Do the people behind Scorpion, Sub-Zero and Noob Saibot make a good DC fighting game, or do they do the brand… Injustice? Awful pun, but hey, the review is better.
For the uninitiated, and as a memory refresh for the initiated, let’s recap what exactly is Injustice. A fighting game on the 2D plane, with an all-original story (which is even accompanied by a mini-series of comics), and a cast fully comprised of DC characters, some of which famous, some of which more obscure. The game also offers multiple modes apart from its campaign, which, just like Mortal Kombat (nine, people call it, to avoid confusion), makes it burst with content, even if you don’t plan on going online.
Explaining the story without any spoilers (everything said is already outed by DC, and the story revolves around it); Joker, being the guy he is, wanted to go on “Easy Mode” for a while. What does that mean? Instead of engaging into another adventure with the Bat, finishing with the Clown Prince of Crime being in Arkham Prison, the villain came up with a grand plan to bring Superman to his knees. Through deception, Joker made the Kryptonian kill his own wife, Lois Lane, who was also pregnant to his child. The way he did it was also twisted. Plus, her death triggered a big nuclear bomb which blew up the Metropolis, taking its toll on millions of lives. Superman got super-pissed, burst into the interrogation room, threw Batman aside and punched Joker through the chest, like a super-caveman living in 2013. Can you blame him? That’s what Injustice revolves around — is Superman right? Does he need to protect us from ourselves by starting his regime, or is he being selfish and power-hungry? The game starts at that point, and spans 12 chapters, each chapter having you control a different character for 4-5 battles. The Story Mode took me around 4 hours to complete on Medium, and provided some challenge, especially until I got used to the controls. While I liked the variety, just like Mortal Kombat, something bothered me; the fact that, just as I came to grasp my character, learn his movements, combos, synergies and such, I’m presented with another playable character whose combos and movements are utterly different.
In Blackest Night… No wait, that’s Green Lantern
But what kept me playing for 4 hours straight, and made me wish the length was double that, was the amazing story. You’ve never seen Superman like this, and I mean, ever. Far as I know, he’s died, he’s been cheated, he’s been deceived, everything — but seeing him do the wicked things he does (damn spoilers!), sorry, can’t recall anything similar. Seeing injustice sprout inside the ranks of the Justice League, and having superheroes act like gods among mortals certainly sets a very different, darker tone on what we’re used to. It gives a great reason for a pseudo-civil war to occur between the superheroes, or supervillains, and surprises you with unpredictable alliances. And explains the game’s title, in case you’re still wondering. The inclusion of such a story in a fighting game, and its execution, succeeded in raising the bar for what we expect from story-driven fighting games.
Once you’re done with the story though, what’s next? Well… you have the regular ladder mode, called “Classic Battle”, which has 10 random fighters pitted against you, but to spice things up, it also has different sub-modes which implement modifiers; like, finish the ladder with 1 bar, letting it refill by performing outstanding actions, or finish each battle with a constantly diminishing health due to poison. Each character has their own ending, too, so it’s more than worth giving it a shot. Then, you have the S.T.A.R. Labs, which is the Injustice version of Challenge Tower from Mortal Kombat. Here, you’ll play all sorts of mini-games you can imagine, breaking away from the 2D fighting gameplay of the game. You have the option to play just a single battle (something I craved for in fighting games for a while now), or the option to train. What’s neat for the competitive players is that each move in the move list has the number of frames for each action in a table on the right. That way, you can literally calculate your every move. Of course, local 2-P Versus is present, and Online play features the King of the Hill mode from Mortal Kombat, as well as standard battles. This mode, though, has received an overhaul; instead of being a passive spectator, bored until your turn comes, you can bet XP on each fight, which spices up the whole thing. A daily challenge is also present, rewarding you with tons of XP for completing it. Gone is the lag from Mortal Kombat though; don’t be afraid to play online now! Also, something I appreciated is that both of you can select an arena; the game then randomly chooses which one will be used. Cool!
Another new addition is a universal XP system, which awards you with new icons, backgrounds and portraits for your Hero Card, another new addition. This one will have the options you choose accompany your stats, showcasing your achievements, while making the tedious task of stat-scrolling a bit more pretty to look at. You can also get “Armory Keys” and “Access Cards”, which, in turn, let you unlock new costumes for the big cast of 24 characters (more coming via DLC), concept art, music, and battle modifiers (half health, countdown, etc). There’s also a trailer for “Superman Unbound”, which, I suppose (no research on it, I admit), is exclusive.
Now, off to dissect the game’s technical aspects. First comes the gameplay, which is the top most important thing in a fighting game. Surprise! — it plays a lot like NetherRealm Studios’ previous title, the Mortal Kombat reboot of 2011. How much though? Just enough to keep the good elements of it, evolve them, and make for a unique experience, but one not perfect. A prominent mechanic of the game are the environmental actions, which sees the player or enemy grab an object from the environment and use it to damage your opponent — a lot. This has spawned some worries within the community, and the studio, which gives the option to turn them off, as they are unblockable and take away a good chunk off the health bar. Apart from that, each character controls vastly different from each other, and they all can land insane combos, if you can pull them off of course. There’s also the Character Power, which varies from Batman summoning batarangs you can choose when to send off (even mid-combo, or to cancel an enemy attack) to Luthor getting a one-hit very temporary shield. The super meter charges up mostly by being hit, and by performing special moves. The c-c-c-combo breaker is called a Clash, which is essentially a quick time event where the two enemies face-off, and the one winning gets either health restored or damage dealt. The more meter charges you have, the more button options you will unlock in that mini-mini-game, which can only occur once each battle. Fill the meter to its full capacity, and you can pull off a crazy Super Move, which takes away a generous amount of health, too, and is great to watch (Doomsday punching you to the center of the Earth = awesome). Lastly, you can use a strong kick to send the enemy flying through the edges of the area to another part of the stage, a new part, which not only refreshes things and gives new strategies, but also deals much damage. That is a bit weird to watch if you see, say, Batman punch Bane through 5-6 walls, but hey, can’t have everything. Throw in the removal of the block button, which was substituted by the Street Fighter standard “back-to-block”, and you have a vastly revitalized fighting system.
What kind of disappointed me though was the game’s graphics. Whereas Mortal Kombat had highly detailed models and environments, Injustice only seems to keep the first half of it. While artistically good, they’re not great from a quality standpoint, especially if closely inspected, but hey, they’re so nicely made that you won’t bother too much looking for ugly details. Except when in cutscenes rendered using the game’s engine which makes some faces look weird (Batman’s mouth, sometimes), and the not-too-ugly environments show their not-too-high-quality textures. Regarding framerate drops, the game runs at a smooth 60FPS, from what I gather, having experienced no problems and seeing fast-paced action on the screen. That, though, comes at the expense of some animations. Sometimes, while the animations are very good, some are too sped up, which makes the whole immersion fade away, and make you think of a Saturday morning cartoon.
Audio-wise, the soundtrack fits the themes and grim tones of the game, but otherwise, it’s not something you will forget once you turn your console off. The voices though, are exceptional. The Arkham series’ Kevin Controy is back to voice the character, George Newbern is Superman, and the newest Joker, Richard Epcar, is also there. Phil LaMarr is behind Aquaman, and no game would be complete without Tara Strong, voicing Harleen (ehm, Harley Quinn — play the game and you’ll understand) and Raven. The sound effects are great, and each hit landed, be it from a ranged weapon, a blunt weapon or a simple punch, is visceral and satisfying, more so when you do enough damage to see your enemy’s costume start falling apart.
So, should we summarize the mountain of text above? We got an incredible story, not only for a fighting game, but for a game in general. A story I’d love to see as a movie, or a comic book. But, the gameplay can back it up pretty nicely, is mostly balanced, the characters control wonderfully and there’s enough bang for your buck in the disc, with DLC coming to add more. Overall, the game’s quality from a technical point of view has its highs and lows, but mostly stays in the first area.
Bonus Section: Collector’s Edition
Being the gamer that I am, I bought the game’s Collector’s Edition. It was one of my most anticipated games for the year so far, and I couldn’t resist another Batman statue next to my Arkham City’s Batman statue. In the video below, being around 4 minutes long, I’m unboxing everything and showing it off.
Since I’m not talking in the video; the statue is very detailed, and it’s made of soft plastic of some kind, so it needs to be handled with care. Its size is about one and a half PS3 game cases, with the steelbook being unusually shiny and sticky for some reason, featuring New 52 artwork on the back, and the game’s artwork on the front. Inside is a voucher to download New 52 costumes for Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman, while having linked your PS3 to your Warner Bros ID lands you a Flash New 52 skin. The comic book included is a prologue to the game, explaining the events leading up to it; it does not include the whole storyline of Injustice. If you’re interested in the other chapters, you can find them in digital form for 0.99$ each, and 3.99$ each in print form.
Thanks for reading, Gamesthirstians! Now go kick some super-ass!