The first thing that strikes you about Injustice: Gods Among Us is how bland it looks. Sure, it's running the same engine that powered 2011's Mortal Kombat and 2008's Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe, but for some reason, it feels rougher around the edges. While the levels are a lot more intense, denser and pack in more than the usual amount of detail, the character models don't animate that fluidly nor do they look that good. The same applies for the environments, which lack that final dose of spit and polish to make them really stand out. The game doesn't manage to match the graphical fidelity of current-gen stalwarts such as Soul Calibur VI.
Furthermore, we noticed a fair bit of jerkiness during cutscenes as well (despite performing a full install on the Xbox 360). And though you can't exactly patch the graphics to look better than they already are, we're hoping something is in the works to fix the cutscenes. Overall, the game runs without skipping a beat at what seems to be a fluid 60 frames per second.
Injustice perhaps has too much of Batman
Based in the DC Comics universe, Injustice: Gods Among Us, is helmed by the team behind the superlative Mortal Kombat series. Injustice builds upon the existing fighting game systems we all know and love by adding some slick features. As you'd expect, you have specific buttons for light, medium and heavy attacks, the analog stick or the d-pad is used to block and move across the level, and a there are a host of special combos and attacks unique to each character. Each character has two health bars and each match lasts for a single round. When your first health bar is depleted, you can tap the right trigger and move forward to 'clash' with your opponent. As they're about to trade blows, each player wagers a portion of his super meter in secret; the highest bidder wins the clash.
If the clash initiator wins, he doles out extra damage. If the defender wins, he gets extra health. A clash can only be activated once per fight by each player, and no damage is done in the event of a tie. Clashes are a sweet addition that makes Injustice very spectator-friendly and limiting its use to once per player makes it all the more strategic and worthwhile.
The aforementioned super-meter is used to pull off special attacks. The meter is broken into four distinct chunks and fills up when you take damage or string combos together. You can use your super-meter the moment one of the four bars is full to either amplify attacks (such as Superman's heat vision hitting twice instead of once) or to evade your opponent's attacks while blocking. It's best to wait until the entire meter fills up as it gives you access to a ridiculously over the top special move. My favourites included Aquaman summoning sharks into battle and Batman running down his opponent with the Batmobile.
Clash mode adds a measure of strategy to the fights
Taking a cue from the Dead or Alive series, each stage is multi-tiered. In order to access these different sections, you must attack near the appropriate edge of the arena. Most stages have two different levels. Triggering a transition to another area results in a veritable spectacle that competes with the more consistent special attacks in terms of sheer entertainment value. Triggering a level transition at Joker's Asylum, for example, has your opponent ricocheting around a couple of rooms getting smacked down by the Riddler, Penguin and a few other villains from Gotham. It's a cool addition that can change the entire state of the battle if used well.
Aside from specials, wagers and multi-tiered levels, you can also interact with objects in the environment. How you use them depends on your character. This means that if you're using someone like Batman, it's more likely that your interaction with a piece of furniture in the area (by pressing the right shoulder button) would result in you bouncing off it to evade attacks, while if you are Lex Luthor, you'd probably just pull it out and throw it at your opponent, resulting in extra damage. We found it to be quite an interesting way to mix combat up.
Regardless of your innate ability at fighting games, you'll definitely appreciate the robust tutorial that covers everything from basic movement to complex special attacks and combos. When you're done going through that, you can partake in the fairly deep single-player campaign. Unlike most fighting games, this game's single player mode was clearly not made as an after-thought. You'll find yourself in the shoes (and capes) of some of DC's finest, including Aquaman, Flash, Joker, Lex Luthor, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and, of course, Batman and Superman.
Here's some more Batman
The story revolves around a decimated Metropolis courtesy of Joker tricking Superman, which leads to the death of Lois Lane and her unborn child. Due to this unfortunate turn of events, Superman formulates a single-world government to police the world and stop evil using any means necessary, even if it means killing superheroes who stand in his way. In order to stop Superman's regime, Batman leads an insurgency. Each chapter begins with a short cut-scene that takes the story forward, and a mini-game (read: quick-time events galore) that affects your character's (and his or her opposition's) status prior to battle, such as starting with less or more health.
Our grouses are two-fold: firstly, there's way too much of playing as Batman in the campaign. One can't help but feel that the exploits of the caped crusader in this game are stretched thin, considering the presence of other great superheroes. Secondly, every mini-game is a glorified quick-time event, and some of them just serve as fillers that make no sense. Towards the end, when you do play as Superman, you'll find yourself using your heat vision to blow up cars thrown by another superhuman instead of, well, chasing him down the narrow street.
Minor issues notwithstanding, Injustice is well-paced. With thirteen chapters to play through, you'll never find yourself bored as every character brings something new to the table. By the time boredom is even on your mind, you're already playing as someone else. Special mention has to be made for the fact that the developers at NetherRealms have taken great care to ensure they stick true to the DC universe lore. This elevates the plot beyond what you'd expect from a fighting game. It's handled well, and we
dare say it's a smidgen better than Mortal Kombat, which made a solid attempt at storytelling.
When you're done saving the world, you can check out the S.T.A.R. Labs. These are over 240 character-specific missions that include mini-games and fights. But you'll be sorely mistaken if you expect it to be in line with the story mode in terms of production values. Instead of cutscenes and voiced dialogue, you're treated to walls of text and a rather rudimentary presentation, which is—if you will excuse the pun—a grave injustice to the content at hand. But if you can look past the production inconsistencies, you'll have a good time.
Loads of superheroes to pick from
Along with the story mode and S.T.A.R. Labs, you can take part in the usual arcade ladder that has you defeating one opponent after another to see your character's ending. There's an option to play a single match against the CPU as well as Training, which lets you record your sessions.
Of course, Injustice wouldn't be a modern fighting game if it didn't feature the equally important multiplayer mode. And this is where the game delivers in spades. You have the usual assortment of versus matches with different levels of intensity. These range from friendly online matches to competitive, ranked matches against Xbox Live's or PlayStation Network's finest.
Our personal favourite is the King of the Hill mode, which harkens back to the days of the arcade as you and seven others wait your turn to decimate each other. Even though this isn't anything new as it was first introduced in the last Mortal Kombat game, it manages to be playable while keeping the charm intact. You earn experience points in both online and offline modes, which you can use to obtain goodies like costumes, concept art and music. You can also get a wealth of icons, portraits and images as you level up.
The developers have clearly gone for the jugular, tweaking and refining every bit they could from their previous experiences in this generation. The end product is a highly polished, entertaining fighting game that is packed with interesting modes and features. But how does it control? Well, for one, if you have a choice between playing on the PS3 and Xbox, your best bet would be Sony's console. The controller is better suited for these kinds of games and stringing together combos using the Xbox 360 controller was painful in comparison. Ditto in terms of movement, where it felt sluggish and was too much of an effort. Combat is easy learning, but is tough to master.
You'll get by just fine on easy or normal difficulty against the AI by mashing buttons, but take those skills online and you will be destroyed. The same applies if you play at higher difficulty levels against the CPU. The characters and their feature sets balance each other out well enough. The roster has a decent mix of power characters such as Superman that rely on their strength and gadget type characters such as Catwoman that rely on agility—though we won't be surprised if we see an influx of players using Flash due to his ability to chain huge combos with minimal effort, or Green Lantern thanks to his ability to spam you with projectiles.
Online play was smooth for most part, but it was getting into a game that took a while; sometimes, it took more than twenty minutes of waiting to have our posteriors handed over to us in under three minutes. At this juncture, we'd fathom that anything faster than a 1Mbps connection would be just fine. However, we don't how well it would hold up post-launch given that Mortal Kombat suffered from connectivity issues and required a bunch of patches to get to a playable state online. On the bright side though, there's no need for an online pass, which should make things easier for gamers going forward.
Graphical issues aside, our time with Injustice: Gods Among Us was entertaining. It's that sort of game you can play with a bunch of friends offline for a few laughs. Plus, it's got enough tricks up its sleeves to keep any fighting game acolyte interested. And as it's filled to the brim with awesome features, the resulting deal is much sweeter. While we may not be absolutely sure how it would pan out with regards to online play in the long term, as it stands, this is one fighting game that exudes sheer fun. After all, that's what video games are about, aren't they?