Since its announcement on 31st May of last year, Injustice: Gods Among Us has garnered a huge amount of interest in its impending release. Winning awards such as “Best Fighting Game”, “Most Valuable Game”, “Most Anticipated”, “Best of E3-Readers Choice” and “Game Critics Award” in its E3 2012 showing, the game has certainly piqued the interest of comic book fans and fighting game players alike.
Brought to us from the creators of Mortal Kombat; Injustice: Gods Among Us has been touted as the DC fighting game that the world has been waiting for all these years. Foreseen as a game where the developers Nether Realm Studios have learned from the mistakes of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe and utilized their experience on 2011’s fantastic reboot of Mortal Kombat.
Has Nether Realm Studios been able to wash away the sins of its past attempt and brought the DC fighting brand to the lofty standards of Mortal Kombat?
The answer to that question is a resounding; YES.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is a worthy edition to the fighting game genre, which features rich content that satiates the needs of multiplayer and the singleplayer all while staying respectful of its source material; the DC universe.
The game features an original narrative that is set in an alternate universe where a tragedy prompts Superman and his Justice League colleagues to take over the world as an autocratic, peace keeping regime. The story features Batman and his insurgency’s efforts to overthrow the authoritarian rule of the Metahuman ‘heroes’.
Far from being a mere lip service to its source material, the story pays tribute to the ever expansive lore of the DC comics and the stories that have enthralled its fans for decades. Littered with easter eggs and call backs to DC events like Death in the Family, Kingdom Come, Sinestro Corps War and Death of Superman the story campaign is a total joy ride for any longtime fan of DC comics.
The DC lore reference reach fever pitch in another single player mode called S.T.A.R. Labs which features hundreds of different scenarios that pay homage its DC roots. Moreover the effects of the story and DC-verse resonate through other modes of the game as well, may that be options in arcade mode to the places, characters and objects in the stage backgrounds.
These details are the true testament to the fact that the developers themselves have a deep reverence, understanding and connection with the source material.
So much so that the game developers have teamed up with comic book creators at DC to feature a 13 part comic book series that acts as a prelude to the game’s narrative and chronicles the aforementioned tragedy and its aftermath.
When compared to the stories present in comics, movies and even other genres of games like RPGs and action adventures, the game’s narrative certainly lacks depth. The tale also features main plot points that have tread more than once in past comic and animated stories. However, the game’s narrative offers an unparalleled depth when compared to the alternatives present in the fighting game genre and is an effort that, at least, stands toe to toe with Nether Realm’s previous outing in 2011’s Mortal Kombat.
When it comes to the actual gameplay, the game follows the same blue print of the recent Mortal Kombat, however it does come with its own set of significant changes that stand to separate the brand as not just Mortal Komat with DC characters, but as its own beast.
Right off the bat, the game is less violent than MK games and is bound by its Teen/16 rating. So anyone expecting x-rays of cracking bones and body ripping Fatalities may be left a bit disappointed. However that is the part and parcel of working on a DC license and the studio does substitute the gore with hard hitting, over-the-top action.
On the other hand, the fighting mechanics are rooted in the system fleshed out by Mortal Kombat reboot. Injustice features the same; fast paced, rush-down gameplay contrary to the deliberate pace found in Street Fighter 4.
The fighting mechanic is more combo-heavy and juggles are a more prevalent feature of gameplay, though not to an extreme level. When compared with Capcom games, the combo-focus lies somewhere in between Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Street Fighter 4. Though those familiar with Mortal Kombat’s game style would feel right at home with Injustice.
Where Injustice deviates from the tradition of Mortal Kombat gameplay is in the myriad of deliberate changes it makes to improve gameplay in some cases and freshen it up in others.
First change that sticks out is the different control scheme.
Instead of buttons focused on punches and kicks, controls in Injustice are akin to button layout featured in games like BlazBlue; based on light, medium and heavy attacks as well as a power attack which is contextual to the character selected.
Bringing change to the control setup is the absence of Mortal Kombat staple; the block button, which is replaced by the Street Fighter standard of push back block system. Not only does this change help to distance this new Injustice franchise from Mortal Kombat series but it also helps to balance the all-out rush down nature of game with a more deliberate blocking technique.
While the button press supers and multi-tiered super meter return, the execution of EX moves is different in Injustice than what has been previously featured in modern fighting games. Though EX moves still burn one digit of super meter, they are not activated at the start of the move but after the normal move has hit the opponent. This new mechanic brings a less risky strategy to utilizing EX moves in heat of the battle.
One major change in Gods Among Us from the 2D fighting game staple is the addition of interactive environments. The stages in Injustice play a major role in the whole gameplay experience and should be considered as important as characters themselves.
Not only does each stage react to every punch, and kick dealt but characters can also interact with environments and the objects that populate them to bring additional pain to their opponents. Most stages also offer a stage interaction in the corner which helps to counter the frustrating corner-traps that plague most of the competitive Mortal Kombat gameplay sessions.
What’s more, every stage offers different objects at different places in the stage, so a strategy in one stage can differ from one in another. Moreover, these interactions can also differ according to whether the character is a power type person or a gadget-character. These contextual trimmings add a whole new layer to the gameplay experience and further the depth offered in the fighting game strategies present in the game.
Another significant change to the gameplay is in how Injustice deals with the concept of different rounds in a match. Instead of the best of 3 round system that is prevalent in current crop of fighting games, Injustice brings back the health bar system of games like Killer Instinct and Vampire Savior.
The system basically eschews the traditional round-based system where players have to win two rounds and replaces it with two health bars for each character. When a character depletes his or her opponent’s first life bar, the fight stops and resumes like a round, however the winning character keeps his current amount of health and the life bars are not reset. The character who is able to deplete both of his/her opponent’s health bars first, wins.
This health depletion dynamic brings forth the Injustice’s version of combo breakers, called “Clashes”. When the players’ characters have had one of their vitality bar depleted, they can counter their opponent’s combo by initiating Clash sequence where the players can wager different digits of their super meter against their opponents’.
If the attacker wins the wager, the opponent is dealt with higher damage and if defender comes out on top, a percentage of character’s health is replenished. The amount of reward is determined by the difference between the amounts of meter waged.
Injustice: Gods Among Us also offers new features that are helpful to causal players in learning the game and beneficial to experts in technical gameplay in professional multiplayer fights.
Some of these changes are mere additions to the user interface that make a load of difference. Things like a tutorial that familiarizes new players to terms like ‘wake-ups’, ‘reversals’ and ‘tech rolls’, a summary of special move list that is displayed at the start of pause menu (before going into the complete move list) and tagging up to six moves or combos so that their execution appears below health bar during fight, is a boon to casual players in the learning the game.
Other changes offer unprecedented ease in learning and controlling the game, the likes of which has never been seen in prior fighting games. Changes like the display in move list menu that shows move data; the type and damage of move, and frame data; the start-up and recovery timing of each move depending on whether it is hit or blocked, as well as the ability to switch to “alternative controls” so that move executions can be switched from Mortal Kombat style to Street Fighter style.
There are also features that hugely facilitate the competitive multiplayer pro-circuit that exists in the fighting game community. Every character and stage is unlocked from the beginning. Players can hide their player select cursor to eliminate counter picking; they can also change their controller schemes on character select screen.
Since each stage offers different opportunities, they may favor one style of character or gameplay style and not the other, so the ability for both players to influence which stage will be played is also a very welcome addition. What’s more, players can also disable stage transitions and interactions.
These changes help deal with problems like balance issues and time lags that can hinder the tournament operations and set ups in professional gameplay.
Most fighting games are only focused on multiplayer and totally ignore the single player aspect of the game. So it would be fair to assume that Injustice also follows the trend. However, if you are worried that Nether Realm spent all their efforts on the multiplayer component of the game, you can put your fears to rest.
Like was the case in 2011’s Mortal Kombat, Nether Realm offers a robust Singleplayer component in Injustice: Gods Among Us. The game offers five different modes of play in its singleplayer section. These include Play Story, Battles, S.T.A.R. Labs, Single Fight and Training.
While Single Fight offers is basically a quick battle mode and Training is practice mode and tutorial put together, the other three modes offer complete overhaul of the fighting game staples.
Play Story mode is reminiscent of Mortal Kombat’s story mode, which allows the players to delve into the games story with cinematic narrative providing context to each fight and its impact. Some fights are also preceded by occasional Quick Time Event mini games that can help break monotony of continuously going through fights one after another.
Battles mode is Injustice’s version of Arcade mode, however unlike the barebones; ‘fighting through the ladder of opponents’ formula featured in all games of this genre, Injustice offers 20 different variations on the classic formula.
S.T.A.R. Labs mode is another singleplayer experience, however this one features 240 different missions for the player to complete. Divided across the 24 characters, players are treated to various forms of mini-games as well as fights with contextual obstacles and objectives. Each character features a cursory story that connects his/her 10 missions.
As for the online multiplayer, Injustice: Gods Among Us offers the usual modes that are staple of the contemporary fighting games. These include Ranked battle, player battle, private match as well as King Of The Hill mode, which allows 2 players to fight while other 4 spectate the match, and the loser of the fight goes to the back of the line of players in waiting for next battle. The return of this feature from Mortal Kombat’s online mode is a welcome one as it replicates the feel of playing these games in the arcades.
The only mode missing is the 2 vs 2 tag mode present in Mortal Kombat, but looking at the amount of content Injustice currently offers, this is certainly a minor gripe.
On the presentation front, Injustice starts up with a menu that, at first glance, seems generic and bland however as you continue using it, it turns out to be elegant and non-intrusive system that focuses on function rather than flash.
Within gameplay itself, Injustice utilizes new “Inverse Kinematics” system to handle body types of various proportions, leading petite characters like Catwoman and Raven to differ greatly from the behemoths like Bane and Doomsday.
The game also utilizes multi-threaded rendering engine which allows the game to display approximately three times the amount of objects on screen at a single time than Mortal Kombat. This shows in the environments, which are filled with countless easter eggs and are home to several objects, characters, buildings and vehicles which also react to the fights, as the background crumbles and reacts to each and every blow dealt in the actual battle happening in the foreground.
While the highly detailed environments are certainly an impressive accomplishment, the character models are also quite detailed and, like Mortal Kombat, they feature dynamic battle damage however when compared to the stages, they seem somewhat less impressive.
The visual presentation also stumbles a bit in couple of instances like; similar color schemes of player 1 and player 2 characters which makes fighting mirror matches needlessly confusing. Lack of polish; like Doomsday appearing in Fortress of Solitude, even when he is being played with in the foreground, as well as effects flaws like occasional clipping and unimpressive detail in certain elements; like the bats in Batman’s entrance.
However, just like Mortal Kombat, Injustice: Gods Among Us runs on a modified Unreal Engine 3 and some of the engine’s limitations rear its ugly head. The overall presentation is held back and does not contain the graphical oomph enough to wow the eyes.
Injustice: Gods Among Us faces a similar dilemma in the audio department. While every voice actor/actress does a great performance in the story mode, and no voice seems out of place representing a cast of beloved characters; and each grunt, cry, and laugh is as crisp and clear as the punches, gunfire, explosions and clings and clangs of swords; the background music is more of an ambient nature rather than something rousing or catchy.
Injustice’s sound design is definitely competent; however there is nothing extraordinary about it.
Whereas the game certainly does not lack in the amount reasons it gives the players to return into its fray, in addition to the aforementioned slew of singleplayer modes, the game has an experience gathering leveling system through which the players can unlock new options in Battles mode, new character costumes and soundtracks.
Moreover, Nether Realm Studio also plans to release DLC characters, costumes and missions for the game which would offer additional content for players to sink their teeth into. However, as with any multiplayer game, its true longevity rests upon its ability to grab its players for the long haul and the competitive multiplayer environment it cultivates.
After all is said and done, Injustice: Gods Among Us has turned out to be a very competent contender in the fighting game genre. Whether it strikes your fancy; is more dependent on how much you like the genre rather than your fondness for the DC brand.
Fast paced and combo heavy, Injustice takes the Mortal Kombat formula and changes it for the better. Stage interactions and multi stage transitions are novel additions which can be turned off if they don’t strike the player’s fancy. The game offers robust set of gameplay options whether one is interested in singleplayer or multiplayer component.
Dynamic lighting and destructive stages are visually pleasing. The amount of detail presented in the background is impressive and the various objects and character models are suitably detailed. Lack of polish in certain areas and some occasional visual glitches mar an otherwise admirable performance.
The voice cast does an admirable job portraying the various Super heroes and villains. Sound effects of various powers, weapons, vehicles and explosive environments are also very crisp and loud. The music, while good, lacks the memorable quality found it fighters like Street Fighter franchise and King of Fighters.
While the story is nothing revolutionary, the amount of effort put into the narrative is certainly novel for a game in the ‘fighting game’ genre. The seamless transition between cutscenes to fighting in Story mode really adds to the overall experience.
On the other hand the game also offers several innovations in the use and customization of user interface which really help with the learning and competitive multiplayer aspect of the game.
Offering much more gameplay variety than its contemporaries; Injustice’s Story mode, 240 S.T.A.R. Labs missions, 20 Arcade mode variations and solid multiplayer options make it a game well worth its price. The only thing that can reduce its value is if some mechanic turns out to be broken and characters turn out to be unbalanced in the competitive play.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is a solid fighting game that is set in DC universe. A fighting game through and through, the game is not something every DC comic fan would enjoy. However it is definitely worthy of a playthrough for fans of the fighting game genre and a Must Buy for any DC fan who likes playing fighting games.