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Posted by Derek Smith on May 1, 2013

Review – Injustice: Gods Among Us (Xbox 360)

Post Rating

DC Comics has a long history of just really mediocre games (save notable exceptions like Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City). They don’t really have anything notable to show especially in the realm of fighting games. Their most recent effort was Midway’s Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, which was (for lack of a better word) awful. It was broken in the most fundamental ways: infinite combos, poor aesthetic/even poorer graphics, etc. All in all, it was a rather unpleasant experience. This wasn’t really something they could afford in light of Marvel Comic’s huge successes. Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and most recently Ultimate/Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (despite Capcom’s decidedly questionable practices releasing an update only nine months after the game’s initial release). That being said, those were and are competitive games with long lifespans in the Fighting Game Community as well as somewhat profitable to re-release with added online play. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is the hype game. I rarely see anyone more excited for a game or see more viewers on a stream than for Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Well, DC Comics finally has its answer in Injustice: Gods Among Us. Injustice is a love letter to comic book fans. It’s a love letter to fighting game fans and tournament level players as well. It really is a wonderful effort from NetherRealm Studios, responsible for the well-regarded most recent release of the Mortal Kombat franchise. Let’s talk about why, ladies and gentlemen.

I was lucky to be able to review Injustice: Gods Among Us. I’m a huge comic book fan, despite the fact that I’ve primarily been a Marvel Comics man (Spider-Man what whaaaat). But I know my fair share of DC Comics lore, as they’re responsible for some of the most iconic heroes and the most iconic stories. At the very least, I know how brilliant, and yet crazy, writers like Geoff Johns are (Infinite Crisis, I’m lookin’ at you). I’ve read iconic stories like Jeph Loeb’s Batman: The Long Halloween and Batman: Dark Victory. I read Flashpoint, the reboot for DC’s New 52. I read Blackest Night and Brightest Day. So I know enough about the universe and about the characters to really appreciate what DC and NetherRealm Studios attempted to do with regards to trying to show the hardcore fans a little love. This is applicable because NetherRealm Studios really had their shot at character design for Injustice: Gods Among Us. Honestly, I really like the way it turned out! Each character got two new or modified designs based on the story (more on that to come). By and large, the designs are great. There are a few notable exceptions, but the case can be made that all the designs are rather good and well thought out. I was incredibly partial new Batman, Flash, Green Arrow, Black Adam, and Shazam designs. And if you’re not happy with the costumes provided by the story, all the characters have some sort of alternate costume that’s a callback to other iterations of the character. The Flash, for example, has costumes from the story but also has New 52 and Elseworlds alternates. So really, I’m very pleased.

The game itself is beauty in motion. Each character has unique stances, unique animations, body types, etc. that weren’t exactly present in Mortal Kombat. A lot of the complaints involving the look of that game were the body archetypes NetherRealm Studios used to fit hit detection and to fit for things like fatalities. The characters are lovingly crafted for Injustice: Gods Among Us. It really shows, and is greatly appreciated by those of us who pay attention to those kinds of things. The stages are wonderfully animated and rendered. The set pieces, like Doomsday at the Fortress of Solitude, and the two giant characters (who I am not knowledgeable enough to know) on the Hall of Justice, are really wonderful additions. They augment these animations and the rendering by making the stages interactive. I was honestly really rather scared that the stage interaction and the transitions would take away from the competitive spirit of the game. Thankfully, I was totally wrong. The stage interactions are in no way, shape, or form as outrageous as myself and a large contingent of the Fighting Game Community expected them to be. The only gripe I have is the damage of some of the stage interactions. 25-32% is a rather large amount of damage, and some characters are less able to utilize stages than others (for example, The Flash is unable to really capitalize on things like hanging missiles whereas Superman or Doomsday or Green Lantern are pretty deadly with them). It is worth mentioning that stage interactions can be turned off, though. That all being said, I’m very impressed with the graphical and aesthetic presentation of the game. I really love it. It’s a little gritty, but there’s enough color to give it life. Probably my only issue with the presentation is the somewhat compressed cutscenes, but those aren’t too bad, even given that.

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The extras offered by the game are numerous. As I’m sure you know if you’re reading this, WB released the Injustice: Gods Among Us iOS game with the perk that you can unlock content across that and the full game if you play both (costumes, character portraits, etc.). The iOS game isn’t bad, but it does engage in an oft-used energy system that encourages the use of microtransactions (which I am against on the whole). But you can wait out the energy system and the game offers in game perks so that you may keep playing, which is fine. Probably the biggest draw of playing the iOS game is the five costumes it unlocks. Costumes like New 52 Green Lantern, Batman Beyond, Knightfall Bane, and a couple more.

Game Modes

As an analog to Mortal Kombat’s Challenge Tower, Injustice: Gods Among Us has the S.T.A.R. Missions. Essentially, each character has a certain number of S.T.A.R. Missions, and in each mission the character is pitted against an opponent with directives to accomplish in order to receive one, two, or three stars for the mission. I have to say that I was rather unimpressed with the S.T.A.R. Missions. I’ve never been a big fan of challenge missions as is, but some of the Injustice: Gods Among Us missions aren’t so much based on player skills as they are pure luck. One mission in particular is causing a bit of uproar in certain communities. The mission involves completing a fight while dodging randomly falling debris that is actually pretty difficult to dash away from on reaction. This isn’t the only mission based on luck, so I would not call myself a fan of the S.T.A.R. Missions. Sad, really, considering there are a couple costumes locked behind them. And trust me, there are a lot.

So let’s get into the meat of the single-player game: the story. I’m going to be frank. The story is not great. On an alternate Earth, Superman has been tricked into killing Lois Lane (who was pregnant with Superman’s unborn child), and basically becomes a dictator ruling with the iron grip of his power. Almost all heroes in that reality have joined him, including the likes of Hal Jordan, Barry Allen, and many others. One of the lone superhero holdouts is Batman, who draws the other heroes into his timeline in an effort to stop Superman. The story isn’t long. It can be completed in maybe three and a half or four hours. There are, if I remember correctly, thirteen chapters. In each chapter, you play as a different hero, which gives new players a good feel for some of the characters that are available for play. You have to enjoy the voice acting cast that was used for Injustice: Gods Among Us. Troy Baker, Adam Baldwin, Jennifer Hale, Phil Lamar, etc. were all great choices so the voice acting really stands out. The really standout VAs are George Newburn and Kevin Conroy, who reprise their roles as Superman and Batman, respectively. The Joker suffers from the lack of Mark Hamill, which is probably the one miss in the VA cast in Injustice: Gods Among Us (not to say it’s bad, just that it’s hard to not hear Mark Hamill). So, again, I didn’t care for Injustice: Gods Among Us’ story, but it’s not offensively bad (save one moment involving alternate Superman and alternate Shazam [formerly known as Captain Marvel, recently renamed in New 52]). It’s definitely worth the time because it serves as a great introduction to the characters. The other easy way to get acquainted with the systems is Injustice’s rather comprehensive tutorial. It takes all of maybe five or ten minutes, but it tells you about things like the Clash System and the way normal attacks and specials work.

Gameplay

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I guess it’s finally time to get to the most important part of this review: the gameplay. Let me say this upfront: Injustice: Gods Among Us is incredibly fun and very solid. I realize that the animation style taken by NetherRealm Studios turns off some people, but attempt to look past it and give the game a shot. Each character has light, medium, and heavy normals. But then every character has a unique button, comparable to the Blazblue series, called their Trait button. The Trait button is tailored to every character’s powers and origins. For example, The Flash’s trait slows down the opponent’s movements and animations, allowing The Flash to get in easier and do combos that would otherwise be impossible to perform. Superman’s Trait button allows him to ignore armored moves like Solomon Grundy’s armored grabs. So every character has something along the lines of that, and it makes every character unique and very fun to play. Then there are the stance change button making its return from Mortal Kombat, the environment interaction button (which flashes near the player’s life bar as an indicator of available stage interactions). Changed from Mortal Kombat is the blocking system. In Mortal Kombat, blocking was accomplished by holding a button. In Injustice, blocking is now accomplished by holding back like most other 2D fighters. Returning from Mortal Kombat, though, is the use of a dedicated button for meter burning. In games like Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition Ver. 2012, burning a meter is accomplished by using two punch or two kick buttons. The health system is similar to Vampire Savior in that life bars do not reset to full at the end of each round, which makes for shorter matches.

There are tons of ways to burn meter in this game. Meter burning specials, push block (F+MB on block), combo extenders, etc. are all explained in the tutorial. But it’s time to talk about input buffering in this game. In games like Street Fighter, timing, cancels, and links are all very precisely timed, so transition to a fighter like Mortal Kombat or Injustice: Gods Among Us is a little jarring. Injustice is very much inputting normals as quickly as possible and waiting to input specials until you’re attempting to cancel a normal. Once the player gets the system down, though, it’s very rewarding and very accommodating to new players and veterans of fighting games alike. I really couldn’t be happier with the responsiveness of the controls, the specials, etc. Injustice: Gods Among Us does a lot to accommodate all types of players. In the control options, players can choose to enable release check (negative edge, or a move coming out upon releasing a button rather than pressing a button), or alternate controls (called “Street Fighter controls,” which basically turns inputs into quarter and half circles). NetherRealm Studios have written a love letter to gamers with Injustice. Not to be forgotten, however, is the comprehensive move list for every character. Each character has every normal, command normal, combo string, and special listed. And for every one of those things, there is built in frame data. The frame data shows the startup, active, recovery, advantage on hit and block, as well as the damage. It’s incredibly thorough, and is a great way for new players to come into a competitive atmosphere. The training mode is also very robust for new and competitive players alike. The training and AI options are extensive, and the mode allows for recording for later viewing and practicing.

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I suppose you’re also wondering how the online mode is. They’ve upgraded the King of the Hill mode found in Mortal Kombat. They’ve added online practice mode. It’s a great attempt to improve online life and longevity of the game, but I remain disappointed. The netcode is better than Mortal Kombat, and improvements are always appreciated. But it’s still lacking. Input delay is noticeable in midwest to east coast connections, but any farther is absolutely unplayable. Some of the links and cancels are very tight, and almost impossible online. The go-to Flash meterless and trait combos are very hard to hit online since they’re a little execution heavy. Keep it simple online, though, and you should be fine. I have to confess I didn’t play a whole lot of the online in Injustice: Gods Among Us. I’m an offline player by and large, and in my constant quest to improve keeps me from playing too much online. If you readers want more impressions, just drop us a line and I’ll see what I can do.

Conclusion

All things considered and all things said, I am incredibly impressed by the presentation in Injustice: Gods Among Us. I am very happy with how the game looks, how it plays, how it feels, and the mass market appeal. Even the Fighting Game Community, who by and large did not accept Mortal Kombat, are loving Injustice: Gods Among Us as of writing this. Streams are getting thousands of viewers, forums are active, and players are actively discovering new technology with which to better play the game. I expect Injustice: Gods Among Us to keep its popularity and have a long online and community life. I gotta hand it to you, NetherRealm Studios, you’ve made a believer out of me. Keep going what you’re doing and you’ll have my business and support.

I give Injustice: Gods Among Us a 9/10.

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