perfectly honest: I like fighting games, but I have little patience for complex button inputs. Injustice, however, makes me feel like Alan Turing cracking a particularly crafty German cipher. While the combat system is surprisingly deep, the folks at NetherRealm made a point of making it accessible to laymen like myself. To launch into one of the epic super moves, all you need to do is hit both the shoulder buttons (L2 + R2 on the PS3 copy I reviewed) and once it connects, you’ll watch with mouth agape as The Flash revs up and runs around the world to deliver a haymaker at terminal velocity or Aquaman spears you with his trident, then serves you up to a man-eating shark like human hors d’oeuvres.
The combat system offers up relatively simple inputs for basic attacks, which you can combine together to create some seriously stunning combos. At times, I found the input response time to be a bit wonky, which made complex combos difficult to pull off. On the PS3, I found myself using the D-pad over the thumb sticks simply because they offered a greater degree of accuracy for the hyper-specific move sets. Despite the game’s attempt at accessibility, the A.I. is less forgiving, at times, which I learned the hard way, as characters like Killer Frost juggled me up in the air like a human hacky sack and spammed ground attacks on my lifeless corpse until my health meter was fully depleted. Instances like that were few and far between, but still frustrating. Alas, such is the life of a fighting game for a single player.
While I didn’t get to test out the online multiplayer, I can attest that the local Versus mode is damned fun. Much like the appeal of games like Super Smash Bros., Injustice is a title that a friend and I could play for hours on end, testing our mettle with every permutation the game’s roster has to offer. Also worth noting is the recently released free-to-play iOS app which offers up touch-based 3-on-3 combat and the ability to earn points and experience toward unlockables in the console version. The cross-platform nature of the game’s WBID system makes switching back and forth between the two relatively simple and incentives repeated play-throughs to help you unlock all manner of alternate costumes, concept art and more.
Further adding to the game’s replay value are the S.T.A.R. Labs mode and the aptly named Battle mode, which offer up plenty of reasons to while away the day in front of the TV long after you’ve completed the twelve-chapter Story mode. S.T.A.R. Labs offers up dozens of objective-based missions that put you in control of a specific character with unique parameters (e.g. use Superman to defeat Batman while executing a 5X combo and avoiding getting hit by a Batarang). Each mission is graded on a scale from 1-3 stars, so your inner perfectionist will find plenty to conquer therein. The aforementioned Battle mode is similar, but sticks to the game’s core mechanic: using superheroes to kick each other’s asses. With a variety of unlockable scenarios, you put a fighter through a ten-fight gauntlet in order to earn experience and unlock their “endings,” which contextualize what happens to each character at the end of the game’s main campaign. It’s a nice touch by NetherRealm, and an interesting way to reinvigorate players who find themselves longing for more than the Story mode’s twelve chapters.
Bottom line: Fans of fighting games, hypothetical bets and larger than life pop culture icons doing righteous battle with outrageous powers will find themselves hard-pressed to find a better offering than Injustice: Gods Among Us. Though not without its foibles, the fun factor is more than enough to make this title a must-have for anyone who’s ever wanted to punch Hal Jordan right in his handsome face.