Every once in a while, a fighting game comes along that heralds in a new era of brawlers and redefines the genre, changing everything fight fans knew and shakes them to their frame-counting cores. Unfortunately, Injustice: Gods Among Us is not that game. But regardless, it's still a pretty kickass experience for both lovers of fighting games and fans of DC Comics' pantheon of heroes and villains. And for those who like those things all rolled into one, it's something truly entertaining.
It won't get points for revolutionizing the fighting game genre, but Injustice does a lot of things very well. Whether it's the ridiculous story that's chock-full of fanservice, the fun fight mechanics and over-the-top super moves, or the suites of single-player and multiplayer modes that will keep players occupied for a long time, Injustice has something for everyone.
Let's start off with the bonkers story that's built around a big "what if?" in the DC Universe. We all know that there's a rivalry between those who champion Batman and those who think that Superman is tops, but now fans can actually play out a scenario in which the two collide because of differing ideologies and to battle for the fate of the world.
I don't want to give away anything when it comes to the story, because as hokey and as crazy as its premise is, it's a story that needs to be played through with no set expectations other than that DC fans will be get a kick out of it. All you have to know is that the Joker threatens to blow up Metropolis, the Justice League swoops in to stop him, things go horribly wrong, and is everyone is transported into another version of Earth, complete with different versions of your favorite heroes and a Superman that's gone rogue. Good thing Batman has a contingency plan for this very situation. It's standard, boilerplate comic book stuff, but fighting through it makes it even more fun.
The fighting mechanics are similar to past Mortal Kombat titles, which makes sense, given that NetherRealm Studios is responsible for all of the games in the hallowed fighting series. The difference is that the fighting in Injustice feels a lot faster and more casual-friendly. You don't need to know complex button combinations to pull off awesome moves or count frames in order to chain attacks together, which should make it appealing to newcomers to the genre. Although, if you do consider yourself a hardcore fighting game fan, the move lists for all the characters inform you of each move's frame-count and how well they combo into other moves. Just sayin'. Otherwise, casuals are welcome.
And what facilitates this casual-friendly fighting? Simple button mapping, of course! The face buttons will let you throw light, medium, and heavy hits, with the last button reserved for performing character-specific special moves. For example, pressing the special button will make Green Arrow fire off an arrow, will let the Green Lantern charge his ring for more damage, and allow the Flash to move super fast, slowing down his opponent.
And if that wasn't cool enough for you, the environment can also play a part in making fights dynamic and fun (or frustrating, depending on whether or not you're on the receiving end). Injustice's backgrounds have points of interaction that let you pick up items to throw at your opponent, jump away to escape an attack, or set up traps that will stun your enemy with just a hit of the R1 button. Each character uses each point of interactivity differently, depending on what type of fighter they are. For example, an agile character like the Flash will jump off a globe in the Justice League's Watchtower, while a hulking menace like Solomon Grundy will hurl it at his opponent.
Landing powerful blows on your foe at certain points of a few specific stages will also send them careening into another part of the level, just like in past Mortal Kombat games, but this time with more devastating effects. So if you punch someone into the doors of a ward in Arkham Asylum, your enemy will be knocked around by a few members of Batman's rogues' gallery before being booted into another part of the stage.
Once you run through the game's somewhat lengthy story mode and played through the points-of-view of many of the starring characters, you'll be equipped to tackle the S.T.A.R. Labs mode of the game, in which you can play different mini-games as characters in order to unlock bonuses and gain levels. Each hero or villain gets about 10 missions to play through, with each stage testing a different set of their specific abilities. For example, Superman has to fight the Venom-infused Bane while staying in the straying patches of sunlight in order to regain his strength. These games are a fun distraction for about 10 minutes or so, but then they start to drone on and on. If you're a completionist, you'll most likely wade your way through the S.T.A.R. Lab's many challenges. But if not, you're better off just fighting a friend or hopping online to fight the world.
And that brings us to the biggest double-edged sword in Injustice and the heart of any fighting game: multiplayer. Local multiplayer is simple and only involves you and friend. Or an enemy. Whatever. But the online multiplayer is where some folk might feel a healthy amount of frustration. Now, my own frustration can be attributed to some connectivity issues that made me wait what felt like weeks for a match and the fact that I'd join rooms that were labeled as being near full capacity, only to find that I was the only one in there. It didn't matter whether I looked for a Ranked Match, a Player Match, King of the Hill, or Survivor, I just couldn't get into many matches.
But when I finally got in, Injustice was no longer a fighting game, but became a survival horror game for my controller. Unless you're a frame-counting expert who knows how to chain combos, you will get rocked by players online who take advantage of some characters' ability to stunlock you in corners with the same string of combos. You will lose. And you will rage.
Hopefully some updates that balance the game will come through in the future, since it's looking like a Raven-fest online, complete with almost-instant grabs from across the screen. These connectivity and balancing issues, plus the lackluster extra single-player modes, are the only things that really hold Injustice back from being a truly amazing game. But the fact that it's accessible to casual players while also catering to the truly hardcore is the best thing about it. That, plus the incredibly fun story, make it a must-buy for any fan of fighting games or DC comics. If you're either of those two things, it'd be an injustice for you not to get this game.
This review is based on a retail copy of Injustice: Gods Among Us for the PlayStation 3.