Injustice Gods Among Us

Injustice:  Gods Among Us is a new fighting game starring characters from DC comics by NetherRealm, the studio made of former Midway employees and headed by Ed Boon, the creator of Mortal Kombat.  NetherRealm made one of the best fighting games of 2010 in Mortal Kombat 9, which was the game that revived my interest in the fighting game genre.  MK9 had a phenomenal singleplayer mode (possibly the best, certainly one of the largest, in a fighting game ever), an entertaining story, and a really solid fighting system.  That’s not to say it was a perfect system (the online was particularly troubled), but Injustice had a lot to live up to both as a successor to MK9 and as a licensed DC product drawing upon a beloved stable of characters.

The story in Injustice is a combination of Infinite Crisis and Kingdom Come.  If you’re not familiar with these stories, the basic set-up is that several DC heroes are pulled into a parallel dimension where an alternate Superman rules with an iron fist and many of their fellow heroes have been slain.  It’s an interesting premise for a story, and one that has been told successfully in comics before, but it’s wasted here.  There’s nothing new for fans of comics, and even those who have never read the previously mentioned stories will not be moved by this rather boring plot.  Part of what made MK9’s story so special was that the characters were unique and likeable and the story was crazy and outlandish.  However the depictions of the DC characters in Injustice are just boring.  The dialogue isn’t original or interesting, and does little to reveal any cool information about the characters.  Even the Joker, (unfortunately no longer voiced by Mark Hamill) and Batman fall flat.

It’s not terrible, but you can probably predict every plot beat if you’ve seen a superhero movie or read a comic book before. What a game like Batman: Arkham City does so well is to bring the most interesting qualities of a character to light, and then do something original with them.  That’s not what Injustice is.  NetherRealm has done little more than create a simplified version of some classic DC stories.  The story never becomes terrible or actively offensive; it just fails to be exciting or interesting.  If you’re familiar with the comics, you’re going to see these beats coming a mile away; if you’re not, then you’re probably not going to care about a large number of these characters.  It’s really unfortunate because NetherRealm does have a talent for telling these sorts of stories, but it’s not on display here.  Visually the game looks good with nice character models, cool animations, and a good frame rate during fights (though it occasionally suffers during the dynamic cutscenes).  The art for the characters is fairly standard for the genre, and I would have liked to see more uniqueness to the costumes.

Story issues aside, the game has a solid fighting engine.  Injustice uses a four button fighting system, like MK.  However, the buttons are mapped to light, medium, heavy, and trait, rather than the traditional left-right punch-kick set-up.  I actually prefer this kind of set-up, as it makes each button feel more distinct.  There are universal overheads, wall-bounce launcher, and uppercut moves.  Special moves are executed by the addition of stick movements to a button press.  You can choose between normal MK style movements or the alternate set-up, which is more like Street Fighter or other Japanese fighting games.  I ended up using the alternate setting, as that is more what I’m used to and it works pretty well.  The trait button does different things depending on which character you select.  They fall into general guidelines such as super armor, stance changes, and damage boosts.  Some of the abilities, such as super armor, are much easier to use well then others, but it’s nice that the characters have a (somewhat) unique button.

In a significant change from previous NeatherRealm games, Injustice is a hold-back-to-block game rather than a block button game.  This adds a new dimension to the fighting as attacks can cross-up, a term referring to an attack that lands on the other side of a character meaning that the player needs to switch which direction they are blocking or else they will be hit.  Characters have tons of cross-up potential so new players should beware.  Other mechanics include the ability to use a bar of super meter to push and enemy back and the ability to clash.  A clash will break you out of a combo like a burst in ArcSystem’s games or a breaker move in MK.  However it also gives the option, for both defender and attacker, to wager meter.  If the attacker wages more, the defender loses health.  If the defender wages more, they gain health.  The amount of damage dealt or health gained is based upon the amount of meter wagered.  Meter can also be used to make special moves more powerful or activate super moves, so a clash can be very pivotal to a match.  I would have preferred a simple burst or breaker system, because I don’t think this sort of meter wagering makes the match any more fun.

Injustice’s most unique feature is the interactive scenery.  Each stage has a variety of objects that can be used in the fight:  heavy objects to be thrown, traps to be activated, etc.  There are stage transitions as well, that can deal additional damage to your opponent and also move you to a new area.  The interaction that your character performs is dependent on if they are a gadget or power type.  There were concerns about this system before the game was released, but for the most part it seems to work fine.  The interactions are powerful, but can be punished if used poorly.  Furthermore they can be turned off if you find they are negatively impacting your experience, though know that ranked matches online will leave them interactive.

There are a ton of modes in Injustice, both single and multiplayer.  In singleplayer you can play through the story, battles, and STAR Labs mode.  Story is fairly self-explanatory, while battles is a sort of arcade mode, with character specific endings.  Different types of battles can be chosen, such as changing all of your opponents to heroes or having a slowly draining health bar.  STAR Labs is a mode similar to MK’s challenge tower, in which you play through a series of missions with different objectives.  These can range from minigames, to landing a certain number of hits, or time limits.  It’s the most robust of the singleplayer modes, but I didn’t really have as much fun playing through it as I did MK’s challenge tower.  There are also practice and tutorial modes.  The game’s tutorial is okay; it does a good job teaching you about the wager mechanics at play in the game, but fails to teach you anything about characters other than Batman and Superman.  Each character does have a tutorial mission in STAR Labs, but these amount to little more than telling you how to perform each normal chain or special and must be unlocked.  It would have been nice to see a more robust character specific tutorial system.  Playing online in Injustice is pretty good.  The actual matches are stable, though I did run into some laggy fights and occasionally felt as though the game was dropping my inputs, but for the most part I was satisfied with my online experience.

I had fun playing Injustice, but not as much as I wanted too.  The combos and hits have a cadence and feeling to them that I’ve only found in NetherRealm games.  It’s a sort of slower, rhythmic feeling and it’s not too difficult to pull off useful and reasonably powerful combos.  When you’re executing a combo and trading blows with an opponent the game is as good as any other.  The problem comes in with the games movement, which feels much stiffer than other fighting games.  This is especially true of the jumps which, while fairly fast seems less organic and smooth then something in other 2D fighting games.  There are a ton of projectile characters as well, and without a universal air dash it’s easy to become frustrated against those who simply spam those abilities. The fighting system isn’t bad, it seems perfectly balanced, I just didn’t particular care for the way the game moved.  If the movement had been more fluid, I think I would have really liked this game a lot.