inFocus

“I’m gonna kick my own ass!


Game Info
Publisher: WB Games
Developer: Netherealm Studios
Genre: Fighting
Release Date: 4/16/2013
Meta Score

 

Do you still remember that bad taste in your mouth around the year 2008? If you do and you’re afraid to utter the name Mortal Kombat VS DC Universe then you probably also felt a sharp pang of apprehension around the announcement of Injustice: Gods Among Us; a fighting game with the Mortal Kombat engine featuring DC heroes. Haven’t we played this game before?

Yes, and, more importantly, no. While most people will think of the 2008 flop when it comes to this new DC fighting game, they need to focus on the successful 2011 reboot of the Mortal Kombat franchise. That is where this new DC brawler learned its lessons, providing a surprisingly smooth and enjoyable experience. This game shares no connections with the MK universe, instead opting to give comic fans a full-fledged hero/villain beat-em-up.

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Story: Superman’s gone nuts! The Joker has tricked Superman into thinking Lois Lane is Doomsday and by killing her (and their unborn child) he accidentally triggers a nuclear bomb, destroying Metropolis. Taking his revenge, he kills the Joker in front of Batman and enacts a totalitarian regime that bastardizes the Justice League into jack-booted thugs keeping the order at any cost, while Batman leads an insurgent operation to overthrow him. And all this before you get control. That escalated quickly. Luckily for us and our favorite DC Heroes, this is in an alternate reality, but events in the primary DC Universe are about to recreate the same moment as Joker is about to detonate a nuclear device in Metropolis. As every hero within super-speed distance is about to converge on Joker’s oddly malformed head, a dimensional rip tears them into this brave new world where they slowly piece together what happened, do battle with their evil counterparts, and team up with now former villains.

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The biggest gimmick and most important detail of the entire plot is the Kryptonian nanotechnology pill that the newly arrived heroes and villains ingest. It gives them nigh-invulnerability, thus justifying why Catwoman can get punched into space by Superman, knocked through a steel building and fall 80 stories and still stand up and quip like nothing happened. For a fighting game, that’s the biggest hurdle, aesthetically balancing the matches so that you never feel like any one particular bout is two one-sided, though admittedly, that’s not going to change your impression when you do have Superman knock Catwoman into orbit or Deathstroke kicks a sword through Green Arrow’s chest before lighting him up with automatic weapons, but hey, this is superheroes we’re talking about so we’ll let it slide.

Much like Mortal Kombat’s entertaing romp through the Outworld and beyond, this game features various chapters centered on one playable character and their experiences during the events of the battles between the insurgency and the Earth One regime led by Evil Superman (not his actual title in the game but if it was would you have really noticed?) Not every character gets a chapter, so after you’ve worked through the story, which shouldn’t take you more than 4 hours even on a harder difficulty, make sure you go test out some of the other characters in Battle and Versus modes so you know the ups and downs of the cast.

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There isn’t really anything to write home about as far as the plot itself goes, it’s corny at worst, but entertaining and humorous at best. Watching two Cyborgs try to out-hack each other is like to put a smile on your face and remind you why comics never have to take themselves too seriously. The game does force its way around trying to arrange for particular battles, but it makes up for it by being genuinely funny and entertaining at times, like when Green Lantern says “I’m about to kick my own ass,” before taking down his counterpart, who has taken the Yellow ring of fear and been dubbed Yellow Lantern. It’s a game that gives you just enough comic level melodrama, but never takes itself too seriously. If you don’t believe me, wait until Aquaman leads an amphibious assault of monstrous crustaceans while riding one with trident out like he’s crossing the Delaware. Have a fun time enjoying the spectacle and you’ll walk away entertained.

Gameplay/Controls: One of the reasons why the 2011 Mortal Kombat reboot was so successful in light of so many of its predecessors failing to take hold was that it made things simpler. Using the famous (if at least somewhat fictional) saying “If it’s broke, fix it, and if you’ve fixed it, don’t fix it again”, Netherrealm keeps combos and solid strategies and level design over gimmicks and watered-down battles.

Each level has a variety of interactive objects that vary in usefulness depending on what character you’re playing. The super-strength characters will throw cars and giant aquariums (there’s some kind of weird ironic metaphor going on in that Atlantean Throne Room, I’m sure of it), whereas the speedsters and more human characters might jump off them to gain a screen’s worth of distance from their competitor. This makes each level feel integral to the battle and depending on who you’re fighting and who you’re playing, your strategy can vary on the same level which adds a nice dynamic to what are usually afterthoughts in the background. As your superhuman tussle lands blows, you’ll also watch the environments degrade; glass cracking; buildings crumbling and collapsing; walls falling down, and sometimes this will yield even more interactive objects as locked off weapons, areas, and creatures suddenly are freed from captivity by the sheer force of your battle.

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In order to capture the personality of so many varied heroes and villains and still maintain some semblance of balance, Netherrealm focuses on two new systems to differentiate so many fighters. First are the character powers. Each character has a particular power, be it gadgets or meta-human ability. For example, Superman’s power makes his attacks stronger for a short period of time by focusing energy from the sun while The Flash’s slows the response time of your opponent for a few moments so you can land some wicked fast hits and combos. Each character has one special trait that activating gives a particular kind of bonus or boost and then usually requires a recharge for a few seconds. Others, like Green Arrow, require particular combos to “reload” specialized arrows while the button for his character trait (aptly) fires said arrows.

The second system is the super-meters which build up as you use special abilities and/or get hit by your opponent. The meter has 4 independent sections that build up as you battle and while they can be used for a variety of actions, there are only two that are really worth noting. First is The Clash. If you’re getting wailed on by an opponent and have at least one full section of super-meter full, you can instigate a Clash where both fighters separate, spit a few one liners at each other (which are awesome) and then charge, letting both players wager a portion of their super-meter to see who comes out on top. The attacker in the Clash is granted a bonus to damage done based on how much  more he wagered than the defender. If the Defender wins The Clash, he is granted health back at a percentage based on how much more he wagered than the attacker. It’s a fine system on paper, and in the game it looks awesome, with both characters charging, meeting in the middle and disappearing behind a widening arc of energy at their collision before reappearing in the dust and aftermath but in reality it often seems best to just not bet anything and save your supermeter for its other noteworthy ability.

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The Super Move. Each character, upon filling his or her supermeter to full capacity can instigate a Super Move which is kind of like an in-game fatality, but without the fatal part. These are the most powerful hits in the game and they give epic views of your hero or villain just going to town on your opponent, be it Batman hitting someone with the Batmobile, or The Flash running around the world for a supersonic Haymaker. These do huge damage and can be game-winners if they connect at the late stages. They’re worth experiencing for each character, so get cracking on the Battle mode, and experience all these features in the way they were meant to be experienced: action.

Graphics/Presentation: Injustice upped the ante in the visual department, throwing more detail in the arenas, characters, animations, and special moves through some key tweaks to the KoreTech engine that Netherrealm has been using since Mortal Kombat. The extra touches in the environments look fantastic when they break and crumble behind you. The characters all have a handful of skin options (even more depending on your preorder status or place of purchase) that all look equally impressive so no matter your personal taste in superhero garb, you’ll find something to suit you here.

The damage to your fighters didn’t add anything special beyond what Mortal Kombat already showed us, but for aesthetic purposes, it’s cool to see these heroes and villains, usually so clean in games and comics gets torn up in their superhuman matches.

The Story Mode fails to deliver some of these details when they try to shoehorn scenes into the context of the plot that require set pieces larger than what a one-on-one brawler will give you. Beyond minor things like no character model damage in Story missions, there are a few massive army scenes that suffer low-resolution textures, blocky geometry, and subpar rendering. But these minor discrepancies are only present in the story mode. All the other modes have great graphics and detail.

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Audio/Sound: Warner Bros. Interactive gave Netherrealm a big sandbox to play in and it only made sense that on top of all the other materials they made available to the studio, they’d provide the very best in voice talent. Kevin Conroy is the de facto Batman, while Susan Eisenberg, Adam Baldwin, Phil LaMarr, Grey DeLisle, Tara Strong, Alan Tudyk, and the incomparable Jennifer Hale; fill some of the virtual tights, among others. Hell, even Stephen Amell who plays the titular character in The CW’s Arrow lent his voice to the virtual Green Arrow for this game as a DLC comstume. With a cast like this, the quality of voice-acting isn’t even in question.

The high-quality sound work in this game makes for a full experience in every match, from punches that sound like thunderclaps, to the tinkle of cracking crystals in the Fortress of Solitude breaking under a character’s back as they’re knocked through a wall, everything has a distinct signature sound that makes every landed hit special and more immersing.

Replay: There’s a lot to do after beating the Story mode, STAR LABS missions, online multiplayer, and the Battles.

There are 120 STAR LABS Missions to tackle after completing Story Mode, offering hours of additional play on top of other modes. These are mini challenges that ask you to beat a particular opponent with varying circumstances and criteria for victory. It all seems well and good but you’re forced to use a specific character for a set of missions and they range anywhere from amusing to a downright pain in the ass. It’s only really worth going deep on for the unlockables as the entertainment values of these little missions wears thin with each repeated attempt at perfection.

There are Battles which are your classic ladder-based matches like you’d see in the original Mortal Kombat or any fighting game after the 1990s. Completing the Classic Battle’s 10 challengers (always ending in Evil Superman) yields a little slide-show based on your particular character and what kind of role they had in the main Story, so it’s definitely worth trucking through it with your favorite characters to see a variety of endings.

An Archives system rewards you for leveling up throughout the Story Mode (earning XP through fights, difficulty modifiers, how many combos used, etc.), by letting you unlock alternate costumes, concept art, and parts of the soundtrack, among others. This adds a wealth of replay ability as every battle you complete, regardless of mode, gives you more unlockables to find and mess with.

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Finally, the reason we all play fighting games: beating up on strangers online. The multiplayer for Injustice has been smooth out of the gate, surprisingly so for some, and I haven’t experienced nearly any lag while going at it online with what appears to a be a veritable army of Aquamen. Beyond the obvious balance issues that are always present, the online games are fairly even matched, meaning I’ve had a far more enjoyable time logging in to a match than I’ve had in previous years with other fighting games where your options were to get your friends to play with you and hope they got good enough to challenge you, or go online and let some undefeated punk whoop you senseless and make you wonder why you bought a fighting game in the first place. Not so much the case here, and the game is all the better for it because you can experiment a little more with characters in online matches and not suffer the worse for it which gives the multiplayer component of this game tremendous legs.

Injustice: Gods Among Us is equal parts honorable to the comic book fan and equal parts finely tuned fighter. If you get your kicks (and punches) with combos and special moves, you won’t be disappointed, and if you’ve always wanted to settle the ages-old debates of Superman/Batman, or even just live your own fantasy of watching Aquaman get his just due by putting down Doomsday, then this game will deliver. There’s plenty to do and see and unlock in Injustice and you’ll love the game more with each little step you take into its hero-filled world. Now it’s in your hands.

Written By: R. Burke Kearney