Warner Brothers Interactive
Injustice fails at straddling the line between competition and fun, but delivers epic fan service
Injustice: Gods Among Us
- Wii U
Injustice: Gods Among Us takes place in an alternate universe where Superman has created an oppressive dictatorship that spans the globe. Both heroes and villains tremble at his power. The alternate universe's Batman summons the true DC heroes to help him stop the rampaging alien gone mad. In other words, it's pretty much Crisis on Infinite Earths, made more violent.
“I know it's soon but… think you'll ever love again?” Joker says as Superman's hand is wrapped around his throat – the man from Krypton's wife and child have been murdered, and their flatlining hearts have triggered a nuke in downtown Metropolis. Even worse, it's Superman himself who killed them, after being tricked by the Clown Prince of Crime into thinking he was fighting Doomsday.
The Man of Steel's eyes light up red, and he plunges his hand into Joker's chest. This is the opening to NetherRealm's Injustice: Gods Among Us. It's shocking, engaging, and the brutal murder brings to mind NetherRealm's previous game, Mortal Kombat. That's far from where the similarities end, however.
If you played NetherRealm's Mortal Kombat reboot, you'll feel right at home with Injustice. Characters dash forward with a double tap of left or right, successful combos are based around juggling, and special moves are activated with two direction buttons followed by an attack button. There are some minor tweaks, however.
For instance, there is no longer a dedicated block button. Instead, you press down to block low attacks, and back to block mid and high attacks. This should please fighting game community veterans, as it makes cross-ups possible. Throws are also now a single button input, and not the 50/50 mixup they were in Mortal Kombat.
Each character's super meter is also beefier, with an additional segment to boost your special moves. Input a special move and pull the right trigger immediately after successful input to activate a more powerful version of the same move, or let the meter build to full and unleash an ultimate attack. These super moves are somewhere between 11 and “holy hell” on a 1-10 scale; Superman uppercuts his foe into the atmosphere and then smashes them to Earth, Batman tasers his target before running them over with the Batmobile, Flash runs around the Earth to build up enough speed for a massively powerful punch to the jaw, and so on.
Characters also have unique powers they can call on in the middle of battle, and these provide another tool for fighting strategists. Powers range in effect, though most boost a character's offensive capabilities in some way for a short time. Deathstroke gains increased speed, Flash makes his opponents slow down, Aquaman deals more damage, and so on. Other powers are more direct. Batman summons three small bat-bots which can be sent as ranged projectiles, and Green Arrow shoots… well, green arrows.
While Injustice's roots are very firmly, and obviously, planted in the Mortal Kombat foundation, there's enough here to make it stand apart. Unfortunately, not every addition or change is a welcome one.
Clash of the titans
There are no “rounds” in Injustice. Instead, characters have two health bars, and the battle takes a slight pause when a character reaches the end of their initial life meter. Once the fight picks up again, things take off right where they left off, including the other character's remaining health. So if you get whooped into losing your first bar of health before making a dent into your opponent's meter, you'll have two bars to get through while they'll only have one.
Players start out on equal footing, but the system makes it harder to come back if you play poorly in the opening moments of a match. You always feel like you have a chance in traditional fighting games, where it's just a matter of overcoming the opponent's single health bar, but this could make upsets rare. It stands in stark contrast to the rest of the game, where fun is prized over competition. This isn't the only problem.
Injustice's environments are bursting with personality; they crumble under the weight of god-like beings who tower over mere mortals clashing with one another, and you can feel the impact of the superpowered skirmish. The rubble and background objects often provide entertaining environmental hazards, such as rockets which fire from the Batmobile, or pipes which can be swung into your enemy's face.
While cool to watch, the environmental hazards can also feel pretty cheap. As far as I could tell, there's no way to block a car being thrown at you, which makes fighting against characters who can lift and throw heavy objects that weaker characters can't feel unfair. I purposefully kept myself in a corner in the Batcave so that I could spam the Batmobile's rockets. While not 100% effective, it worked pretty darn well, and the fact that I could play in such a cheap way is worrying.
Many levels also provide the ability to transition to another stage, and these too are cool as hell to witness. Knock an enemy off the ledge of a Gotham building and they'll be smashed with a wrecking ball before they drop to the tracks below and get smacked by an oncoming train.
That being said, not every member of Injustice's cast is a meta-human, and it's a little weird to watch Harley Quinn survive a train. Or a grinding drill. Or being catapulted through a solid stone statue. Or being jettisoned into space. Or even putting her in the attacker's boots, and watching her boot Superman through nine floors of a skyscraper.
Likewise, the game introduces “clashes,” which have players wagering part or all of their super bar in an attempt to beat out the opponent's secret wager. The two heroes trade quips and rush each other, and trade blows in the center of the ring, Dragonball Z-style. The resulting explosion – which I assume is triggered due to too much awesome being concentrated in one area – knocks both characters back, and will either regenerate or deplete the defender's health based on the difference they won or lost the clash wager by.
Again, how this makes sense is beyond me. The Joker can meet, and match, Superman's punch? “Nonsensical but awesome” is the motto of the day here, and while that's fine for casual players it may put off the more technical fighting game community.
Injustice features a well-rounded cast that will please any DC fan. The game has everyone from Batman to Shazam, Hawkgirl to Ares, and even manages to make Aquaman seem pretty badass. Even characters who didn't make it into the roster often show up in the background in some form or another. In one level, I could see Parasite from Superman, and fighting in Arkham Asylum allows you to throw an enemy into a room filled with Killer Croc, Penguin, Two-Face, and Riddler.
Comic fans aren't the only ones who will be pleased, as many of the cast will sound familiar to fans of the animated adventures of their favorite heroes. Tara Strong and Khary Payton reprise their roles from Teen Titans as Raven and Cyborg, respectively. George Newbern, who voiced Superman in the Justice League cartoon – among others – also returns. And of course, it wouldn't be Batman without Kevin Conroy.
Unfortunately, while NetherRealm's Mortal Kombat produced a surprisingly coherent, even compelling narrative, the plot for Injustice feels cheesy and relatively tame, especially contrasted against its opening sequence.
What's strange about this is that the use of violence and death is uneven; Superman kills Joker with his bare hands off-screen, and later burns a hole through another character's skull on-screen – and that person's secret identity makes this act all the more disturbing – but the game's characters are seen taking super pills which make them impervious to harm as an in-universe justification for their lack of broken bones or bruises.
Tonally, this game is all over the place.
Giving Dead or Alive a run for its money
This is going to sound like beating the drum of sexism, to the point that I second-guessed myself about bringing it up, but many of Injustice's females are handled pretty freaking poorly, even by comic book standards, and that's saying something.
When Green Arrow beats the alternate universe's version of Wonder Woman, he takes a few steps toward her and says, “And another thing: our universe's Wonder Woman is better looking!” Because yeah, take that, ugly! As if calling a woman less pleasant to look at than another is the ultimate diss.
Catwoman is even worse; standing still, she looks ready for a fight – move her forward though, and she stands up straight, puts both hands on her hips, and wriggles all sexy-like toward her opponent. Yes, I realize Catwoman uses her sexuality as a weapon in the comics, and to see her be coy doesn't surprise me, what's weird is seeing her go from animal-life fighting stance to “come hither” in half a second when it's totally unnecessary.
Even Wonder Woman has some disturbing body proportions, with a tiny head stacked on top of shoulders so broad you could land her invisible jet on them, and an arching back that sticks her chest out to a borderline impossible degree.
Female characters are sexualized, in video games and in comics, and Injustice is hardly the greatest offender. It's merely the most recent one, and the way it portrays female characters who could easily be justified as strong and non-sexualized is obnoxious to the point of distraction. Some female characters do use their sexuality as a weapon, but it doesn't make sense for every character in the game, especially when they're fighting to survive.
Justice is served
When the dust settles and the gods among us have fallen, Injustice stands as a fun and meaty fighter. There are plenty of modes to check out, each packed with content. If the game's story mode doesn't wet your whistle, check out Battle, which is Injustice's version of the classic Arcade mode.
Or, head online and rank up while customizing your player card with banners, images, and icons unlocked through play. Or, take a break from the standard fighting and jump into the STARS Lab, where you can take on unique challenges, such as breaking into a museum as Catwoman and then playing as her cat, Isis.
Or, or, or. The game has much to discover and unlock, and it rewards frequent playing. It may not be the most balanced fighter out there, and it may not quite live up to the strong impression Mortal Kombat left us with, but Injustice is still a fun, and often funny, brawler. There's nothing wrong in focusing a game on fans of fighting who like fun and flash over impeccable balance and competition, and Injustice serves that audience very well.