Injustice: Gods Among Us review: power and polish

Injustice: Gods Among Us presented NetherRealm Studios with a unique challenge--step away from the franchise that made you famous and apply that same magic towards the DC Comics pantheon. The makers of Mortal Kombat were more than up to the task, adopting a whole new fighting system, while simultaneously refining several elements first introduced in 2011's MK reboot. The result is a fighter that will resonate with devoted comic book aficionados, as well as diehard fighting game fans.

It would have been easy for NetherRealm to rely on the classic Mortal Kombat formula, however Injustice is structured more to resemble a more traditional fighting game, doing away with MK staples like the run and block buttons. Quick button inputs are still required for combos, but the truly quick player can juggle opponents and continue working them over even after they've been slammed to the ground.


There's also a Super Meter at the bottom of the screen to execute EX Moves or Super Moves. The latter is an ultimate attack that plays into a character's unique personality, something I found refreshing as both a player and a comic book fan. The Super Meter is also used for a feature called "Clash" that sees each fighter bet a portion of their meter before charging at each other. Super Meter management is pivotal here and I feel it adds a welcome degree of strategy to what would normally be a straightforward battle.

There's also plenty for the casual fighter to play with, including environmental attacks. Each stage is fitted with unique pieces of the environment that can be used to a combatant's advantage. It doesn't take long to memorize where each stage's interactive objects are and they become a lot of fun to use. The presence of environmental attacks means that even amateurs and casual players stand a fighting chance against hardened veterans, with the only downside being that certain objects can be abused with repeated use. I can't begin to count how many times a sentry robot was chucked my way in the middle of a fight.

A personal favorite is the multiple levels featured in every stage. These transitions feature detailed cutscene-like clips where the victim is brutally trounced by the environment. They're also filled with fan service, as a transition in Arkham Asylum saw an opponent getting bashed in by Arkham residents Two-Face, the Riddler, and Killer Croc, while a Fortress of Solitude transition saw an opponent getting attacked by Phantom Zone creatures. Triggering these moments can be exceedingly tough, as the attack must be executed in the right spot. When they hit, though, they're a lot of fun to watch.

NetherRealm demonstrated with 2011's Mortal Kombat that fighting games could utilize an effective single-player story mode. Injustice's Story Mode carries that same spirit in many ways. The story takes place in an alternate universe, where a nuclear explosion has completely wiped out Metropolis. The attack (as well as the details around it, which I won't spoil here) has pushed this world's Superman over the edge, leading to him hostilely seizing control of the world, along with like-minded heroes and villains, while this world's Batman (voiced by the iconic Kevin Conroy) leads a resistance against him. Our world's DC heroes soon get sucked into the alternate universe and find themselves with the tall task of toppling the dictatorial Superman. Quality-wise, the story is on par with some of DC's better straight-to-DVD efforts.

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Injustice's story also allows NetherRealm to flex its newfound storytelling muscles. Its nature as a video game allow for a much higher degree of violence, something unfathomable on a DC cartoon show or DVD release. While the game steers clear of the explicit gore that the MK games are known for, there are still moments of intense violence that represent how effective NetherRealm's storytelling has become. A particularly gut-wrenching scene with Superman and Shazam demonstrates how far the MK creators have come since the days when they would toss blood and bones at the screen without rhyme or reason. It's no longer violence for the sake of violence and I laud NetherRealm for learning this lesson.

The three to four-hour Story mode plays out in the same way they did in Mortal Kombat, with each chapter revolving around a certain character. There's still a sense that the player's simply watching a movie, rather than engaging in gameplay at times, which may bore some players not engaged with the narrative. However, NetherRealm has taken a step to help rectify that with the addition of quick-time minigames. Failure means a fight will ensue, but completing the minigame gives players a slight advantage in the next battle. It's not a perfect system, as there aren't enough of these minigames to offset the excessive cutscene times, but I enjoyed occasionally getting involved in an otherwise-disengaging cinematic.

Aside from the Story mode, players can engage in the Battle mode, which plays closer to classic Mortal Kombat. Any character can plow through a set number of fighters until they reach the end. Aside from adjusting the standard difficulty levels, there's a lot of replay value to be found here thanks to unlockable separate Battle Modes that feature twists, like one-on-two battles and an impossible difficulty that must be cleared without losing a single round. There's a lot of variety to be found in what's previously been a traditional game mode and each new mode provides a welcome challenge.

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If straight-up fighting doesn't suit you, there are also several off-the-wall challenges that include taking out guards as a helicopter shoots at you from above or even having to play as Catwoman's cat, Isis. It's a great diversion from the normal Injustice modes and last only seconds. The problem I ran into here was with repeatedly failing a challenge, as the loading times in this particular game mode are brutally long.

Anyone that's wrapped up the single-player modes in Injustice will likely want to take the fight to the online realm. Injustice's multiplayer modes feel somewhat limited, compared to the robust single-player options. While I found myself sticking to the 1v1 battles most of the time, I found a lot of enjoyment out of a populated King of the Hill lobby and it looks like a great place for friends to gather and find out who rules among them.

Players will earn XP for every active game mode they're in, which can be used for bragging rights, as well as unlocking a smorgasbord of content, like extra Battle Mode variants, concept art, music, icons, portraits, and a lot more. It will take a lot of playtime to earn enough XP to unlock everything in Injustice, though players can bring themselves closer with daily multiplayer challenges, which is a good way to help keep the experience fresh.

Injustice: Gods Among Us is everything I could ask for from a comic-book based fighting game. NetherRealm does a great job of bring each of its 24 fighters to life, while remaining completely faithful to the source material. There's enough content to keep players busy for weeks, if not months, with a phenomenal Story Mode and large amount of unlockables. Multiplayer has enough to thrive, so long as NetherRealm stays on top of balance issues (Deathstroke and Nightwing are currently dominating in the online space) and the few connectivity quirks. Injustice is a fighting game as strong as Big Blue himself and shows enough to maintain the staying power of the DC comics themselves. [8]

This Injustice: Gods Among Us review is based on a retail Xbox version of the game provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 3 and Wii U.