Ever since its announcement, it seems like NetherRealm’s Injustice: Gods Among Us has been an unnaturally anticipated fighting game and while the DC characters involved have played into that, what appears to have really driven it is the unusual focus on story. Fighting games don’t normally have much interest in crafting a narrative — other than to let you know you’re involved in a tournament to save the word, or destroy it, or whatever — and even those that have utilized comic book characters typically don’t bother with a story, as the Marvel vs. Capcom series so capably proves. But Injustice didn’t just make it a point to try to bring some semblance of narrative to the proceedings, it also tied in background material to flesh that story out even more.
Granted, that story is full of problems that both our site and others have pointed out, but it at least points towards an attempt by NetherRealm to welcome in comic fans and DCU viewers who are more invested in these characters than fighting fans might be, and in particular the ensemble cast construction of that narrative — which, like the recent Mortal Kombat reboot, has the player go through all of the characters in the game rather than strictly sticking to one fighter — gives players more reason than normal to try out and learn all of the characters. It points towards a desire by NetherRealm to provide a more unique fighting game experience, and that shows, even if it isn’t always successful.
Where the story is kind of a mish-mash of comic book cliches — the gist is a horrible tragedy has caused Superman to lose his shit and now he has created a global totalitarian state, which you and your team, comprised of heroes and villains from this universe as well as an alternate one, must topple — the design and casting for the game are impeccable. Many of the voice actors from DC animated titles are involved in Injustice, including Kevin Conroy as Batman and Phil LaMarr as Aquaman, and their talents are appreciated as they manage to bring the script to life in a way that would otherwise have been impossible. But beyond that, the level design within the game, as well as the character designs, flesh out that story more, making for a fighting game with a world that isn’t just fun to play in but which was also clearly built with a passion for the source material.
Levels like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and the Justice League Watchtower are filled to the brim with trophies from the comics that aren’t just window dressing, they’re actually interactive components that can be used to turn the tide of the battle. In Aquaman’s Atlantis you can punch through glass and have water rush at your opponent, while at Wayne Manor you can pick up Nightwing’s motorcycle and hurl it at your enemy. These attacks look incredible while doing major damage, and many of the levels also allow for special attacks where you knock your enemy into the next area; similarly, as you fight, the levels take on environmental damage that reminds you that you aren’t just playing a fighting game, but instead a fighting game where god-like beings destroy one another and their surroundings in the process. It’s a nice touch, particularly since so many superhero games don’t reflect the environmental chaos that would be at the heart of any superhuman conflict. And that's to say nothing of the incredibly fun, over the top special attacks each character has, that do massive damage and cause ridiculous cut scenes.
It does, however, highlight one major issue I had with the game, which is the movement of the characters. I am admittedly more of a Street Fighter fan than a Mortal Kombat fan, so I’m biased towards speed in fighting games, but Injustice feels clunky in a lot of ways, as some of the characters move in an uncharacteristically awkward fashion. Flash is the biggest example of this, as by all rights he should be the fastest character in the game, but is instead only slightly faster than heavyweights like Superman and Batman and much slower than Catwoman and Deathstroke, who are the speediest and most combo-savvy characters. Flash has a tricky moveset, which is understandable, and like all of the characters in the game, he has strengths and weaknesses that you have to learn through the tutorials or constant trial and error. But it seems bizarre to have him set as middle-class in terms of speed, while non-superpowered humans like Catwoman and Deathstroke can easily dodge him.
It probably isn’t surprising that some of the characters in the game are just flat out useless, as well, since there was likely some pressure to feature as many icons as possible. The biggest offender is Hawkgirl, who is one of the slower characters in the game and whose triggered weapons are her wings, which just enable her to float, while her mace is active at all times. Meanwhile, Green Arrow and Deathstroke are maybe a little too useful, with Green Arrow specifically the spammiest character in the game thanks to his infinite arrows that are launched by simply hitting one button. On the villain side, it’s a little odd that the game is so heavy on Bat-villains, as we get the Joker, Harley Quinn, Bane, and Catwoman, as well as Nightwing, yet the Flash’s Rogues Gallery, one of the most iconic batches of villains in comics, is entirely absent. Aquaman is similarly shafted on the rogues front, which is too bad, because the game could have used another water character like Black Manta. Or some non-Raven magic representation (seriously, magic is one of Superman’s only weaknesses, how is this not a part of the game and storyline?!). It’s also worth pointing out that Martian Manhunter is the lone major Justice League hero to go unrepresented, other than a cameo in one of the levels.
That’s mostly a nitpicky complaint and it doesn’t hinder the experience at all, but it does lead into the biggest problem the game has, which is the DLC structure. Most gamers are used to rewards systems from fighting games, either through unlockable characters, costumes or levels, but Injustice restricts your in-game rewards to “hero cards” and other bonus content that is entirely worthless, saving the extra characters and other goodies for the DLC. There are some minor rewards that you get for beating the story, or using armory keys you pick up, or even through things like downloading the iOS version of the game, but for the most part NetherRealm is banking on you paying money for new characters. At the time of this review’s publication, though, the only announced DLC characters were Lobo (who could be fun, but is an odd pick when Martian Manhunter isn’t on the regular characters list) and Batgirl (because we definitely needed more Batfamily representation in Injustice). I get that we’re in a DLC-heavy time, and publishers are looking to maximize their profits as much as possible, but it seems a little ridiculous to not reward the people who spent $60 on the game and played it all the way through, and no, a Superman costume that looks pretty close to the one he starts with does not count as a reward. At the very least, some new levels in more exotic locations– I’m casting my vote for anything Gorilla Grodd-related– would be welcome, as so much of the game is set in urban locations, or hi-tech, but restricted areas like the Watchtower.
Still, if the biggest complaint is that I wanted more of the game, and more time in it, that’s not that bad. Injustice: Gods Among Us isn’t quite Game of the Year material, but it’s a fun fighting experience that mostly earns its price point thanks to how easy it is for non-fighting game fans to pick up, making it a perfect group game with plenty of replay value.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he's the last of the secret agents and he's your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Comics Bulletin, where he reigns as the co-managing editor, or at Panel Panopticon, which he started as a joke and now takes semi-seriously. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd rants about his potentially psychopathic roommate on twitter @Nick_Hanover and explore the world of his musical alter ego at Fitness and Pontypool.