Injustice: Gods Among Us will bring its superpowered brand of fighting to consoles next Tuesday. In the meantime, the iOS version of Injustice brings a distinct style to the mobile fighting realm that's worth trying out. Unfortunately, several free-to-play tropes prove to be this game's Kryptonite.
Unlike the console version, Injustice on iOS solely uses three-on-three battles. Rather than rely on a virtual D-pad, this game relies on Infinity Blade-style swipes and taps to strike opponents, while tapping with two fingers to block opponent hits. Special moves can be performed when a meter at the bottom of the screen fills up, with execution being determined by timed swipes and repeated tapping. It's a novel approach to the fighting genre, but one that's sure to wear out your fingers after prolonged sessions.
Of course, sessions won't last very long. Each character exerts a certain number of energy bars for each fight and once the energy meter runs out, that character must sit out until the energy meter naturally recharges or players pay for an instant recharge. Paying, in this case, proves unnecessary, as the energy meter recharges fairly quickly. Also, anyone that has built up a large roster can simply switch characters. However, Injustice also features an XP system that increases stats for every level earned. XP is only allocated between active fighters, so if a higher-level fighter runs out of energy, replacing him with a fresh character may not always lead to success.
The unlockable system is frustrating and players will absolutely have to shell out real money in order to get everything. To start, players will only have access to three characters: Cyborg, former Teen Titan and recent Justice League of America inductee; Sinestro, master of fear and archnemesis of the Green Lantern; and Solomon Grundy, the undead brawler, who apparently doesn't like to fight girls. The rest of the cast needs to be unlocked through purchases that use either the in-game currency or with real money.
Completing a match will reward players with about 400 credits, but there are a gaggle of ways to spend credits and all of them are ludicrously steep. New characters often come with a five-digit price tag, topping out at 220,000 credits for Superman--both versions, since there's an alternate universe version of Big Blue, as well. If that isn't enough, characters can be upgraded to "Elite" status (which bumps up their stats) when that same character is purchased a second time.
Let's do the math on that. There are two versions of Superman at 220,000 credits a piece. In order to promote them both to Elite status, they'll each need to be purchased twice. So to have two Elite versions of Superman, player will need to shell out a total of 880,000 credits. That's just for two characters in a game featuring well over a dozen of them, all of whom will also need to have their special attacks upgraded at 1,000 credits per bar. At a rate of roughly 400 credits per fight, players should be able to naturally unlock the entire game around the time the Legion of Super-Heroes forms in the 30th century. On top of that, ponying up $49.99 will only bring in 600,000 credits, which only unlocks a sliver of the superhero pie.
The unlock system wouldn't be so annoying if Injustice had more substance to it. There isn't much to do in the game aside from beat up CPU-controlled players and that novelty wears off quickly. There's no multiplayer, no other game modes, and nothing in terms of a story. Players are tossed into the Injustice world with little to no context and makes no effort to explain why the world is in the state that it's in, why everyone's fighting, or why there are multiple versions of each character running around. With nothing else to engage the player's imagination, the combat starts to get old quickly.
Injustice on iOS is built on a solid foundation of a new combat system, but its limited features and a paywall the size of the Source Wall gives this game the lasting appeal of a Hawkman comic. There are some console unlockables that do include a few re-skinned characters, but only the most patient players will stick around long enough to earn them.
This Injustice: Gods Among Us iOS review was based on a copy of the free-to-play game downloaded from the App Store, tested on a third-generation iPad and third-generation iPod Touch.