As comic enthusiasts, we've been keeping a close eye on NetherRealms' superpowered smackdown "Injustice: Gods Among Us." Jason's pretty much covered the basics during his SDCC preview but I got a chance to dig in a little bit more on the story side as well as explore some of the extra bells and whistles. Caution: minor spoilers ahead.
If you've been keeping up to date with DC's "Injustice" comics, then you should have pretty solid idea about what's going on. Here's the Sparx Notes version- Superman's main squeeze, Lois Lane, is dead -- by his own hands. Let's rewind. You know The Joker -- lanky guy, clown make-up, pretty insane? Right, he was able to induce Supes with a temporary madness which caused him to believe Lois was Doomsday. So of course he throws her into the space killing her and setting into motion a series of events that goes pretty south for Metropolis. Fast forward a bit, and Superman, establish a new order of rule ultimately pitting heroes and villains against each other.
The game opens up just a little before Superman goes off the deep end and declares himself a global sheriff. Batman is interrogating an imprisoned Joker, when an understandably distraught Superman bursts through the cell wall. There is a heated exchange but the end result is a battered to all hell Joker and Batman worried about his superhero buddy's mental health.
Taking a cue from the excellent story mode from "Mortal Kombat," you'll jump from character to character. This comes a bit as a relief because the story will have a definite outcome that hopefully resolves in a climatic and engaging final encounter. My bet is on a final showdown of Batman vs. Superman, but maybe that's too obvious. On the downside, there's a chance that you might get stuck with a character you're not too familiar with in difficult fight, (I'm looking at you Shao Khan). In any event, you can settle your school yard questions of who could be who in multiplayer versus mode -- NetherRealm and DC, with writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, want to tell a compelling story here and so far it's got me hooked.
The story is meted out between fights providing a short set up about exactly why you're knocking out each other's teeth. Occasionally, you'll have a short quick time event that can work in your favor by giving you a health advantage if you succeed. This is a little annoying, just because QTEs are poking its head in places they don't really belong. It's a small gripe, but I'm not sure it really adds anything.
Story aside, the filling the tights of each hero and villain feels nice. As with any fighter worth it's weight, you have a wide selection of character archetypes, from brawlers/grapplers like Bane and Solomon Grundy to scrappy boxers like The Flash and everything in between. Each character has a straightforward moveset involving light, medium, and heavy attacks but the real game changer comes from the unique character ability. Flash for instance can slow down time for a few moments to get in a quick combo, while Cyborg can repair to regain a bit of health. Of course, there's a slight learning curve with every fighter, but with a little work you'll be nailing big combos and working over the toughest opponents. And there are plenty of DC heroes and villains in the roster. Boasting about 20 or so characters, your favorite should be well represented in the story as well as in versus.
In way, the levels are characters themselves. Each have several points of interactivity with objects from laser turrets and robots to steam pipes and computer consoles. Who you choose to play as determines the way these objects behave, but generally bigger, stronger dudes will break or throw heavy objects, while lighter characters can use them as vaults for a quick evade. There are also other interactive points in the arena where you can bust throw a wall or get knocked over an edge inflicting a big hurt for the person on the receiving end.
S.T.A.R. Labs is the latest feature revealed. Much like "Mortal Kombat"'s Challenge Tower, the Labs are a collection of unique scenarios involving each selectable character. Given the dev's history with these type of things, you'll find plenty of difficult situations to test your fighting prowess as well as many fun twists in gameplay. I didn't get a final count but it looked like well over 200 challenge missions could be unlocked, each tier focused on a specific character.
A good deal of the Labs place some kind of constraint on you, like no special moves or defeat your opponent in 20 seconds. Some of the more difficult ones could have your health draining while disabling block. Given the high skill barrier, you might be toiling away for hours before perfecting a strategy.
On the other hand, some are pretty goofy. For instance, there's a Catwoman challenge that puts you in the role of Isis (her larcenous kitty), who must sneak into a heavily guarded museum. Another one had Hawkgirl knocking out meteors in an autoscrolling 2D shooter level. These were certainly some of the zanier challenges but I'm counting a few more hidden gems tucked away.
The Star L.A.B.S. should provide a nice distraction from the story and versus modes and might even give you a unique look at some of the characters you might not pick up normally. Unlocks are based on performance with three stars awards for rising to each challenge perfectly. Expect to have a ton of fun, and maybe a little frustration, when the you get your hands on it but if you've topple MK's Challenge Tower, then you're more than equipped for the L.B.A.S.
So far "Injustice: Gods Among Us" is shaping up nicely. With the final release just a few weeks away, are hands are already itching to try out our superpowers against the best that DC has to offer. Look for here more coverage of "Injustice" and we'll have a full review when the game releases!