Marvel Comics' lucrative partnership with Capcom produced several of the most beloved fighting games in the genre, starting with X-Men: Children of the Atom and concluding with Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3: The Fate of Two Worlds.?The comic book giant's main rival, DC Comics, hasn't fared nearly as well in the video game space during that same time period, but NetherRealm Studios?the hitmaker behind the 2011 Mortal Kombat reboot?aims to change that with Injustice: Gods Among Us.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is a polygonal 2D fighter set in the DC Comics universe that leverages the comic company's rich history to spin an action-packed tale of Superman establishing a fascist regime after the Joker nukes Metropolis and dupes Clark into killing a pregnant Lois Lane. Batman, naturally, leads a resistance force against the Man of Steel?a resistance that sees the formation of odd alliances and the destruction of longtime friendships.
The result is a fast-paced, cinematic fighter with enough meat to appease the casual fighting game fan. Core players who live on deep control schemes, evasions, sidesteps, and other more advanced techniques may find Injustice: Gods Among Us a bit thinner than your average Capcom, SNK, or Arc System Works fighter. Still, it's quite the fun ride if you dive into the combat system. Note: We'll update this review to reflect the multiplayer component when there are more than press people playing on the servers.
Capes and Cowls
Injustice: Gods Among Us' roster features several DC Comics gadgeteers, enhanced humans, and god-level characters including Aquaman, Bane, Batman, Catwoman, Cyborg, Deathstroke, Doomsday, The Flash, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Harley Quinn, Hawkgirl, The Joker, Lex Luthor, Nightwing, Raven, Shazam, Sinestro, Solomon Grundy, Superman, and Wonder Woman.
The line-up is nicely varied, but an inevitable question arises: how does a regular human like The Joker manage to physically harm a meta-human like Superman? NetherRealm Studios provides an in-game solution that appears fairly early on in the story that answers the question (and possibly sets the stage for future DC fighting games).
Challenge of the Super-Friends
With NetherRealm Studios at the helm, one would naturally assume that Injustice: Gods Among Us is nothing more than a capes-and-tights version of its critically-acclaimed Mortal Kombat reboot. After significant time with the game, I can say that's not too far from the truth. Fights have a similar fast-paced, bounce- and juggle-centric flow that will be easier for Mortal Kombat aficionados to pick up than players coming over from a Street Fighter title. The combos, for the most part, don't flow as smoothly as other fighting games. Thankfully, there are two practice modes available to help you master pacing. The truly hardcore will appreciate the in-depth move lists that show how to execute moves, how much damage they deal, and their frame counts.
That said, Injustice: Gods Among Us has several stand out features that separate it from NetherRealm Studios' previous offering. The developer has given Injustice: Gods Among Us its own unique combat system?one that ditches Mortal Kombat's dedicated block button?that plays to the strength of the over-the-top license with incredible super attacks and multi-tier stages that see opponents getting knocked through buildings and into orbit.
The fighting mechanics revolve around a tight three-button control scheme: light attack, medium attack, and hard attack, much like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. A fourth face button is a dedicated "Trait" button that executes a character-specific feature. Superman's Trait, for example, gives the Man of Steel stat buffs. A few characters (including Batman and Green Arrow) have multiple versions of their Traits. The Trait meter refills over time and doesn't depend on you giving or receiving damage.
Matches are near-continuous battles which play out more like a single fight with tiny breaks than traditional 2-out-of-3-falls affairs. Each fighter has two health bars, and the first one to lose both loses the match. This makes contests feel less tournament-like and more brawl-like?it fits the license well and keeps the action flowing nicely.
The combatants have four-tier super meters that are used to enhance moves or unleash devastating super moves a la Mortal Kombat. Ares' projectile attacks, for example, doles out more damage when you enhance it with meter by tapping your controller's right trigger. As a result, deft meter management is vital, especially in truly competitive play.
It doesn't end there. Clash?a combo-breaker?lets you wager super meter in order to escape punishment. However, it's far more in-depth than Mortal Kombat's breaker. The player willing to sacrifice the most available meter wins the Clash. The Clash initiator does a huge amount of damage to the defender should s/he win; should the defender wins, s/he gets a health bonus. Clash becomes a meta-game in itself as you must determine if winning the Clash, if you're a defender, is worth the super meter sacrifice.
Heroes and villains each have their own fighting styles. Superman is a brawler who pounds away using his fists and select superpowers (like heat vision and ice breath). Batman?who is destined to become a fan favorite?has martial arts moves, batarangs, and a sizeable parry window. Taking a cue from Mortal Kombat, Injustice: Gods Among Us' character models display damage over the course of the battle. Despite the game's devastating attacks?The Joker beats opponents with a crowbar similar to what he did to Robin in A Death in the Family?there's no true gore.? Still, it isn't exactly family-friendly; the image of a smiling, psychotic clown dosing a foe with gasoline and then tossing a match may prove disturbing to some players.
Injustice: Gods Among Us takes another page from Mortal Kombat with its S.T.A.R. Labs Missions, which is a spin on the Challenge Tower. These are a series of single-player missions (240 in total!) which challenge you to complete a variety of tasks. These include both traditional fights (one on one vs. a foe) to being the first to land a certain number of hits on an opponent. The game also includes Battle Missions, which is a gauntlet endurance test. Fights in both the single-player and multiplayer modes earn XP that's used to unlock alternate costumes and other goodies.