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Injustice: Gods Among Us Review

by on April 24, 2013
 

When you’re a kid growing up surrounded by comic books, TV shows and films all about superheroes, you’re bound to ask yourself the age old question of “Who would win in a fight between X and Y?”. Injustice: Gods Among Us is the game that’s perfectly suited to answer that very question, and if you’re one of the millions of people that have asked it over the course of your life then you’ve no doubt already been out, bought the game and have been working through all of the answers (my personal favourite being Green Lantern and Green Arrow – two people with ‘Green’ in their names? That’s not on!). Developed by the excellent Mortal Kombat kreators (sorry, no more K jokes) NetherRealms Studios, there’s every chance that Injustice: Gods Among Us is exactly the game that comic book geeks, fighting game nerds and all gamers alike have been clamouring for. Have the developers gone the way of the Guardians of the Universe and succumbed to their greed for a simple payday, or have they followed the path of the Green and found the willpower needed to create a fighter for the ages?

What would happen if the Joker managed to drug Superman enough to force him to accidentally kill Lois Lane and destroy all of Metropolis? That’s the question that Injustice attempts to answer in its story mode. Superman goes entirely off of the deep end, deciding single-handedly that he’s been holding back his powers too long, and that his long standing rule of not killing even the most evil of villains is something that’s dated and needs to change. As such he decides to form the One Earth Government, a dictatorship with himself at its head. At the start of the game everything seems to be coming up roses: Superman is only really taking down the villains of the DC universe and people don’t to mind that too much. However, things soon take a turn for the worse when Superman starts deciding that anyone who opposes him is the definition of “villain”. Someone needs to stop him in his tracks and that person is you, the player, as you take control of a selection of heroes from across the DCU, heroes that have come from a parallel dimension in which Superman didn’t fall for the Joker’s trick and hasn’t turned into the universe’s most powerful super villain.

The story to Injustice: Gods Among us isn’t penned by any major talent from the comic book industry, so don’t expect a story on the same level as the Arkham games, but it still holds its own. Considering that you’re playing a fighting game, a genre that notoriously leaves the story on the back-burner, Injustice makes an absolute stellar job of it. The story only lasts for about 5 – 6 hours (I’d have liked it to last until around the eight hour mark) but, thankfully, there’s plenty more to keep you playing.

Injustice: Gods Among Us is certainly a visually pleasing game, with all the characters rendered to a high quality that showcases the level of care and love that made it what it is. One of the most impressive aspects for me, and something I wasn’t expecting, was the use of a few assets from Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City. The first time you knock a player through the wall in Arkham Asylum and straight into the back of Killer Croc – the exact Killer Croc from Arkham City – is a particular high point. The only downside to this is that now I’ve seen these characters in Injustice, I want to play the game as them, and you can’t – at least not at the moment.

The backgrounds of the game are also some of the most impressive I’ve seen in a fighting game, each one reacting to the action. Knock a player into the wall and parts of the background will crumble and fall in reaction. The fighting already feels weighted, but watching the arenas fall to the ground as you’re beating the crap out of your opponent just adds an extra layer that we haven’t seen before. On top of the impressive backgrounds, each stage has a couple of different areas within it, and you can transition between these two areas – brutally – by kicking your opponent through certain areas. These transition moments never get old, and you’ll be knocking enemies through the wall as much as you possibly can while you’re playing  - regardless of the mode.

When it comes to the animations, all of them are pulled off with a decent amount of effort, and most people won’t get tired of Batman spinning his cape around in true Dark Knight fashion, or Doomsday pummelling his opponent all the way through the Earth while executing his Super Move. However, there is a downside to the animation that affects how the combat plays out during each of the battles, and that’s the fact that once you’re in the process of performing one of your animations, you can’t cancel what you’re doing in order to do something different. Once you’re accustomed to the character that you’ve chosen to play as, and you’ve learned all of your combos as if they were an extension of your own body, it’s not a problem any more, but before that you may find yourself using an attack that doesn’t move smoothly into a second stage of a prospective combo and, due to the sluggish and slow nature of the movements in general, if your attack doesn’t link to a second attack (and then hopefully at least a third), you’ll find yourself open to a lot of incoming attacks.

The sound design in Injustice: Gods Among Us is another aspect that’s been taken extremely seriously. The voice actors hired to perform the many characters are often straight straight from the cartoons featuring them. For example, Kevin Conroy does the voice of Batman, Alan Tudyk performs everyone’s favourite Emerald Archer (that’s Green Arrow for all of you uninitiated) and, another Firefly alumni, Adam Baldwin performs the vocal duties for Green Lantern.

Although the music is a little repetitive after a couple of straight hours of play, every time you start the game up again after just a short respite the theme song will get you ready to smash some superhero face faster than any words or images could hope to.

Gameplay-wise, Injustice: Gods Among Us is a strange beast. Everything is good, but it takes an hour or two to realise that. If, like me, you’ve been playing Mortal Kombat for the last couple of weeks in order to brush up your combat skills for Injustice: Gods Among Us assuming that it’s going to be the same mechanics, then you may be disappointed to learn that NetherRealm Studios have gone slightly outside their comfort zone and created a game that doesn’t have the six button system that we’re used to. Instead it has just three attack buttons, a special power button, a throw button and an interact button. It takes a little bit of time to learn, and if you’re expecting the Mortal Kombat system you may find yourself taking more punches than you’re dealing, but after a couple of hours you’ll be fighting as if you’re channelling the character straight from the pages of their respective comic books.

After you’ve gotten past the awful tutorial mode, where you have to input some combos with such precision that it would take a professional gamer to get past it, you’ll be ready to start the Story mode. NetherRealm Studios have taken what they learned with Mortal Kombat and applied it to their latest masterpiece to create a story that feels like it could have been taken straight from the pages of a DC Comics crossover event. It lets you take control of a good selection of characters from the line-up. It doesn’t include all of them though, so if you want to experiment with the likes of Black Adam, Shazam and Raven – among others – you’re going to have to try them out in another mode, which is a good way to keep you playing.

There’re plenty of modes to keep even those with a short attention span glued to their screens for hours at a time. There’s the previously mentioned Story mode, a selection of Battles – including the Classic battle mode that many people will be used to, where a character is selected then pitted against nine random opponents and Superman – and there’s even a challenge mode in the form of S.T.A.R. Labs, where the player must accomplish certain feats in order to beat the challenge, being awarded a number of stars out of three based on how many of the built-in challenges they were able to complete. Some of the challenges you’ll be asked to perform will feel like normal battles but with strange handicaps placed on them. For example, one of Superman’s missions tasks him with fighting against Lex Luthor in a suit that has been modified to use Kryptonite as a power source and, as such, you must hit Lex ten times to disable the Kryptonite before youy can even damage him. These restrictions add a level of challenge, and it’s rather fun to see what ideas the game will throw up next. This uncertainty, coupled with the fact that the challenges are short, gives you a definite sense of “just one more go”, which will keep you playing long after you intend to stop. With 240 challenges (ten for each character), you’ll be spending a hell of a long time with them if that’s your preference.

A couple of the aforementioned ‘Battles’ will be unlocked from the start of the game, to give you a taste of the potential to come, but most of them will have to be unlocked through the ‘Archives’. These unlockable Battles are rather brutal and can range from completing a selection of matches using only a single health bar, all the way through to some that sound rather impossible for the average gamer, such as one where you start out with practically no health and have to beat a range of different opponents without dying. There are battles here for people of all skill levels and play styles, as well as players who want to get to know a certain character inside and out. If you’re looking for a game that you can absolutely perfect, then Injustice: Gods Among Us could be the one. The “Archives” are a good way to extend the lifetime of the game too, giving the player a selection of xtras to unlock using Armoury Keys or Archive Keys. These keys are unlocked at various points throughout the game – most often for levelling up your profile – with the Armoury Keys being used exclusively to unlock additional costumes for each superhero. There’s really a lot of content available to unlock, and if you’re a fan of concept art, you’re going to spend a lot of time unlocking every single thing you can in the Archives.

On top of all those additional modes, there’s also the mode that’s arguably the staple for any modern fighting game; the Online mode. The Online mode in Injustice: Gods Among Us is as fully featured as you would expect from a AAA studio like NetherRealm, and if you played Mortal Kombat then you’ll know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. There are three game modes to whet your appetite with: 1V1, Koth (which took me longer than I would care to admit to realise that this is ‘King of the Hill’) and Survival, which is another mode so similar to the previously mentioned ‘Koth’ mode that I genuinely thought there’d been a mistake at the manufacturing level. It turns out that these two modes are essentially the same thing, with the winner of the match staying on and the loser going to the bottom of the pile of people waiting to play, only with Koth you can bet your XP on what you think the outcome of the match is going to be, and with Survival you can’t. Another difference between the two is that with Koth you can apply challenges yourself – these are small wagers that you can bet that you’ll be able to do, such as finishing the game with a Super Move – and with Survival these challenges are applied for you automatically.

Most players will only really care about the 1V1 method of playing, and for those people there are a couple of ways to get into a game. The Ranked Match option puts you in a match that, as you would expect from the title, affects your global ranking (but can upwards of five minutes to get into even at peak time). Player Match just pits you against the first person available, and the outcome of the ensuing match-up doesn’t have any bearing on your global ranking. However, just as with the previously mentioned “Ranked Match”, it can take a rather long time to actually find an opponent, at least on the PlayStation 3 version of the game. If you’re the type of online player that only enjoys playing with your Xbox LIVE/PlayStation Network friends, then Private Match is going to be your friend, as here you can set up exactly what type of match you want to play and how many people you want to allow into the room.

By far the easiest way to get into a match, and a method I found to be the most enjoyable when it came to playing Injustice: Gods Among Us online, is to join one of the many rooms that spring up to accommodate online players – you can even create your own too. Within these rooms you can looking at the list of players to see which of them are currently partaking in a match that allows for the addition of extra players (such as Koth) and then join them with the simple press of a button. No “Looking for Opponents” messages or waiting around for five minutes. From the room’s menu you can also challenge players directly, as long as they’re not currently in a match, or be challenged yourself. The biggest downside with the Online aspect of Injustice: Gods Among Us comes in the form of the Special Moves. These are the moves that each character can do once they’ve got a full special bar and the player holds the L2 and R2 buttons on the PlayStation 3 controller (probably the trigger buttons on the Xbox 360 version). While these are nice enough to watch, and the little animation that happens before it all kicks off is ok, a lot of the players online have learned how to easily avoid these incoming attacks, and the small animation that triggers before the attack is enough of a warning for them to get out of the way by just holding up on the analog stick so that when they gain control of their character again – when the Super Move is just about to start – they jump out of the way, the Super Move misses and you’re left with an empty special bar and a few possible expletives to choose from.

One nice addition to the game, and something which rounds off the multiplayer offerings quite nicely, is the addition of the Daily Challenge. These are small challenges which the player can choose to perform while they’re online. These are usually fairly straightforward; for example, the Daily Challenge at the time of writing is “Connect a total of 5 Super Moves with Wonder Woman in any online game mode.” This is a simple thing to do for the most part, but the fact that you have a time limit in which to do it in adds an element of urgency and ensures that, if you care about completing the Daily Challenge (which unlocks some gear for the Hero Card if you do), then you’re going to have to come back every day. Which is exactly what NetherRealm Studios and Warner Bros. want you to do. Pretty clever really.

There’s no doubting that there’s plenty of content in Injustice: Gods Among Us. Even once the six hour Story mode has been completed, there’s still the opportunity to go through the Classic Battle mode will each of the available characters to unlock each of their endings. Then there are the Archives to pilfer, and the option to link the game with the free iOS version of the application to unlock even more content. That’s before you even start to think about taking the game online and levelling up your profile even more.

VERDICT: Injustice’s change of control scheme from Mortal Kombat feels a little jarring at first for players of NetherRealm Studios’ previous outing, but it doesn’t take long to get to grips with it, and when you do you’ll be loving the simplicity of it while enjoying the complexity of the combos and special moves. If you’re a fan of DC Comics as well as a fan of fighters then Injustice: Gods Among Us is a no-brainer. The Story Mode will make you fall in love with the game, but once that’s done and you start unlocking the different areas, alternate costumes and all the unlockable battles, you’ll find yourself falling in love over and over again. Then there’s the battle between Batman and Batman. I mean… what the … I don’t even … BATMAN!

EXCELLENT. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.

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