Injustice: Gods Among Us Review
When you want to faithfully capture the godlike power of superheroes and combine it with a deep, satisfying combat mechanic, you turn to NetherRealm. The studio that successfully rebooted the ailing Mortal Kombat series a couple of years ago has shifted their attention to the world of DC Comics. And in so doing, they have created yet another great fighter, complete with crowd-pleasing special effects, an accessible yet robust combat system, and – surprise, surprise! – something that actually resembles an intriguing story and setting.
As you might expect, there are certain aspects of this production that look downright amazing. The hugely over-the-top effects generated by otherworldly skills will drop your jaw, and the slickness of the overall presentation is pretty special. Character design is excellent and the only slipup comes in the form of a unimpressive textures during cut-scenes. Other than that, the animations and general atmosphere will make you smile, and both fighting and comic aficionados will appreciate the effort. When it comes to superheroes, you’re just supposed to accept the impossibility of their abilities and revel in the spectacular impact of the spectacle. These visuals encourage you to do just that.
The developers probably could’ve saved a few bucks and skimped on the voiceovers and soundtrack. After all, do you really require such artistic elements? This is a genre that thrives first and foremost on gameplay and only crisp, resounding strike effects seem to top the fan’s priority list. But NetherRealm tapped all sorts of great actors, including Kevin Conroy as Batman and George Newbern as Superman. The soundtrack is fitting and nicely orchestrated as well, so the audio is actually quite fulfilling on a number of levels. Not all the performances are good and there’s a small balancing issue between the score and effects, but that’s about it in terms of drawbacks. And those combat effects are just excellent.
It may be blasphemous to do so, but blame NetherRealm for me putting such an emphasis on the story, characters and theme. The team has written a series of stories that comic book fans should really love, primarily because these tales stay true to the core principles of each superhero while still tossing in a few twists. Even those who don’t follow comics were aware of Superman’s “death.” We all know of his internal conflicts stemming from his not being human. But Injustice: Gods Among Us deals with something entirely new: A Superman who’s pretty sick of always saving the world, and who now simply wants to wreak havoc.
With the aforementioned cast helping to increase your awareness of and interest in the story, the game paints a lurid, unique picture. No character feels like a tacked-on afterthought, as each member of the Injustice roster has a full, compelling back story. It’s clear that NetherRealm has no desire to turn these superheroes into something different. That would be heresy. What the developers so skillfully do is as follows— They embrace all the campy yet largely dramatic overtones found in the Justice League animated series, and remain true to the comic book style. Then they paint on their own recognizable layer that involves, quite frankly, superheroes run amok.
It’s a little ridiculous that the superheroes not endowed with supernatural abilities (like Batman, for example) can do what they do in this game. That part doesn’t stay true to anything. But while this might irritate the comic purists, I’m not sure many will complain about the end result. That result is a fighting game that hits you right between the eyes; it insists upon its right to be acknowledged as over-the-top melee of cosmically epic proportions. The animations aren’t always quite right during the most insane gameplay segments, and that can detract from one’s immersion. But you’re almost immediately reabsorbed by a ceaseless array of wonderfully absurd action.
If you’re wondering about this game’s similarity to Mortal Kombat, wonder no longer. It’s pretty similar, in that while we don’t have the bloody brutality of MK, we do get the high-impact violence that pulls no punches (pun intended). Plus, there’s actually more in the way of depth and variety. Juggle combos are always fun but this time, there’s direction-based blocking and combo breakers are now called “clashes.” These can only occur once per match, which adds some strategy to every fight. The best part is that even novices will be able to take advantage of that strategy, and they can execute many of the most obscenely wacky moves with only a little practice.
Personally, I’m a big fan of the character-specific powers. Each fighter has a unique skill based on his or her special skills; The Flash utilizes a Speed Force that slows opponents to a virtual crawl, for instance. So not only does each character have a specific set of moves and abilities, they also have one massively cool skill that can change the outcome of any encounter. The creativity on display is also a big bonus. The other new feature is the destructible environment, and here’s where things get a little dicey. I get the feeling that the hardcore fighting followers won’t like this; thankfully, there is the option to turn them off.
But why? Well, because they’re sort of unbalanced. Environmental-based attacks are unblockable and they’ll leave you dazed or pretty well broken. It makes perfect sense that half a skyscraper can decimate your health but even so, it’s too easy to do. This makes for a feature that will undoubtedly please the mainstream, but might annoy the hell out of old-school fans of the genre. Mortal Kombat didn’t have this balancing issue and there wasn’t much dissension among fighting lovers. This time, though, that hardcore group may have a big problem with the overpowered environmental attacks, and you could combine that with the comic purists. You know, those who will scoff at Green Arrow’s sudden super strength.
But in general, this is a solid, entertaining game that is just jam-packed with things to do. There’s a ton of content; there are new costumes, art and music to unlock, and the STAR Labs challenge tower offers literally hundreds of fresh fights. The training mode works well and playing online has never been more fun. I encountered a few server issues and even a little lag, but other than that, going online is an invigorating experience. Being able to bet experience on each match seems like a dangerous feature (do we really need to gamble in video games?) but hey, it’s fun. And yeah, they can’t quite do justice to the story but at least they take a valiant stab at giving us an interesting, compelling narrative.
Injustice: Gods Among Us delivers what it promises. It’s a slam-bang beat-‘em-up with all your favorite superheroes, and the developers really try to satisfy all types of fans. Fighting fanatics and comic lovers alike should love the effort and attention to detail. The control is fast and reliable, the production values are high throughout, there’s appreciated accessibility combined with great depth, and experimenting with each character is awesome. There are a few small issues, such as the slight texture miscues and the questionable balance of the environmental attacks, but the fun factor never wavers. If you were anxiously anticipating NetherRealm’s latest, you won’t be disappointed.
The Good: Slick, powerful effects. Several great voices. Combat mechanic is deep and accessible. Story is surprisingly intriguing. Solid control. Satisfies fighting and comic fans. Fantastic roster and overall, a ton of content.
The Bad: A few iffy textures. Environmental attacks are too powerful. Minor superhero misrepresentation.
The Ugly: “Okay, even he couldn’t do that.”
4/29/2013 Ben Dutka