At first sight "Injustice" seems to be cut from the same "MK" cloth, with fans remembering 2008's crossover brawl, "Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe." Although it was fun to imagine a fight between Sub-Zero and Wonder Woman, that game ultimately lost some bite with the watering down of the typical brutal and gory MK universe. This go around, NetherRealm Studios seems to forego any gimmicky cross promotion in favor for a competent brawler that can stand on it's own legs. Does it lack the punch of the previous DC fighter or is there enough here to make "Injustice: Gods Among Us" another arcade throwdown worthy of your investment?
"Injustice" retains a bit of the "Mortal Kombat" armature while keeping a stiff arm's length away with fresher fighting concepts. Each combatant acts more or less the same utilizing a four button system with light, medium, and heavy attacks coupled with a unique superpower button. The superpowers can be anything from time manipulaiton using The Flash to injecting damage increasing VENOM for Bane. There's a slight cooldown between uses but with strategic timing can be a real game changer in a pinch. Combos range from a few pre-set button progressions that can chain with wall/floor bounces and air juggling. Beginners should be able to make full use of each character's abilities while graduating into tougher matches as they master linking combos and juggles. True masters can link together brutal chains of attacks that can leave opponents bewildered and bleeding. The deeper game systems include uses of the meter to activate devestating finishers or increase damage with special attacks. The big highlights being the superpowered finishing moves, which require a filled meter, that are often hilarious and always really cool!
Combat is not all cream though as some sluggish controls can become maddeningly frustrating as your helpless fighter is tossed about like a ragdoll if you get caught in a corner. I feel here is the one misstep as their isn't a dedicated block button, instead relying on the play holding back or down and back on the d-pad. Perhaps some of the blame can be placed on the Xbox controller I used but I felt sometimes button recognition was hampered by the "stickiness" of the game's systems.
Otherwise, the majority of the time fighting is very fluid and very fast. Attacks and combos, when executed properly, swiftly activate a series of haymakers and jabs to render your opponent unconscious (no button mashing here, folks). Matches can be over as quickly as 20 or 30 seconds against a proficient fighter. Playing online, there was plenty of cheese, given how often players would back away and use range attacks (I'm looking at you Deathstroke, players) but I suspect as the days go by players will figure out counters to these tactics and the best of the best will rise to the top of the class.
In addition to the straight-up fighting, there's a meta game of sorts with the level system. It's not completely necessary but it's always satisfying to check off another tick as you increase your level. Practically everything gives you experience points that do anything from unlocking new hero card items to placing you in ranks for online matches. You'll also be able to unlock addition challenge types in the Battles mode using earned tickets from leveling up. It's a nice middle ground of doling out additional content while providing the entire selection of characters and levels from the get-go.
The roster is a whopping 24 fighters with the DC Universe fully represented. I'm not a comic fanboy by any means but if you've been alive on Earth for any length of time, you'll recogonize the vast majority of the cast. Individual fighters aside, the arenas are chracters in themselves featuring large layouts complete with several interactive hotspots. I found that the level choice can be a major factor in battles as smart players should use each interactive spot as much as possible to get an upper hand. Additionally, level transitions mix up the battlefield by entering new playable sections of the arena with an outrageous amount of damage inflicted on your foe. You're actively encouraged to interact with as much background items as possible and you'll definitely want to witness every transition because more often than not they're the highlight of a battle as you can just about hear onlookers scream "ouch" as they see the brutal devastation unfold.
"Injustice" beautifully renders the DC heroes and villains in great detail while sparks, explosions, and blood add the extra flair that makes this one fantastic looking fighter. Characters taking extreme damage will be visibly torn open as bone and sinewe are revealed. The real polish, though, is how detailed the levels are with nods from comics emerging in the background and hidden details that will have fans speculating about possible upcoming DLC. Buildings, statues, and vehicles crumble and explode as the titans of comics engage in combat. There really is a lot of depth to the areas and each level has multiple sections for the level break-though ability. The only downside are the cutscenes that seem to render characters a little bit muddy. I almost wasn't sure if they used two different models and textures because in-game fighters looked way higher res compared to the cutscene models. In any case, the major chunk revolves around the actual fights and those look superb. Also, be sure to clear out space forinstalling as the Xbox load times could get a little on the long side between some transitions.
Story-wise "Injustice" is typical comic book wank, but I mean that in the best possible way. If you haven't read any of the comic tie-ins, the basic plot revolves around a broken-hearted Superman who decides that the world is better off with him as undisputed king, essentially drawing a line in the sand between friends and foes. Similarly to NeatherRealms' other fighting franchise "Mortal Kombat," as you progress through the plot you'll play as various heroes and villains in increasing higher stakes for the safety of the world. Among the goofy posturing there are a few actual surprise twists and revelations but ultimately, it's a pretty ridiculous affair that provides just a good enough reason to have Batman fight Green Lantern.
The real meat of the game comes with a few excellent multiplayer versus modes and robust single player challenges. As you would expect, you'll spend a great deal of your time battling other fighting game enthusiasts locally and online. The full feature set includes Ranked matches, Single un-ranked, King of the Hill, and Survivor modes. Ranked and un-ranked are self-explanatory -- two heroes enter, one hero leaves -- while King of the Hill simulates the arcade circuit of "winner stays/loser pays" and Survivor pits one player against a horde of challengers with the twist being that their lifebar doesn't refill after each round, testing your endurance and guile.
I spent most of my time attempting to hold my own in ranked play (my superpower seems to be able to get punched in the face over and over). Connectivity seemed mostly solid with only the occasional hiccup during a KotH match. Otherwise, jumping into matches was quick as you also have the option to search playlists via servers, so hopefully we won't see another MK launch day problem for online play.
When you get tired of bashing in opponents' heads (or having your own bashed in) there are a plethora of single player modes and challenges to complete. These manifest with Battles and S.T.A.R. Labs modes. Battles is your traditional ladder match, whereby you pick your favorite character and fight through several AI controlled opponents. On top of that you can unlock a little over a dozen variations on the vanilla battle mode that can handicap you in number ways from randomly selecting your fighter each new match to inflicting you with health draining poison. Battles provide and great testing ground that helps bridge the learning curve as you work your way into harder fights and proficient human opponents.
S.T.A.R. Labs is your challenge tower analogue inviting you to overcome miscellaneous objectives involving each chracter from the "Injustice" roster. Usually, these fights involve a little more creativity on your side to earn the highest 3 Star rank. Some have twists on how fights play out -- for example one of the Batman challenges involves Scarecrow infecting your controls as you fend off attacks from Catwoman; while others have you avoiding pies and chattering teeth thrown at you by Joker and Harley. Overall, S.T.A.R. Labs provides a breath of fresh that keeps the game from getting stale and over 200 labs (and DLC on the way) you'll have more than enough content to keep you interested.
"Injustice" has a little bit for every fighting fan and presents an energetic and frenetic game for newcomers and vets alike. Comic fans might have a little more invested but even if you're not into the cape and tights of the DC heroes you'll still have an excellent brawler to add to your library. NetherRealms Studios nails it once again and hopefully we'll see more "Injustice" down the line.
"Injustice: Gods Among Us" review copy provided by WB Interactive. Played and reviewed on the Xbox 360 version. "Injustice: Gods Among Us" available now for PlayStation 3, Wii U, and Xbox 360.