It’s easy to think of Injustice: Gods Among Us as the next logical step after the two previous titles from NetherRealm Studios: 2008’s Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe and the 2011 Mortal Kombat reboot. But Injustice is also more (and less) than the sum of its parts. It will be familiar to anyone who has played the Mortal Kombat reboot, but it also does new things that really tap into the “Gods Among Us” angle.
Platforms: PS3, Wii U (Version Played), Xbox 360
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Genre: Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe… Without Any Mortal Kombat Characters
Release Date: April 19, 2013
ESRB Rating: Mature
The Joker is causing trouble again for the Justice League as the Story Mode of Injustice: Gods Among Us opens. He has planted a nuclear bomb in the middle of Metropolis, but as the device counts down to zero, our heroes (and villain) are transported to another world: an alternate universe where the bomb went off, destroying much of Metropolis, and killing Lois Lane.
After her death, the Superman of this world has a breakdown and institutes the “One Earth” government, murdering villains and heroes alike who stand against him. Naturally, this kind of dictatorship rankles Batman, and the Caped Crusader goes underground in an attempt to stop him. With the help of Lex Luthor (who was never a criminal in this universe and is actually pretending to be Superman’s best friend), Batman is able to bring the heroes from the main DCU to the Injustice universe to stop Superman.
So how does Batman go toe-to-toe with Superman this time? Why, it’s all thanks to a special strength pill created with “Kryptonian Nanotech.” These pills end up giving everyone (including Harley Quinn and The Joker) Superman-level strength. The Macguffin is constantly mocked in the game, called “Happy Pills” and “Indestructo Pills” by the characters and, like Kryptonite in the comics, every two-bit thug has no trouble grabbing a handful. NetherRealm knows the idea of someone like Harley Quinn taking on Superman and winning is ridiculous, but they came up with a perfectly serviceable comic book solution, so I’m satisfied.
The Story Mode in Injustice is considerably simpler (and shorter) than the one found in the Mortal Kombat reboot. Multiple opponents (two-on-one or three-on-one battles) of any kind are out. Instead, the entire Story Mode uses standard one-on-one fights. Because of the length and lack of “unfair” fights, I was able to tear through the whole thing in a day. But at least I did get to hear some great vocal performances from Kevin Conroy (Batman), Adam Baldwin (Green Lantern), and Alan Tudyk (Green Arrow).
While the Story Mode was fun, I don’t think NetherRealm went far enough with the “Injustice universe” concept. The heroes had shoddy (or non-existent) reasons for joining Superman’s One Earth army and the villains seemed entirely content to serve under Superman. I wasn’t expecting massive changes (these familiar characters have to stay recognizable after all), but even something as simple as new costumes didn’t happen. Only Wonder Woman got a completely new look and most, like Superman, just had a slightly altered color palette. Batman didn’t even get a new costume; his Injustice doppelganger wears the same costume (with a few extra rips and tears) as the Batman of “our” universe.
Thankfully, as a fan of the Mortal Kombat reboot, the fighting felt pretty great. To get it out of the way, yes, the gameplay can definitely be best described as “Mortal Kombat with DC Comics characters,” but it also felt like its own thing.
Instead of MK’s traditional High Kick/Low Kick and High Punch/Low Punch setup, Injustice uses a new button configuration of Light, Medium, and Strong. The Block button is also gone, replaced with a Street Fighter-like press in the Back direction. The Power Move allows each hero or villain to reach into their bag of tricks for a not-so-special Special Move. For example, Batman pulls out a batarang and Green Arrow… shoots an arrow. Like I said, not very thrilling. Much more impressive are the Super Moves, Injustice’s screen shattering (and world shattering, but more on that in a second) answer to Mortal Kombat’s X-Ray Moves. This new setup took a little getting used to (I still accidentally press the Power Move button expecting some kind of punch), but, aside from the change in blocking, it felt a lot like Mortal Kombat.
The game also introduces the Clash System, a random event where fighters trash talk each other (sometimes with character specific dialogue) and then wager a part of their Super Meter. Mid-fight trash talk is a tried-and-true part of comic books, and I’m glad that Injustice managed to include it in some way, but the Clash System feels rather pointless. Because the events are random, there’s no way to plan for it, and whoever has the larger Super Meter will win. So you almost have to wager the max, unless you obviously can’t win, which just piles on the frustration even more.
But what really sets Injustice apart are its interactive arenas. Fighters can pick up a parked car and slam it into their opponent or swing from a nearby chandelier to safety. Each arena has multiple interactive setpieces making it easy to feel heroic in Injustice. NetherRealm was really able to capture the feeling that these are powerful people doing damage to the world around them. When these titans (and a few Titans) do battle, the world shakes. Buildings collapse, statues crumble – it’s all very impressive.
Sadly, I never got the feeling that their blows were doing much damage to each other. Kryptonian Nanotech or not, you should be able to feel the power behind a Superman uppercut. And you don’t. Powerful characters like Superman and Wonder Woman don’t feel like they have as much power behind their punches as they should. If Shao Kahn somehow invaded the DC Universe (again), he’d enslave everyone in a matter of minutes.
Like the Mortal Kombat reboot, Injustice features a ton of secondary modes including an arcade ladder (with 20 variants) and the Challenge Tower-like STAR Labs section. I liked trying out the different ladder variants, but I can’t say I was interested in spending too much time inside STAR Labs.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is probably the best DC Comics fighter yet, but it falls just short of being a great game. That said, anyone who is a fan of NetherRealm Studios or the DC Comics Universe should definitely give it a shot, as it’s still a very good game. While the Story Mode feels like it’s lacking something, there’s a lot of fun gameplay here, especially if you like fighting games. And extra especially if you like fighting games that star Batman.
Review Disclosure: A retail copy of Injustice: Gods Among Us was purchased by Warp Zoned for the purposes of this review.