Injustice: Gods Among Us: The Kotaku Review

The greatest comic book battles aren't between heroes and villains. You can catch Batman punching out the Joker's magically regenerating teeth any day, but the Caped Crusader versus Green Lantern, or Superman, or Raven "We Need More Women in the Game" Roth? That's something special, even if the excuses for those battles are completely ridiculous. That's Injustice: Gods Among Us — stupidly exceptional.

Injustice: Gods Among Us

It's the most satisfying marriage of comic book heroes and fighting game mechanics ever created, even if the reason behind the battling is a little stupid.

Developer: Netherrealm Studio Platforms: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, Wii U Released: April 16, 2013 Type of game: fighting

Things I Liked

  • Gleefully brutal battles in wonderfully interactive environments. Half the fun is finding all the painful bits in any given stage.

Things I Didn't Like

  • I just can't take an alternate reality where Superman and his Super Friends wind up a gang of jackbooted, murderous thugs seriously.

The reason heroes are doling out equal-opportunity ass-kickings in Injustice isn't as silly as, say, Batman not recognising Superman with a new haircut or Hostess Fruit Pies. There is a dark impetus to the tarnishing of Superman's halo, but it's a darkness so deep and horrific that it slides right past chilling into clown shoes territory. See, the Joker tricks Superman into killing Lois Lane. He does this by making Superman see her as his once-killer, Doomsday. Supes beats the hell out of her and then flies her into space, where she dies, because one Doomsday-level punch from him wouldn't have mashed her into paste or anything.

Oh, and Lois was pregnant with his child.

That last bit is the tipping point. It's just short of having Lois in a school bus filled with orphans and puppies. It reminds me of the 2004 film based on Marvel's Punisher, where instead of Thomas Jane's wife and child being gunned down, mobsters visit the annual Castle family reunion and slaughter his entire extended family. I laughed and laughed. More tragedy isn't better tragedy.

Cut to several years later. Superman has taken over the world. Green Lantern has taken up the yellow ring of fear, fighting alongside Sinestro. Raven "No Really, Why am I Here?" Roth has succumbed to her father's evil influence and Cyborg uses his hacking skills for evil. All seems lost, until the heroes of the real DC Universe arrive in the alternate reality to have a fighting game.

The overarching plot, told through a series of character-focused chapters a ‘la the most recent Mortal Kombat, would be an utterly painful experience if not for the smaller, more intimate interactions between both versions of the iconic characters. You want me to sit through Superman's textbook megalomaniacal dictator rant? Fine, as long as you've got Green Arrow and the Flash bantering about being men among gods, Green Lantern saying, "I'm gonna kick my arse," and the patented "none of your damn business alarm."

Besides, when it comes right down to it all of this exposition is just an excuse for titans to go toe-to-toe, and damn if Netherrealm Studios hasn't completely made up for the limp Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe from a couple years back. Those tussles were sissy slap-fights compared to earth-shaking struggles of Injustice.

These are Earth's mightiest heroes (take that, Marvel) and villains, and when they meet in battle the entire world trembles. The ground heaves, windows shatter, and vehicles explode. Filled with interactive objects, the environments in Injustice are equal parts weapon and arena, adding a weight to the stage select screen that's never really been there before. It's all about the spectacle — in fact, there's even a combat mechanic dedicated to furthering it.

The Clashing system, which allows opponents to wager a portion of their power bar for a chance at a health bump, is mainly good for a couple of choice character quotes and a massive shockwave that rocks the scenery. It's a neat idea, but I generally wager nothing at all, so I can pull off an implausible super move and steal whatever health my opponent might have gained. Still, completely worth it for the big boom.

The sound and fury is nearly enough to overshadow the combat system entirely, but this is Ed Boon and company at their most heroic. Mortal Kombat-style fighting hasn't felt this fluid and natural in... ever. There's never an awkward or stilted animation. You can feel the power behind every blow, and burning your super meter to make your special moves that much more special is a gratifying use of your skills.

It's the sort of fighting system that makes every player, whether seasoned veteran or shaky novice still working through the game's 240 S.T.A.R. Labs challenge missions, feel as if they're only a move or two away from victory. You fall, you dust yourself off and keep playing. There's always hope.

There's also always balance issues, which are hard to avoid when you're pitting Superman-level heroes against the likes of Catwoman. Even enhanced by Kryptonian nanotechnology pills (there's that silly plot again) there are bound to be discrepancies, and no amount of twisted, alternate-reality bullshit can explain why I get beaten by Aquaman every single time I face him online. Seriously, Arthur. Quit it.

After being disappointed by Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe, I wasn't expecting much from Injustice: Gods Among Us. I grew even more concerned as the release date arrived and I still hadn't received my review copy of the game — generally not a good sign. Now, having played through the entire story mode, tasted triumph in the surprisingly smooth online multiplayer and slowly working my way through the S.T.A.R. Labs challenges, I could almost be convinced the entire delay was for the purposes of building dramatic tension. That is, if my faith in Netherrealm's ability to construct a dramatic plot weren't on the same level as my faith in them creating a female character with realistic hair. Either way, this was a game worth waiting for.

In retrospect, perhaps the silly, slap-dashed plot is one of Injustice: Gods Among Us' greatest strengths. Without having to worry about creating a cohesive, sensible narrative, Netherrealm Studios was free to create one of the best comic-based fighting games ever made. If Lois Lane had to die to get it done, then so be it.


Comments

    Great review Mike. I agree with everything you have said about Injustice. Aquaman has to be balanced. If you stay away from him, he gets you with a trident that comes from the bottom of the screen, and if you try to get in close, he uses his trident which has much more reach than anyone else.

    i take it you're not a DC comics fan given the complaints of alternate universes?

    DC is rife with it, the whole DC universe is set around multiple earths and what ifs? and suppose thats?
    There are a number of stories where the justice league, or batman, or superman do the whole "take over the world for the betterment of the human race".

    The injustice comic so far also seems to explain why superman goes so far over the edge, sure there's the murdering his wife and unborn child, but thats not enough, he gets pushed by wonderwoman further into it.
    and as you play the game you learn that the whole reason the other characters join him is out of fear.
    Just watch the scene where shazzam decides to talk back.

    personally i find the story right alongside the comics in style and set, its true enough to the DC line of thinking.

    And how bullshit is aquaman in this? i mean really? goddamn they gave him such an awesome moveset and Super move, i love it.
    Green arrow has the correct sense of humour.
    The jokers crowbar is pretty much Hagar's lead pipe move.

    The little mini games made of QTE's you get are actually fun, the game is incredibly polished and you actually feel OP when playing as some of the characters.

    my primary gripe and only one so far, is that during the story missions, you are thrust into playing a new character you have never used, and the first round for each fight is almost like the difficulty is turned to max, and you cant get a single hit in, but when you 'retry' the NPC stands there for half a round doing nothing.

    Last edited 19/04/13 11:41 am

      I agree with you.

      My only complaints apart from yours is I hate the way you block.

      I also wish they had some Vertigo Characters in it.

      Aquaman is seriously OP online. Cheap players using him all over the place.

      As far as the story goes, how can people hate it? This is one of those alternate stories that can grip long time fans into believing what could happen if Superman ever snapped properly. I know it tarnishes the "All American Superhero" that Superman is made out to be, but sometimes these stories are the ones that stand out (Red Son anyone?). People need to remember what it's like to enjoy something that is not the normal way of writing a character, but then again these are comic book fans who go apeshit when there is the slightest character change or their look changes by one patch of cloth.

    Nice review, won't be purchasing it on Wii U until it's confirmed they've patched in the ability to play against friends....what a joke.

    I enjoyed it at first but am finding the combat doesn't flow very well. Either COM or player, there's way to many moments where you're awkwardly trading 1 second gap slaps with the other player.
    Also move execution feels clumsy and slow to register.
    I know it's not MK9, but I do wish they implemented the pre move/combo starter.

    this game is fantastic. an easy 8/10.

    I really enjoyed the visual style and love to find a reason to not like supes considering how boring an invincible hero really is. However I still find the controls on both my sixaxis make it impossible to keep juggling an opponent in the air.

    I havent really gotten into the S.T.A.R labs missions but now that the game is out hopefully my own red son codes work and I will get right into them. maybe then I will finally pull off more than 2 air juggle hits.

    and I love how they made Aquaman OP. its about time he got taken seriously

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