Injustice: Gods Among Us is an accessible, addictive, and fun fighting game.
Ed Boon, Dan Forden, and the rest of the crew at NetherRealm Studios have developed a new fighting game that feels a lot like Mortal Kombat, but features only DC Universe characters and is sans blood and gore. No, this isn't MK Vs DC Universe 2, although I wouldn't be complaining if it was. Injustice: Gods Among Us (IGAU) is clearly influenced by 2011's Mortal Kombat, also by NetherRealms. Each of the twenty playable characters has a variety of basic, combo, and special attacks, as well as a super move that in some cases literally reaches the stratosphere. Gameplay is immediately accessible yet there are enough advanced tactics that hardcore fighters should find comfort in. This is what I would call a "western" fighter. In other words, it does not feature fifty playable characters and three or four kinds of meters and special attacks that require multiple half circle and diagonal directions to pull off. This is not wildly technical fighter like Blazblue nor even as deep as Street Fighter IV really. If you don't own an arcade stick and are not interested in mastering very technical strategies, IGAU is a breath of fresh air.
IGUA has a tutorial that is worth going through, even if you are a veteran fighter. There are a few gameplay elements, such as interactive objects, transitions, and clashes, that are well worth paying attention to. In going through the tutorial, you will learn about every detail of playing, the most advanced bits you'll probably only need online, where a growing community is already seeing a lot of level 50s and head-shakingly high numbers in the Leaderboards. Before going online, you might want to check out the single player modes, which in addition to single match and practice, include Story, Battle, and STAR Labs Missions.
The Story, as with Mortal Kombat, is split into multiple chapters (twelve in this case), with each chapter being dedicated to a different character. Cutscenes are seamlessly connected to gameplay, and the flow of the fights is very smooth. Rounds are blurred by doing away with the verbiage and presentation reset typically associated with rounds. Instead, when one player's first of two lifelines reaches zero, you hear a sound, the players go into a very brief victory/defeat animation, and you're off and running again in seconds. On the default Medium difficulty, the Story should only take two or three hours, which isn't very long, but it's a very entertaining couple of hours nonetheless. I will say that the story is somewhat hard to follow, what with the multiple dimensions, flashbacks, and duplicate characters. Batman rescues himself at one point and Wonder Woman also encounters her extra-dimensional self. It's classic comic book stuff, but I found it somewhat hard to follow. The jist of the matter is that Superman has turned villain, taking away all democracy on Earth and forming the One Earth government. He rules with fear and an iron fist and seeks to expand his rule. This change in Superman all happened because the Joker tricked him into doing something too horrific for me to spoil for you. Anyway, besides the story, this mode is really useful to try out other characters you might not otherwise try. I probably would have never picked Aquaman for example, but when his chapter came up, I found out pretty quickly that I not only like him, but his super power is probably the coolest in the game. On the other hand, my suspicions about playing as Wonder Woman was confirmed late in the Story; her attacks just don't fit my style I guess.
Battles mode is great for seeing an unique ending for each of the twenty playable characters. This is sort of the traditional arcade mode in a way. To start with, you have a few ways to play this mode. You can go up against only Heroes, only Villains, a mixture, or enable some kind of other modifier that constantly drains your health or something like that. The Classic version of Battle pits you against ten foes in a row, with the ability to Continue and change characters as often as you'd like. Whoever you finish the final battle with, that's the ending you will unlock. I did something similar with MK: Deception way back in the Gamecube days. I would play as Kung Lao all the way up to Shang Tsung and Quan Chi and then switch to whichever character I had not finished the game with. If you're hunting for XP as well as Armory and Access Cards for The Archives (similar to The Krypt in the MK games), the Battle mode is a good place to dig in.
There are some 240 STAR Labs Missions that are split into groups based around a character. The first eight or so are played with Superman, for example. These quick tests of skill are good practice and generally brief and easy enough to be addictive. As an example, the second Superman mission requires that you defeat Bane, hit him with a Level Transition, and win with fifty-plus seconds left. If you're burned out with online play or are just a completionist, the STAR Labs Missions are going to keep you busy for quite a while, certainly far longer than the Story, anyway.
Accomplishments in Single or Multiplayer are rewarded with XP (even losses net you some XP) and unlockables, and there are quite a lot of these. In the Bonus section of the main menu, you will discover The Archives. Here, you can view character endings you have unlocked, take a brief 2D tour of the arenas, and spend special cards on gameplay modifiers (starting with 1/4 health, things like that) and a variety of other goodies. Unlocking concept art for a character might reveal dozens of still images take from the development stages which are always neat to see. A separate section under Bonus is where you can edit your Hero Card and view detailed stats of your fighting history, including who you've played as, win/loss percentage, etc. The Hero Card customizations help you make a statement online by allowing you to customize an avatar and background of your profile card. Much of these extras are unlocked by playing Single player modes.
Taking Injustice online is a logical step and I'm happy to say that nearly a week after release, there is a strong online community from the looks of it. I have yet to have any trouble finding a game to play and nearly every game has played very smoothly. Modes of play include Ranked and Unranked matches as well as King of the Hill and Survivor. In these, you enter a lobby where you can see other Hero Cards and chat as you spectate the two active players fighting it out. You have to wait your turn to jump in, but the ability to bet on the outcomes to earn XP for yourself can keep things interesting. Furthermore, in every screen of the lobby, there is a persistent tips/tidbits area where stats from the game are displayed. Very detailed stats like the number of arrows fired by Green Arrow or how many times Catwoman has been in battle are shown, and these are always interesting enough to glance at.
I've spent the bulk of this review just talking about what IGAU brings to the table in terms of modes and additional features, but some additional attention to gameplay is in order. Currently, there are twenty playable characters, including the major DC faces like Joker and Superman, as well as some you may have never heard of, like Raven, Dark Adam, and Ares. All characters are available in all modes. The controls make it very easy to pick up and play as any character and be successful. When you pause, the special moves command list pops up, giving you a quick reminder of what inputs are needed to execute the more powerful attacks. Something I first saw in MK Vs DC Universe that I always liked was the simplified controls, relying only on the four main d-pad directions and a button or two. This makes reliably pulling off special moves doable, which adds tremendously to the fun factor. IGAU has an extra-damage modifier you can use on special attacks too, by pressing R2 immediately after the special attack command. This will result in a slightly different version of the attack, one that does more damage. It removes a chunk of your super move meter in the process, but is often worth it.
Each fighter also has a special attack reserved for the Circle button. In the case of Nightwing or Wonder Woman, pressing Circle switches them between two different weapons (Escrima and Staff for Nightwing, Lasso and Sword with Shield for Wonder Woman). Other characters receive a temporary boost in power when pressing Circle, but there are other variations to this as well. Green Arrow, for example, has a short window to use fire or ice arrows after the player presses Circle, and Deathstroke slows down time briefly, allowing him to get in more shots with his firearms than normal.
The environments can play a major role in determining the outcome of a match as well. Many of the fifteen arenas feature items that you can press R1 near to use. Some of these allow you to reposition by swinging or bouncing off of objects to create some distance, while others are used to inflict damage on the opponent. In the Batcave, you can back up close to a computer and press R1, which fires rockets from the Batmobie in the background. In another arena, a hole is smashed into a tanker with damaging liquid. These environmental actions are cool, but none as devastating as a Level Transition which happens when you catch your opponent near a Transition and hit them with back+X. These lengthy animated sequences usually generate ten or twelve hits on the attacked, resulting in over thirty percent damage.
Clashes are pretty cool and I think they happen more or less randomly (or at least I don't know how to initiate one). A Clash is when one player is attacking another and each player must wager between essentially one and four. What you can vote is dependent upon how full your super power meter is. Whoever wages the most of their meter typically wins, resulting in someone either losing around thirty percent HP, or gaining it, or some variation in between. As with the super moves and environmental mechanics, Clashes can turn the tide of battle instantly.
As for the presentation, IGAU does very well. Animations are smooth and costumes are nicely detailed. No framerate issues were experienced at all. I did get a little bit tired of the same arenas and super move animations after several hours, though. Some super moves are simply awesome and take a lot longer to get tired of, but it's worth mentioning that at least a second super move per character would have gone a long way. Voiceovers are fitting and add to the experience. The soundtrack is good, but not as memorable as those from the old Mortal Kombat
games. Load times are handled very well, especially if you are re-trying, aka continuing a fight after a lose, there is almost no load time at all.
On that note, let's get to the summary...