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Injustice: Gods Among Us

Batman

When NetherRealm Studios revived Mortal Kombat, they not only aided games like Street Fighter IV in bringing about the fighting genre’s resurgence, but also offered a breadth of single player content the likes of which the genre had never seen. From the ingenious conceit that carried its lengthy story mode, to multifarious challenges and mini-games that numbered in the hundreds; all of it bolstered by an approachable fighting system that was easy to pick up and play but difficult to master.

With Injustice: Gods Among Us, NetherRealm have remained committed to the single player, maintaining the core ideas behind Mortal Kombat’s wealth of modes, while cleverly adjusting and iterating on its fighting systems to set it apart from MK to create a more unique fighter altogether. It may look like MK on the surface, but these DC superheroes have a few more palatable tricks in their locker.

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Like MK, Injustice’s mechanics feel designed to ease players in, particularly those less cultured in the fighting genre. This starts with three basic attacks of varying strength (light, medium and heavy) and an extra character specific move that varies from fighter to fighter. Wonder Woman, for example, can switch stances between her lasso and her sword & shield, whereas The Flash can slow down time, letting you pull off particular combos that would otherwise be impossible. Defensively, you now hold back or down to block rather than utilizing MK’s dedicated block button – forcing you to be keenly aware of cross-ups – while a dedicated Meter Burn button lets you perform advanced techniques like push blocks and EX specials.

There’s also a new Clash system where you can wager metre. If the defending player wins they gain health, but lose and they take damage. It’s a decent system that acts as a sort of combo breaker, but big comebacks are almost unprecedented due to how rounds work. Each fighter has two health bars: knock one down and a new round starts, but the other fighter still retains the health they had before. This encourages and rewards aggression, allowing players to control fights if they’re skilled enough, earning each victory.

There’s a welcome density to Injustice’s systems beyond the deceptively simple button configuration that should suit players from all fighting backgrounds. Take a look at a single fight and the way characters move, the rhythm of their air-combos and the way hits connect with that gratifying thud make it look a lot like MK, but Injustice is an evolution of that template. Each character feels unique and diverse; full of personality that makes each fight an exhibition that’s almost as much fun to watch as it is to play.

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Stage design complements this, once again granting a dedicated button that lets you pull off context-sensitive environmental attacks. These can be as simple as throwing an explosive gas canister to something more outlandish like emptying a massive water tank in Atlantis. You’ll not only want to learn each character’s move list but also memorise each stage, taking note of when you can implement its destructible backgrounds to your advantage. Stage transitions take this a step further, throwing in an extra dollop of audacity as you kick fighters through Wayne Manor, into other dimensions or out into space, making fantastic use of the roster’s godly status.

Super moves certainly do this too, delving into NetherRealm’s creativity and emerging with a veritable host of ridiculous energy. Doomsday does his best Asura’s Wrath impression, punching his opponents through the core of the Earth and out the other side, while Aquaman feeds his pet shark, and Batman uses a remote controlled Batmobile to run people over. These super moves may not have the intrepidity of MK’s fatalities, but they add some extra gusto to proceedings with unwavering satisfaction.

Injustice’s story mode continues this approach, revisiting MK’s interactive movie concept as you seamlessly transition from cinematic to gameplay without a loading screen in sight. It’s still mightily impressive, jumping between characters to give you a good look at a handful of its roster. Its narrative even manages to give all 24 fighters a purpose without feeling disjointed; weaving an oftentimes contrived tale that ultimately wants to pit Batman against Superman, because why not?

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How do these two good guys come to blows, you may ask? Well, the Joker tricks Superman into killing Lois Lane and his unborn child, understandably sending him off the deep end and murdering Joker in the process. He sets up a new world order, ruling over the populace of Earth with an iron fist, forcing Batman’s hand into summoning a bunch of superheroes from another dimension to put a stop to this nefarious Man of Steel once and for all.

All of this is basically just an excuse to pit good guys against each other and their doppelgangers. It can sometimes be a little too cheesy and melodramatic for its own good – plus, Superman pushing drugs? – but it’s enjoyable in a way most comic books are, satiating fans with exciting match-ups across its seven-hour playtime.

Elsewhere, Injustice’s other single player offerings keep the action coming thick and fast, offering modes congruent to MK. Battles features arcade-style ladders, letting you fight through the game’s entire roster or unlock additional tiers that modify fights, such as imposing limits on health bars or giving you a random character to control in each fight. S.T.A.R. Labs is akin to MK‘s Challenge Tower, featuring hundreds of objectives to complete, whether it’s executing specific moves, defeating an opponent while avoiding random projectiles, or simply winning a fight. You can lose hours to its quirky challenges, putting other fighting game’s single player offerings to shame.

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And Injustice hasn’t skimped on its multiplayer either. Once again it follows the MK framework, allowing up to eight players to get together in a King of the Hill lobby where the winner stays on and everyone else gets to watch and vote on who they think will win the next match. This can be invaluable to new players wanting to learn the ropes, while others will simply enjoy watching the fights, particularly with friends. Survivor is a variant on King of the Hill, removing the voting system and not giving the winners all their life back between fights. Elsewhere there’s the usual assortment of ranked and player matches, and a handy lobby system where people can go to chat before challenging each other to a match. NetherRealm have also learned their lessons from MK’s egregious netcode, with matches working fine so long as both players are running a decent connection.

NetherRealm’s previous work on Mortal Kombat has certainly had a profound effect on Injustice: Gods Among Us. There’s a welcome parity between its content, offering a flurry of single player game modes and a type of storytelling rare to the genre. It takes the best parts of MK but refuses to rest on its laurels, building on a solid blueprint to create a fighting game with its own identity and unique fighting system. It remains accessible but manages to retain a hidden depth, making for a complete package that’s fun to play no matter your skill level.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @richardwakeling.

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