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Two years ago, NetherRealm Studios, led by Ed Boon, showed how to make a complete fighting game package with the reboot of Mortal Kombat. It not only provided to be the best story mode the genre has seen in a long time, but also was filled with modes that will keep casual and higher level players busy for a while. Mortal Kombat also had a healthy tournament scene since its release as it was in the Evo main stage for two years now and returning a third year in July. Back in 2008, however, they worked on a little game called Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe merging their iconic roster of characters against DC Comics’s greatest superheroes and villains. It was only a matter of time when NetherRealm decided to make a DC only fighting game, and that answer is Injustice: Gods Among Us. Injustice manages to maintain what made 2011’s Mortal Kombat great with another complete fighting game package, but also made some nice changes to appeal to both the casual and tournament level crowds.
Injustice’s roster of 24 characters is a who’s who in the DC Comics universe. Of course, Superman and Batman are in alongside with the majority of the Justice League such as Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Green Arrow, and Aquaman. Cyborg and Raven from Teen Titans are also in the roster with new, mature looks, which can be for the better for worse depending on your attachment to all these DC characters. Out of the villains, classic ones like The Joker, Lex Luthor, and Doomsday are playable along with Deathstroke, Sinestro, and others. About a third of the fighting cast is from the Batman universe with Solomon Grundy, Catwoman, Nightwing, and Bane, so fans can get picky who made it and who didn't. Other than that, I’m happy with Injustice’s roster and there’s still DLC characters being released for the next few months.
Folks who loved Mortal Kombat's story mode especially how it seamlessly transfers between cutscenes and fights will also love the story mode in Injustice: Gods Among Us. The DC heroes are in a huge battle against various villains while the Joker is setting a nuke to destroy Metropolis. Batman is able to confront Joker before he detonates it, but as Joker was about to press the button, the DC heroes and Joker get transported into another dimension. This alternate dimension in the DC universe is led by Superman and his One Earth forces. This timeline is about Joker actually blowing up Metropolis. Dealing with these events Superman has become evil by leading the entire planet in his dictatorship. While some DC heroes and villains joined up with him because they don’t want to deal with a pissed off Superman, others have joined the Insurgency led by a different Batman. It is Batman’s idea to transport another universe’s DC heroes in order to stop this regime version of Superman.
As similar with Mortal Kombat, you will play as multiple characters in Injustice’s story mode, so it can be treated as an opportunity to learn some of the cast as well. The whole multiple universes of DC characters seems crazy, but NetherRealm does a good job of living to the “what if our heroes is our greatest threat?” line. It is a good enough excuse for DC heroes to fight against each other and for Superman to be the main villain, because you don’t want to make him angry as you’ll know why as you progress through the storyline. During some segments, there are button pressing mini-games that will dictate the beginning of a fight. Doing these mini-games successfully will increase your advantage against the opposition and vice versa if you fail them. The story mode is also surprisingly shorter than Mortal Kombat's as it took me about four to five hours to beat it, so you can tear through this in an afternoon. It is also easier as well, but good thing there are no cheap fights to go through what like Mortal Kombat had with Shao Kahn and the various mid-boss characters.
Other than story mode, there are plenty of singleplayer modes that will keep players busy. The battle mode is the classic arcade mode with a series of fights and an ending once you beaten it. However, there are also unlockable battle modes that will spice up the gameplay such as beating it within a time limit, have infinite meter, or having a random character every fight. S.T.A.R. Labs is basically Mortal Kombat's challenge tower with more challenges catered to the DC cast. Most of these challenges are hit and miss from weird platforming, stealth levels, and flying sections besides fighting in certain stipulations like ice balls falling from above, lasers hitting the players at random, etc. The tutorial is fine at teaching you the basics and all the game’s systems, which I’ll talk about more in a bit. Practice mode is also improved from Mortal Kombat as well.
While Injustice’s fighting mechanics may remind many players of NetherRealm's last game, the developers did make some changes that will cater to both newcomers and tournament level players. There are no traditional rounds; each fighter has two health bars similar to Darkstalkers and Killer Instinct. The other major change is with the controls. There is no block button and it is now Street Fighter style by holding back to block in this game. Also, there are three primary attack buttons, a character power button or otherwise known as the trait button, an environmental interaction button, and a meter burn modifier to special moves. Each fighter has their own trait or power to use to enhance certain stats. Superman for example, has increased armor and damage with his trait. Batman can summon bats as more projectiles to use against opponents along with extending advanced combos. In addition, every fighter has their own super move for big damage and even though they are not as crazy as Mortal Kombat's X-Rays or fatalities, Injustice’s supers have their own brand of ridiculousness. The Flash running across the planet for just two powerful punches is one example of how over the top the supers can be.
The core fighting also has some similarities to Mortal Kombat with inputting combo strings, ground/wall bounces, juggle combos, and special moves, but there are new changes to the existing formula. Environmental interactions can be done when a fighter is at a certain area of a stage by a press of one button (or two if you’re using arcade stick like me). These can be divided up to two classes: speed and strength. The speedier guys can navigate through some of these environmental interactions while some of the heavier guys will just throw these objects at opponents for big damage. Borrowing from past Mortal Kombat games and the Dead or Alive franchise are stage transitions. By pressing back and the heavy attack button at a certain corner of a stage, the opponent gets knocked back during a cinematic cutscene to another area. These stage transitions are cool to look at for a first few times, but they take a long time to finish and gets old seeing them repeatedly. Super moves also have the same time taking forever to do, but luckily time does not run during these scenes.
For the higher skilled players, gameplay relies a lot on meter management. Players can burn one bar on meter burn moves, which are essentially like Street Fighter’s EX moves. The extension has to be timed however unlike most fighting games that have this similar mechanic. Two meters can be spent on bounce cancels as you cancel any normal attack move to a heavy attack that can ground or wall bounce an opponent. As far as defensive options are concerned, one can be spent to push block an opponent if you don’t want to deal with their pressure of attacks up close. All four bars can be spent for super moves, but the one of the important systems in this game that deal with meter management is the clash system. This system allows both fighters to wager meter and then a clash occurs. The one who spends the most meter in this wins a clash, which leads to health being restored or damage being dealt depending on who started it. Clashing is not that much a comeback mechanic, but it can be primarily used as a combo breaker if you’re in trouble with your second health bar. All these gameplay systems combined together make Injustice a fun and deep fighter for both casual and experienced players.
While there is a healthy dose of singleplayer modes in Injustice, the same goes the online options as well. Other than your regular ranked and player matches, king of the hill from Mortal Kombat returns along with the room system and a new survivor mode. Survivor is a different take from king of the hill as the one winning does not regain all their health back. Voting in the king of the hill mode is the same as the last game it was used with as you gain experience points if you voted the correct winner of a match. These experience points are tied to a level up system that is mostly used for cosmetic purposes such as unlocking costumes and hero card stuff. As far as the netcode is concerned, it is functional, but in my time with the PS3 version as of this writing, I never played a perfect match connectivity wise. In such an execution-focused fighting game, latency is still a big issue especially when it comes to timing your combos and meter burn moves. In other words, Injustice’s online play is a mixed bag despite having lots of modes to play.
The presentation for NetherRealm's newest fighting game is top notch with lively menus that easy to navigate through. While you can pause and look at a character’s move list if you’re forgetting something, some can be mapped on the screen to be looked at instantly without pausing. For the higher level aficionados, frame data is listed for every move in the game, so you have a good feeling of what beats what without looking at guides. Also, there is an option to change the inputs to Street Fighter style instead of the default Mortal Kombat style. This means you have to the input the special moves with actual quarter/half circle motions instead of what you’re used to in a Mortal Kombat game. Graphically, the game looks fine with its more mature look for the environments and the DC characters. The soundtrack is also okay for the most part and the same goes for the voice acting as you may recognize familiar voices for some of the DC cast.
With a fun and deep fighting system, lots of replay value both offline and online, Injustice: Gods Among Us is another great fighting game package by NetherRealm Studios. This is arguably the best game to feature the DC universe together in a long time and it is no surprise coming from a reputable studio that has worked on the Mortal Kombat series. Sure, Injustice borrows a lot from 2011’s Mortal Kombat reboot, but it has enough new content and mechanics to separate itself from that mentality.
The story mode is fun and beatable, there are no cheap roadblocks in the way. I do have some nitpicky issues with the game from the stage transitions, super moves, and clash sequences taking a little too long once seen many times. Also, the netcode is not the best compared to other recent fighting games even though it is still functional. Then there’s also other online issues from matchmaking and no option to decline ranked matches without suffering a disconnect penalty before it starts. Despite all of that said, fighting game fans and those who love the DC Comics universe should pick up Injustice: Gods Among Us. It is not perfect, but it is one of the better fighting games I played this generation.