When Injustice: Gods Among Us debuted at last year’s E3, the walls of the Los Angeles Convention Center were plastered with Batman and Wonder Woman grimacing menacingly. “Oh great, another cash-in”, I thought. I dismissed the game since I’m not a huge fighting game fan myself. I skipped over the 2011 remake of Mortal Kombat because it didn’t seem to offer anything new over what I had played nearly 20 years ago on my SNES. When Injustice: Gods Among Us finally released this month and it fell to me to review it, I thought I’d hate the task and I’d be happy to be done with it. Thankfully, I was wrong.
NetherRealm Studios bills Injustice: Gods Among Us as a new era of fighting game. This is a fitting title, since Injustice is unlike anything I’ve played and it certainly sets the bar for games in the fighting genre releasing afterward. There is a story to be told that’s actually competent. It ties in the fighting gameplay well with what you’re seeing on screen and aside from a few quick-time events before certain fights, you’ll be doing a lot of fighting using many different heroes and villains from the DC universe. Players should approach the game as having a story waiting to be told, but hang on to it for the robust leveling system and fighting mechanics.
As a three-button fighter, many early critics wondered if Injustice: Gods Among Us could hold up to classic fighters like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, where stringing combos together requires sharp memorization of moves for specific characters. The answer is a resounding yes, as I found myself able to string together combos of simple moves up to three times, allowing for massive damage.
Audio & Visuals
Since the gameplay revolves around fighting, one of the things NetherRealm Studios had to get right was the atmosphere and character design. The level design hits the ball out of the park, as every single level except for Aquaman’s Atlantis home has multiple areas you can knock your opponent into in order to continue the fight. The act of this transition does damage to the hero getting knocked through the walls, making the environment just another hazard you have to avoid while you’re playing.
Many levels feature items that can be grabbed and thrown at your opponent, or interactive items that you can grapple or kick your opponent into in order to gain the upperhand. The sheer level of ways you can use the environment against your opponent means you not only have to be on your toes around these items lest they be used against you, but also understanding how these items can be countered becomes extremely important as well.
Character designs in the game are mostly spot on, though there are a few that are hit or miss with me. Long time fans of The Joker will miss Mark Hamill’s voice and I personally found that Harley Quinn’s outfit could have been better, but overall most of the heroes and villains look outstanding. Solomon Grundy comes complete with knives in his back and a noose around his neck, while Wonder Woman is looking the best she has in years.
Each of the super moves that the characters come equipped with offer unique bits of flair that turn the game interesting as well. From Aquaman offering up his opponent on a trident skewer to a shark to Batman lithely vaulting over the Batmobile as it pummels his opponent, there’s no lack of jaw dropping moments here. The only real bummer is that there seems to be very little in the way of variation, so once you’ve seen all the super moves at least once, you know what’s in store for you.
Gameplay in both single-player and multi-player is competent. The single-player experience chains together a series of fights with characters as the story progresses, culminating with the final fight against Superman. There’s also a mode similar to what fans of Mortal Kombat will be familiar with, where you choose a fighter and fight progressively harder characters until the end. In this mode, 9 characters are chosen at random for you to fight, as the final fight always ends with Superman.
Combinations are easy to learn, as they’re usually a mix of pressing back or forward with a certain button in order to execute a move. These moves can be strung together to create larger moves and certain moves once strung together can dip from your power bar in order to do more damage. The power bar fills up as you fight and once you reach four bars, you can perform your character’s super move by hitting ZL + ZR together. Unlike Mortal Kombat’s fatalities, these moves can be blocked, so players need to be conscious of when to activate them.
NetherRealm Studios have also included a risk vs. reward system called a wager, which can be initiated by either party. Once a wager is initiated, players can bet an amount of their power bar by pressing the corresponding button on the screen. The reward depends on who wins. For a player who is low on health, health regen will be granted and a player who initiates the wager who is high on health will deal an amount of damage. It’s an interesting system that’s generally used to get a second wind, since the damage inflicted during the wager is not a great use of the power bar.
Another unique aspect of the game is a leveling system, which grants you experience points for every fight you win. As you level up, you unlock certain rewards, such as alternate costumes and hero cards that can be used throughout the rest of the game.
There are several different multi-player modes available for those who finish the single-player game and feel honed enough to start facing foes online. Ranked matches are as brutal as ever, but for those who want to practice their skills, 1v1 and King of the Hill modes offer a good opportunity. King of the Hill is unique in that you can watch other players battle against the current king in the attempt to depose that player. XP pots are up for grabs as you bet on who will win and come your turn, if you manage to depose the king you’ll be the opponent everyone is fighting against.
It’s a unique look at how players are are utilizing characters, but certain balance issues can mar online play. For example, during one of my online matches, I came across a player who consistently selected Killer Frost because the character has a looping issue that needs to be patched. This player perfected performing the combo that results in 50% damage if you get stuck in this loop, as there’s no way to block or break it. This exploitation of moves is common in online games so it’s an annoyance that has to be dealt with, but NetherRealm Studios should be keen on player feedback concerning the balance between all the characters.
The real bummer for players who want to play against their friends is that it’s currently impossible on the Wii U version. There is no custom match option available for the Wii U version of the game, meaning you’re stuck with random matches. Some players have reported success at using KOTH as a means to play their friends, but as this is open to anyone to join, it is certainly not a remedy. NetherRealm Studios’ have expressed via Twitter their intention to support the game through patches, so hopefully this is something we see in the future.
Wii U features
Off-TV play works very well for Injustice: Gods Among Us. Most of the playing I did was using the GamePad and the game looks just as well there as it does on the TV. Loading times for the game were a bit slow, but now that the official Wii U update hit yesterday and I played a few matches this morning, the game loads very quickly. In fact, usually there is less than 5 seconds of load time between matches during a single-player set up.
The Pro Controller is also usable with the game and I found that to be a very competent way to enjoy it. Fans who are used to fight sticks or playing with a controller will likely want to use the Pro Controller, as the GamePad can be a little unwieldy when you’re using it and looking at the TV. However, using the GamePad and looking at the screen on the GamePad offers a great way to experience the game as well.
Overall, I would say that Injustice: Gods Among Us certainly spawned a new era of fighting game. Games in the genre have a lot to live up to when players can experience the robust gameplay of Injustice and that’s great, as it means future fighters will need to innovate on this already successful formula.
- Amazing visuals
- Each character feels unique
- Story is mixed perfectly with gameplay
- Combos can be executed quickly and strung together
- Environments and hazards offer truly strategic gameplay
- Some of the voice acting is a little stilted
- No custom matches for Wii U players