While playing Injustice, I can’t help but think about the most recent DC films and television shows, as well as the Marvel Movieverse. I’m not the biggest fan of the Nolan/Bale Batman (though both of those men are masters of their craft), and though Arrow is an excellent show, I’m finding it difficult to really “get in to;” while Marvel has absolutely captivated me with all of their headlining characters. I think I can finally specify why this is, thanks to Boon and the gang.
Injustice: Gods Among Us (XBOX 360 [reviewed], PS3, Wii U)
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: April 16th, 2013
Words by James Bacon
Injustice is unashamed about its comic book feel. The premise and all of the details are appropriately cliche – a multiverse with hero and villain duplicates, including an evil Superman; cross dimension conundrums; sweeping, global implications due to the actions of the few; primary colors; stretch pants… it’s completely unabashed while using all of the kitschy comic book cliches it can muster, just like the Marvel Movieverse. Meanwhile, the DC movie poster-child, Batman, has taken realism to a degree that, believe it or not, breaks my suspension of disbelief. It’s too gritty, and it’s too realistic for characters whose roots run deep into ridiculous territory. Arrow does the same thing, though not to the same degree, and while I understand the desire to head in this direction (due to the Schumacher snarls that were Batman Forever and Batman & Robin), but after having been shelved for so long, and taking a look at how Marvel is approaching their properties, you’d think that, maybe, they could have gone in a direction that’s a bit closer to the source. The banks of which Injustice boldly fords.
I mean, for chrissakes, Batman hangs out in space on a regular basis with two aliens and an amazon princess!
Something that Boon has concerned himself with from the beginning is story. He insists that the fighting genre can be a vehicle for more than the typical vinettes that populate the space. Mortal Kombat’s characters had motivations, relationships, and goals, and they were applied in a very thorough way. Character actions affected more than just themselves and the person they were punching in the face. These motivations, relationships, and goals have gotten more complex with each game Boon has made. Now he has almost 80 years of history to work with right out of the gate (not all of the characters are so old, but Superman sure is)! Of course he’s going to borrow from some of the more memorable and successful arcs. The plot is definitely something that we’ve seen before, albeit not exactly with these details, but that’s often how comic book plots go. That doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile, or that it’s hackneyed or slapdash. It’s organized a great deal like the Justice Lords two-parter from the original Justice League cartoon, while character reactions and revelations unfold in a fashion similar to Kingdom Come. For the uninitiated, know that you cannot borrow from better source material. Period.
The character designs are not only really cool, being both new and familiar all at once, but there’s a reason for all of the armor. With people like Superman, Wonder Woman, Aqua Man, and others on the roster, the non-powered group of characters would get utterly stomped without protection. The designs echo this concern in a very interesting way (it isn’t ONLY the costumes beefed up with armor that’s protecting these guys, but I’ll leave that for you to discover in the game). I love it when character designs carry substance, like this. I also love new costumes. I always have. I love the spider armor, Iron Spider, Future Foundation, Phoenix Five… you get the idea. Not every costume is a hit, but I enjoy every attempt, and even if I end up disliking the end result, I always appreciate the effort. The concept designers who worked on Injustice really stuck close to the source material (some deviating the most discrete ways – Superman, Wonder Woman; and others being drastic departures while carrying familiar patterns – Harley, Sinestro), but even in so doing were able to find satisfying originality in their varied details. And again, there are plot reasons for most character appearances.
Another thing Boon has always done well is understand his setting. The Mortal Kombat franchise, having debuted in 1992, was clearly influenced by the film Big Trouble in Little China, and other films of that ilk hailing from the mid to late 80’s. He equally understands the comic book origins of the stable he’s working with, here, but let’s be honest… not one of you is reading this review for commentary concerning story or visuals for a fighting game hailing from the 20 year pedigree of the Mortal Kombat series. I thank you for sticking with it this long to get to the meaty bits: the gameplay.
The mechanics are evidence that Ed Boon is actually learning from other fighting franchises, and it’s highly noticeable. Games like Tekken, from which has been borrowed a King-like ground-grab system for Solomon Grundy (among other things), and Street Fighter (as well as virtually every other fighter out there) from which we finally escape the trappings of a block button in favor of simply holding the D-pad or joystick away from your attacker. These pieces of gameplay elevate the typical Mortal Kombat formula, much like the advances made by Mortal Kombat (2011) elevated it to the point where it could be seriously considered for tournament play. Even while learning from other games (and some might add “FINALLY!”), the new wager system and Clash mechanic are evidence that he’s still comfortable as ever with reevaluating the entire genre and forging ahead with his own fresh ideas. After your first health bar expires (everyone has two), you are given the opportunity to challenge your opponent during a combo wherein you wager sections of your special meter. Whoever wagers more wins, and then the results of the Clash are applied, be they healing, or damage. It’s semi controllable, and it attempts to disallow completely one-sided battles. Along with learning and applying new (though old) mechanics, and integrating fresh ways in which to play, the standard mechanics which you’d expect are also present. Meter burning special moves, spectacular and satisfying super moves which replace fatalities and X-ray moves, and also, unfortunately, the “dial-a-combo” system. It isn’t as bad as it was at its inception at MK3, as you have a great deal of free form play regarding juggling, and the points in any specific combo where you choose to insert a special move; however, it still feels rigid and antiquated. Heavy hits do not flow naturally from medium hits, and medium hits do not flow naturally from light hits. As a result, it becomes extremely difficult to execute combos properly if, like me, you’re used to Street Fighter or Vs., wherein you can double tap buttons to ensure timing. If you double tap in Injustice, you’ve blown the combo.
It is definitely worth mentioning that Injustice includes the most ingenious multi-player lobby in any fighting game ever. The game being played presently, as you’re spectating, is installed directly in the lobby dashboard itself. It will fill the screen at the push of a button, and you can shrink it back down just as easily. If you decide to leave it as is, you can go about browsing the Hero Cards (stats) of everyone else in the lobby. The amount of loading required is minimal, and getting in to one is very simple, and quick.
I’ll lastly comment briefly on the sound, which includes effects, music, and of course, voice acting. The voice acting for the characters are all fantastic. Even though Arleen Sorkin no longer does Harley, Tara Strong, an immensely prolific voice actor, does a fantastic job; Kevin Conroy (the standard by which every Batman should be measured and judged), is just as perfect as he ever was for the character of Bruce Wayne; and though Mark Hamil has decided not to continue to do the Joker (also the standard for this particular character), Richard Epcar, another prolific voice actor, takes up the mantle and embraces it. Stephen Amell voices Green Arrow, and even though I cannot say I am, as of yet, a fan of the show, I appreciate the choice in favor of consistency. All this to say the game is cast very well. Likewise, the sounds of bones crunching, armor clanging, guns firing, lasers zapping, and the dull packing thud of fist-on-face combat are duly satisfying; and the music, much like the plot, hearkens back to the Justice League cartoon.
The game is good. Yes, I’m an Ed Boon fanboy; and yes, I’m a DC diehard, but that doesn’t prevent an objective view. While I’ll get far more out of the game given the characters and subject matter, someone who’s never heard of DC comics, Ed Boon, or even the fighting genre will certainly be able to enjoy this.
Verdict: 8.5 (+Good) – This game does a lot right, and like its immediate predecessor, should be making its way into the tournament circuit shortly. Ed Boon has learned a lot about the genre in the 21 years he’s been with the MK franchise, and he’s put it all to good use in Injustice, borrowing mechanics from other series while still boldly infusing his brand of originality through new mechanics and deft story telling. Unfortunately, the oft maligned “dial-a-combo” combo system first introduced in MK3 has survived, and though there is a measure of free form to kicking butt, it isn’t nearly as diverse a system as Capcom employs for the Street Fighter or Vs. series. This game is, however, worth not only the $60 dollar price tag, but also the additional $15 dollars for a season pass.