Injustice: Gods Among Us borrows from classic DC comic story lines, such as Red Son, Earth-3, and even the Justice Lords episode of the Justice League Unlimited cartoon. It begins in an alternate Earth, where The Joker destroyed Metropolis and tricked Superman into killing his wife. This causes Superman to take over the world and kill anyone who opposes him. The only force that can stand up to him is Batman and a small group of revolutionaries. Batman summons the Justice League from another universe to help him stop Superman before he can find his way to the "real" Earth.
It's a fun enough comic story. It's not particularly original and follows the classic "evil alternate hero" path a little too closely, but it is fun and contains plenty of fan service. There are some weird plot holes that should've been patched up, but by and large, the fighting game has a coherent story. It jumps from character to character, giving each one a chapter and some playable time. However, not every character is playable in the main story. You can control the main Justice League heroes and a couple of villains-turned-heroes, like Deathstroke and Lex Luthor.
The weirdest part of the story mode is the inclusion of minigames before some matches. These minigames offer you a chance to gain a brief advantage over the enemy in your first attempt at a fight, often going so far as to halve the foe's health bar. The simple minigames usually rely on matching button timing, but they feel out of place. One of the most egregious is when Black Adam fights the heroic Superman from the good Earth. Adam picks up passing cars and tosses them at Superman, who blows them up with his heat vision, without a care about the passengers inside. There are a few moments like that, but they only briefly detract from what is an otherwise fun experience.
Injustice is a 2-D fighting game that has a lot in common with Netherrealm's previous game, Mortal Kombat. A lot of the basic gameplay mechanics feel very simple. It's a straightforward three-button fighting game, with light, medium and hard attacks that can be combined with various directional buttons to perform combos. The combos need to be "dialed in" a la Mortal Kombat, although the timing is forgiving. Injustice also uses a two-health-bar system, so each character has two health bars to deplete. Depleting one ends a round, and whoever loses both health bars loses the match. You'll keep whatever health you had at the end of the round, so winning a round doesn't mean your health will replenish with the next round.
In good fighting game tradition, every character has special moves that require simple button combinations. You'll see a lot of fun and familiar moves since several characters are very similar to Mortal Kombat counterparts. Batman has a grappling hook, batarangs and powerful martial arts moves; Black Adam can summon lighting and lay traps; Solomon Grundy can perform devastating throws and grabs; and so on. As in Mortal Kombat style, fighting or using special moves builds up a special meter, which you can use to "Meter Burn" a special move to make it more powerful. Batman's grappling hook normally ends with him kicking the enemy in the face. When you Meter Burn it, he ends directly in front of the enemy while they're briefly stunned, allowing him to combo into a more powerful attack. Not every move can be Meter Burned, but when it can, it dramatically increases the move set for many characters. Each character also has a devastating Super Move that does massive, unavoidable damage.
One of the weirder elements is that the strong Super Moves feel rather worthless. They require one bar of the super meter, which would be great if it weren't used for so many other things. Saving up for a Super Move is fun, but you'll likely want to spend that meter on special defensive options or powering up your specials with a Meter Burn. In the long run, it feels more useful to boost three or four specials than it does to do a single super move, especially as Meter Burning can open up new combo opportunities. Unlike Marvel vs. Capcom 3 or similar games, Super Moves are all or nothing. Either you hit or you don't, and that goes a long way toward decreasing their usefulness.
Meter management has another wrinkle in the form of Clashes. Once per match, each character can initiate a Clash when he or she is at the receiving end of a combo. This temporarily stops the fight and allows both players to wager their super meter. Whoever wagers the most wins the clash and gets a bonus. The initiator can recover lost health, and the defender can do extra damage. Regardless of whether you win or lose, you lose the wagered amount of your super meter. It's a neat mechanic but runs into the same problem as Super Moves: The meter is so useful that it's often better to let the enemy blow a chunk of their meter and save your own instead of wagering. There are times when it's worthwhile, especially in very close matches, but more often than not, you'll use Clash as a combo breaker that gives one side a small advantage.
One of the cooler features in Injustice is that each character has a Character Power. The powers come in a variety of shapes and sizes and give each character a distinctive play style. Batman summons three remote batarangs to extend his combos. The Flash temporarily slows down time for everyone but himself. Bane pumps himself full of venom to get a temporary power boost at the cost of withdrawal. Wonder Woman switches between two fighting styles using either her lasso or a sword and shield. Most of the traits feel distinctive, and they help make each character feel more like his or her comic book counterpart. That isn't to say every trait is equal. Some feel a little lackluster, poorly balanced, or just plain uninteresting. Fortunately, the least interesting traits usually show up on the most interesting characters.
The environment is a pretty significant part of the basic gameplay. It isn't quite Super Smash Bros. style, where the backgrounds and stages are constantly doing things, but each stage has "interactables" in the background that you can use by pressing the right bumper. Using an interactable causes it to react in different ways, depending on the character. In the Wayne Manor stage, there's a motorcycle in the courtyard. If the Flash uses it, he'll hop on and drive it into the enemy for massive damage. If Bane uses it, he'll pick it up and throw it at the foe. These hazards are completely predictable, so they don't feel like lucky breaks. A good player can take advantage of them, and a similarly good player can avoid the traps and tricks. Several stages also have stage transitions, allowing one player to knock another player to a new section of the map. This involves knocking them off the side of the stage and does a lot of damage. Both of these can be disabled, but they're pretty cool additions and add some options to several characters who really need them.
For the most part, Injustice feels like a well-designed game. I didn't notice many characters who felt weak or useless, nor did I notice an overabundance of characters that felt the same. The combination of move sets and Character Powers helps each character stand apart. You might think Bane, Doomsday and Solomon Grundy would feel identical as big, brawly, slow guys, but they don't. It's difficult to tell how a fighting game will shape up after only a week or two of play, but Injustice seems to have a lot of potential.
In addition to the single-player story mode, Injustice offers a few other modes. The most noteworthy is S.T.A.R. Labs, which is akin to the Challenge Tower from Mortal Kombat. Players are put in control of a set character versus a set of enemies and must either win a fight under unusual circumstances or play a minigame. One fight involves Batman fighting Bane in the dark, where any blow temporarily disables his night-vision goggles. Another has Deathstroke playing a timing-based minigame to cut rocks from the air. A third requires Bane to beat up the Batmobile while avoiding its defenses. Some of the missions are fun while others are pretty tedious. Several missions seem to rely on luck rather than skill, making them not very enjoyable.
Every S.T.A.R. mission also has two optional objectives that can yield more stars. Simply finishing the stage gives you one star, but completing all three objectives gives you three. S.T.A.R. missions are unlocked linearly, and it's kind of frustrating because the characters are also unlocked linearly. You get Superman and his missions first, then Batman, etc., from there. If you want to do the S.T.A.R. missions for your favorite character, you might have to grind through a lot of lesser characters to do so. It would've been more fun to have them available from the outset.
Multiplayer is a big part of the game, and it's mostly what you'd expect. You can play same-console or online multiplayer and customize various options, such as interactables. Stage selection is done via a random split between the stages chosen by both players. The online play seemed playable, if not great. I encountered some noticeable lag if I played against people who were too far away, so that made it difficult to avoid some attacks. This really benefitted players using characters like Deathstroke, who can sit back and spam ranged attacks. It was playable enough and did well, but it's frustrating if you end up in a bad match.
For what it is, Injustice is a pretty game. The characters and animations are sometimes a little stiff, but the environments and details make up for that in spades. There are a lot of small touches that really sell the game. The environments crumble and collapse as the fight goes on, characters display injuries and clothing damage, and the occasional stage transition or Super Move looks really cool.
The voice acting is mostly solid, featuring a lot of classic DC universe voice actors in familiar roles. Batman is the always fantastic Kevin Conroy, although Mark Hamill does not reprise The Joker, and several other characters, like Cyborg, are still voiced by their cartoon counterparts. There are some nice little touches, too, such as Batman using different quotes for his throw, depending on who he is fighting.
For all the good and bad that it implies, Injustice: Gods Among Us is effectively a Mortal Kombat sequel in everything but name. If you didn't enjoy Mortal Kombat, it's difficult to see Injustice changing your mind unless you're a tremendous fan of the DC universe. On the other hand, it's a great game to pick up if you're a fan of Mortal Kombat or Batman and his pals. It's chock full of fan service, fun gameplay, and a lot to do. It has some frustrations, such as the S.T.A.R. Labs missions, but nothing detracts too much from the overall gameplay. It's not going to be the new gold standard in fighting games, but Injustice is a fun time, especially with friends, and you can't ask for more than that.
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