Injustice: Gods Among Us
Review By: Lucas Siegel
Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Injustice: Gods Among Us had a tall order. As NetherRealm's follow-up to the Mortal Kombat series reboot, the game had to deliver on everything they knew about fighting games and give fans of the genre a deep, satisfying experience that would prove the rebranded studio didn't have a fluke with MK. DC Comics fans, meanwhile, have been desperate for any solid video game outside of the LEGO and Arkham series; they wanted a game that felt like it was a true DC Comics story and made them feel like they were actually playing with their favorite characters in their favorite world.
So it's truly incredible that NetherRealm pulled off both feats with absolute ease, style, and grace. Injustice: Gods Among Us is without a doubt the most fun I've had playing a fighting game in well over a decade, and to me, rewrites what the entire genre can be.
A lot is said about story in video games. In this generation especially, story has moved on from being just a backdrop or just a focus of the role playing genre and evolved into necessity for every game. Whether you're talking about adventure games like Tomb Raider where story needed to take precedent to bring the series back to top marks, a shooter like Bioshock Infinite where the story is virtually the first thing anyone talks about, or even a casual game like Angry Birds: Star Wars where story is still present as the connective tissue that makes the game more than just another touch screen distraction, story is undoubtedly important. That makes it even more frustrating for fighting game fans that it has always taken a back seat. NetherRealm started to play with story more, but hadn't quite figured it out - until now. Injustice has the best story - and best constructed story mode - of any fighting game I've ever played. It feels like you're playing a high-end, well-written, well-produced CGI DC animated movie, where you watch the compelling exposition play out, then play the epic battles yourself.
The story mode takes you from character to character, as the heroes of "Earth-1" for lack of any official designation, travel to an alternate dimension that will seem familiar to DC Comics fans and those who know the characters more through animated series like Justice League. In a story somewhat similar to the "Justice Lords" story from that show, Superman gets fed up and decides it's time to rule the world with an iron fist. Most of the heroes fall in alongside him, with darker versions of Hawkgirl, Cyborg, a I-have-an-awesome-twist-in-my-story Nightwing, and more taking to the streets to impose Super-rule. It's up to that world's Batman, along with a hodgepodge of characters like Deathstroke, Harleen Quinzel (yup, she's back to her full name in this world), Lex Luthor, and one turncoat from Superman's cause to help give the world back to the people. Playing primarily as Earth-1's heroes (but as some of these insurgents), you will see how the story unfolds in chapters that have you fight 3 or 4 enemies with each character. It gives not just a great narrative with fun twists and compelling through lines, but also lets you try out a wide range of the cast and see some real "star" moments for everyone. Whether you want to see Wonder Woman's nobility, Cyborg's tech genius, Flash's unwavering optimism, or just want to show the world why Aquaman is a bad bad man (seriously, he's insanely cool in this game) - Injustice has it all. It doesn't hurt that people like George Newbern, Kevin Conroy, and Susan Eisenberg are back to their old tricks voicing Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, joined by incredible names like Stephen Amell, Troy Baker, Grey DeLisle, Jennifer Hale, Phil LaMarr, and Nolan North.
In short, the Injustice: Gods Among Us story is a world-class movie like those you'd expect from DC Animation's incredible track record - in fact it would place as one of the best - with some absolutely incredible gameplay serving as the backbone. The story mode is enough to make this game a must-own for any fan of DC Comics characters - whether you just love Superman movies or have only ever watched Batman the Animated Series.
As for the gameplay itself, NetherRealm did a fantastic job walking the fine line of accessibility and depth needed to satisfy fans of both stripes. The superpower sets, from throwing Aquaman's trident to sifting through Harley's bag of tricks and of course batarangs and heat vision are all mapped to simple, mostly three button, combinations. The moves are mapped in a pretty standard way, as well - if you learn two sets of character moves, you'll be able to pull off superpowers from every character in the game. Likewise, the major super moves - which take the place of "finishers" and can be used whenever your bar is filled - are pulled off by simply pulling both triggers or second shoulder buttons together. Pull those easy buttons, and watch your character pull off the most incredible feats they're known for. Doomsday punches a foe through the center of the Earth while Superman hits them into orbit; Wonder Woman summons Amazon friends in the only super move that has variation, and Aquaman summons a freaking shark to bite down on his opponent. Super moves are insanely satisfying, and make the experience that much more fun for DC fans. For fighting game fans, the controls may seem too simple at first - but when you get into the chainable moves, the long combos, and look deeper into the roster of characters to folks like Shazam and Ares, the game's depth is revealed. Every character plays fundamentally in a style that fits their history in the DC Comics Universe, while remaining both simple and deep. I'm not sure how NetherRealm pulled it off, but they did.
Outside of the story mode, there are multiple online competitions including tournament style challenges, ranked battles, and just-for-fun fights with your friends. The online loading is a little sluggish (remember, I was playing with only a handful of journalists and developers, so those load times and match-finding times should improve drastically now that it's out), but once in the game it was like playing with someone sitting next to you on the couch, with zero lag and a fast-paced matchup. Thanks to that accessibility + depth formula, newbies should win a few matches and experts should rise to the top of the leader boards quickly, with both having fun - as ideal of a situation as a developer can hope for.
For solo gamers (or people who need some practice so they're not getting their asses kicked so much), the challenge mode offered in STAR Labs is frankly a bit intimidating. There are literally hundreds of challenges that cover every character, with some day-of preorder DLC and more on the way. If you get bored playing with this much variety you probably just don't like video games that much, or at least can't tolerate fighting games at all.
As a bonus, the console game connects with the iOS mobile game, allowing you to share unlocks between the two and encouraging play of both. It's a nice addition that won't get much attention, but iOS device owners should all grab the free mobile game for a good bathroom and commute distraction that gives them everything from new costumes to custom options for their player card in the console edition.
So, the story is incredible, the gameplay is fantastic - that leaves presentation. I've already mentioned the stellar voice cast made up of mostly veterans of these characters, but it bears repeating: there is just something incredibly cool about hearing Newbern's voice come out of Superman's mouth when you're controlling his actions! The graphics are stunning. It's clear that this late in the life of our current generation of consoles, developers have all but mastered them, and there are moments when the detail is so rich, you could almost be controlling live action, not CGI, characters. The backdrops for the fights are familiar areas around the DCU, and most have multi-tiered levels, offering slick, exciting transitions (like punching someone through a wall, into a helicopter, then watching it crash and explode with them inside) that never made me do any less than shout out and laugh and clap. My fiancée came into the living room more than once to see what all the fuss was about - then usually sat and watched so she could see the next crazy transition. NetherRealm took care with every aspect of the game and the DC Universe they had to play with, and aced it down the line.
Injustice: Gods Among Us has simplicity, depth, incredible story, fantastic replayability, single and multiplayer fun, respects both its possible fanbases, and most importantly keeps you wanting to play more. A must-own, this is one that will keep me coming back to my PS3 long after my PS4 has begun dominating my TV. Now, off to skewer that wuss Superman with my trident a few more times.