When Injustice: Gods Among Us was announced something didn’t sit quite right with me. Releasing a DC Comics game without putting DC in the title? Could DC have been distancing themselves from the project? Perhaps they wanted to keep it distinct from NetherRealm’s previous DC fighting game. Regardless, and despite my initial feelings of trepidation, I found myself pleasantly surprised by Injustice.
The cast is sourced from all over the DC universe, with a slight leaning towards the Batverse, meaning you’ll easily find a character you want to play as but don’t be surprised to find your initial choices disappointing. Some characters just don’t feel right, leading me to make the heartbreaking choice of dropping Nightwing early on and eventually settling on Green Lantern and Superman, characters I usually have little time for. Some characters could be accused of being filler, but it’s hard to tell, do people really like Cyborg and Killer Frost? Or are the obvious omissions being kept as DLC? Considering his fleeting appearance in Arkham City I’d assumed Azriel would be in for sure.
However, even the most impressive cast of brawlers needs a good fighting engine to back them up and on this front Injustice delivers. Initially the controls on offer are confusing, but once I worked out that most of the assigned buttons were, in fact, two buttons bound together I felt more at home. Three standard attacks, a button for character specific powers, and one for ‘burning meter’. Sure, that last one is strange but it’s simply a more in-depth version of Street Fighter EX moves. Using some of your super meter improves the properties of special moves adding some real variety and options for mind games. Fill that meter, on the other hand, and you’ll be able to fire off a highly satisfying super that showcases the extent of your chosen character’s powers.
But the really unique aspect of Injustice is the environmental interaction. In the past games have let you kick people through walls and off ledges, and this has been taken further by firstly making those stage transitions almost ridiculously dramatic, and then allowing players to interact with objects within the stage itself. Gas pipes can be broken open, cars thrown, and giant fish tanks smashed to cause damage to your opponent. There are even different outcomes to these interactions depending on the type of character you are using. What I initially thought would become a gimmick actually ended up being fun to use and core to the flow of a fight.
Alongside the good innovations come some more questionable ideas. The Clash system allows the player to wager meter against the opponent for a chance to gain back some life. If the initiating player loses the wager then they take damage. The problem is that it just never seems worth the risk of triggering a clash unless you clearly have more meter than your opponent, and even then it’s better to spend it offensively. For a defending player the risk is again too large for the potential reward. When a super can be easily combo’d from a light attack it’s always worth saving your meter for causing big damage.
The online multiplayer side of the game is a very rich experience backed up by solid netcode and smart matchmaking that keeps games smooth and fair. There are ranked and private matches and the always fun King of the Hill mode from Mortal Kombat. There is also the added fun of a betting system that increases the XP rewards on offer for the dominant player to claim. However online is where you’ll also notice how easily some of the characters can be abused. Matches against Deathstroke will quickly become an exercise in frustration until you find a way to avoid the endless volleys of gunfire being thrown out by the least imaginative players on Earth. There are also quite a number of combos that will cause 100%+ damage meaning that one mistake could cost you a full bar of life. Hopefully these are things that can be balanced out over time. With at least four downloadable characters on the way it seems like the game will be getting some long-term support from the developers.
NetherRealm should be applauded for going the extra mile with additional features. There’s online training, selectable input methods, an enjoyable and cohesive story mode, and a huge number of unlockable costumes, but there are oddities too. When starting a new fighting game I, like many, use the character specific trials to gauge how well suited they are to my play-style and ability, but here the trials are unlocked by working through one long list so you’re forced to commit time to characters you have no interest in. The idea of linking the iOS game to reward players with unlockable costumes is great but at time of writing some of these features still seemed a little buggy and unreliable.