Review by horror_spooky
"If I go crazy then will you still call me Superman?"
NetherRealm is the studio that revived the Mortal Kombat franchise to millions of sales and widespread critical acclaim, thanks to Warner Bros. WB also has the rights to games based on DC properties, and as a result, we've seen a marriage of Mortal Kombat and DC in the past. That game failed to meet expectations of many fans. Instead of combining the two universes together again, NetherRealm opted to create a stand-alone Mortal Kombat reboot (the 2011 game) and a standalone fighting game featuring characters and locations from the vast continuity of DC Comics. NetherRealm and DC is a winning combination.
Fans of DC will fall in love with this game right from the outset. Each character is represented faithfully, with no over-powering or "nerfing" going on behind the scenes. Yes, this means that some characters, like Superman, are overpowered, but I'm completely fine with that as long as it remains faithful to the true nature of the character.
Of course, it's still a little silly to see Green Arrow beat the crap out of Superman or Green Lantern. In most fighting games, this would simply be ignored or overlooked. NetherRealm actually bothered giving a storyline reason as to how the weaker characters are able to rough it up with the virtual gods that populate the rest of the DCU. NetherRealm's attention to detail doesn't stop there, because there's also a storyline reason as how to Batman can fight himself or Superman can fight himself. This is greatly appreciated, especially by big comic book nerds like me.
The story of Injustice involves alternate universes and timelines. Horrible events unfold in one of the timelines that causes Superman to become a ruthless dictator, using his incredible powers for evil instead of good. The characters in that universe call upon those from the DCU we're all familiar with to help them out and save their world from the cruelty of Superman while simultaneously preventing the same disaster from occurring in our DCU.
Most of the major characters get their own chapter as the story unfolds. Mini-games break up the action and use the powers of each character cleverly. Cut-scenes are well-acted, featuring returning actors from the popular animated DC products such as the Justice League cartoons and the spinoffs thereof. Unfortunately, there is a dip in graphical quality when it comes to the cut-scenes, but it is still animated expertly, with intense fight scenes, sharp writing, and sensible characterization that manages to tell a fine story without needlessly stretching everything out for hours on end.
Luckily, the visuals are much better in-game. The battles are gorgeously animated, with each character having a ton of detail. Despite the craziness of the fights, it never gets confusing or disorienting, which is a trap a lot of other fighting games tend to fall into. Backgrounds are destroyed by hitting powerful moves, and watching environments crumble is always a visual treat. The environmental destruction also ensures the level transitions are just as glorious as they deserve to be.
Level transitions are situations in which you are able to knock your opponent to another version of the stage that you're playing on. Most of the stages have a variation, and the transition is a series of events that occur in which the opponent that is knocked through the transition takes quite the beating. These are hilariously over-the-top and make the game so much more fun. The high-end graphics is what allows Injustice to be this spectacularly good-looking, and interacting with the environment in other ways, such as throwing vehicles at opponents or smashing the walls of Atlantis to flood the area with water, all looks, feels, and plays great.
Equally ridiculous and awesome are the Super Moves. Players build their Super Move meter if they take too much of a beating to try to make the battle even, and by simply doing well in the match. The Super Meter can be used in a variety of situations, such as Clashes (a system I found pointless in the grand scheme of things, but oh well) and for more advanced players, adding buffs to their attacks. A full Super Meter results in a Super Move being activated simply by pushing in both the triggers, allowing even the most novice players to pull off the coolest moves. My favorite Super Move is Doomsday's, in which he literally punches his opponent through the Earth's core, into an ocean on the opposite side of the planet, and then punches them all the way back through again before finally slamming them to the ground to end the move.
Besides the typical combos and grapple attacks of fighting games (I do wish Injustice had more grapple variations for each character, though), all characters can activate their special abilities with a single button press. These abilities can be used strategically to gain the upper-hand or to put an even worse beating on your opponent. The sheer variety in all of the different moves is an impressive feat on behalf of NetherRealm. So, that basically covers the gist of the fighting mechanics in the game, but I just want to add that the blocking in the game, in which you pull the left stick in the opposite direction of an incoming attack, is not my favorite blocking system in a fighting game.
So, there's Story Mode, which I already covered, as well as the more traditional Battle Mode. Battle Mode is a series of gauntlets with special stipulations, with the end goal to be getting through all the opponents. The different stipulations definitely add variety to it all, though some of these require an almost Herculean amount of skill to complete. There are rewards for completing Battle Modes with different characters, but I will get into that a bit later.
Capping off the single player experience in Injustice, there's training, of course, but more interestingly, there's S.T.A.R. Labs Missions. These are mini-games and unique challenges based on all the different characters in the game. They reward players stars for completing specific objectives within them, and earning more stars results in more XP as well as new missions to complete. Not all of them are all that fun, but I still found it interesting to play through and I was never bored. A very thin story is thrown atop these missions, and I feel they would've benefited from a more unified narrative. What's cool about these missions is that they feature characters and elements that aren't in the main part of the game, such as appearances by Killer Croc and Scarecrow, plus the ability to control Catwoman's pet cat Isis and completing side-scrolling stealth segments.
Multiplayer is the main selling point of any fighting game, and Injustice is no different. Local multiplayer is a total blast, especially on Xbox 360, thanks to the different users being able to have their own Gamertags signed in while playing, a luxury that both Wii U and PS3 do not feature, to my knowledge. This makes switching between user profiles a breeze, especially thanks to the lightning fast load times. Having your own Gamertag signed in while playing local multiplayer matches is advantageous because you can level up, earn achievements, and plus the game keeps track of your win/loss record.
Taking the game online is also a lot of fun, though I wish there was more online variety. King of the Hill and Survivor are more or less exactly the same modes, and it's next to impossible to get into a Ranked match. Still, the online is undeniably fun. While waiting for a match, you can watch other players duke it out and even vote on who you think will win to earn extra XP. It's also possible to create your own lobby with specialized rules, and still earn XP.
Earning XP levels you up, and in turn unlocks new content. You can customize your player card and representative character, plus unlock content in the Archives, which includes new costumes, concept art, and more. I was disappointed by the alternate costumes in the game, as most characters only have one alternate, and it is their alternate costume as seen in the game's Story Mode, which kind of steals the wind out of the sails in terms of the fun of unlocking new costumes and such. What's even worse is that the best costumes require you to complete inane tasks tied to the iOS version of the game, which is a pretty shameful way to try to get people to purchase the iOS version of Injustice on top of this $60 game if you ask me. These alternate costumes aren't even available as DLC as an alternative to getting the app, either. Though it is cool how you level up across all the game modes, which hugely amplifies the sense of progression in the game and constantly makes you feel like you're accomplishing something, regardless of if you're playing local multiplayer or online or through the story.
I also have to bring up the fact that there is just too much Batman in Injustice. Yes, that seems like an impossibility, but it's true. Don't get me wrong, I love Batman just as much as the next guy, but there are more Batman characters on the roster than characters from any other DC series. There's also quite a lot of Batman-related stages, and there's even two versions of Wayne Manor, which is just laziness, pure and simple. What makes this even tougher to swallow is, when you think about it, quite a few noteworthy characters were not included, most notably Martian Manhunter. I would trade Nightwing, Catwoman, Bane, and Harley Quinn for Martian Manhunter any day of the week.
Before this gen, I never really considered myself a fan of fighting games besides Smash Bros., but many titles have come along to change my perspective on the genre completely. Injustice: Gods Among Us is one of the reasons why I now identify myself as a hardcore fighting game fan. Those that are big into DC Comics will find even more to love here, but casual gamers will still have a robust, easy to pick up fighter with a variety of game modes and a ton of reasons to never put down the controller.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/01/13
Game Release: Injustice: Gods Among Us (US, 04/16/13)
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