It’s hard not to shudder in fear at the concept of a fighting game set in the DC Universe. The mere thought sends most gamer’s minds fluttering off into the darkest recesses of their memories; plagued by the impossible-to-forget atrocity known as Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. So, when NetherRealm Studios went ahead and announced that the follow-up to their successful reboot of the Mortal Kombat franchise would swiftly be followed by a new fighter featuring the familiar heroes and villains of DC, it seemed an unwise choice at best. Perhaps the studio felt they had something to prove? Maybe they wanted to show the world that it’s not impossible to make a fighting game featuring comic book characters, without it leaving a bad taste in the mouths of the core fighting community. Whatever their motivation, we’re less then a month away from the release of Injustice: Gods Among Us; and if the playable build of the game that was on display at PAX East is any indication, this fighter has some, well, fight in it.
Obviously, the most important aspect of a fighting game is the game mechanics. How well the characters are balanced and the fluidity of matches will make or break a title, especially in regards to turning the game into a competitive e-sport worthy of appearing at tournaments such as Evo. Lucky for us, NetherRealm refined some pretty great mechanics with their 2011 reboot, and a lot of that carries over into Injustice. As is true with the Mortal Kombat franchise, Injustice isn’t nearly as frantic or fast-paced as the Marvel vs. Capcom’s out there. The action is a bit slow paced, focusing more on timing and careful strategy than button mashing or choosing the right support characters; meaning you won’t be pulling off any 100-hit combos here. For my hands-on time with the game, I played as both Green Arrow and, afterwards, the recently-announced Raven while my partner-in-crime with the controller next to me played as Flash and Aquaman. We spent a few minutes with each character, getting a feel for their particular playstyles. I also spent a fair amount of time watching other folks get their bearings as Solomon Grundy, Harley Quinn (the most popular character at PAX), and Green Lantern. I can happily report that each character feels very much unique to their own style, offering a variety of powers and combos specific to their abilities. Let the record show that I played the game on an Xbox 360 console, with a standard controller, for those who require such details to properly assess the validity of my claims.
Green Arrow is a more tactical player, with the ability to switch between “trick arrows” on the fly. These include such wonderful toys as explosive arrows that cause knockbacks/launches, shock arrows that stun enemies, and ice arrows that freeze opponents solid. He is definitely not a character to just pick-up-and-play or button mash with, as his combos are chained by well-timed use and understanding of his various arrow types. To his credit, Oliver Queen is also a resilient brawler, so he can hold his own with a few melee/bow-based combos from close range should an opponent attempt to get in close. He’s very good at controlling the field, as any one of his trick arrows can be fired from a few different angles, including shooting while jumping. After learning all of his arrow’s most effective uses, and mastering the timing of shots, Green Arrow could seemingly dominate the entire field of play. In truth, his variety of field control reminds me of Dormammu for MvC3.
The Flash is a brawler who needs to get up close and personal to be effective. His speed gives him in edge as far as rapidly eliminating the distance between he and his adversary, so trying to play against him as a ranged character doing chip damage from afar is not a wise strategy. Flash plays as a very combo-centric character, using a flurry of smaller attacks that do minimal damage but when effectively chained together, give him total control over an opponent. He has a unique ability that lets ranged attacks pass right through him by perfectly timing his use of the Speed Force. It’s tricky to pull off and leaves him vulnerable for a few frames afterwards, which is very punishable if you can get in close. Despite that brief moment of weakness, his fast frame count for executing blows is so staggering, I can see advanced players leaving newcomers in the dust, unable to launch even a basic attack.
Raven ended up being my favorite character out of everyone I saw. Her abilities offer a balanced mix of ranged and melee attacks. She definitely fits into the “zoning” category, as her moves are most effective when keeping opponents at mid-range and taking away their offensive capabilities. She can pull opponents either from a standing position on the ground or out of the air and launch them to the edge of the screen. Raven makes it very difficult for someone to get close to her (I see what you did there), but once they do, her options become a bit limited. She definitely has a few basic juggle combos from up-close, but she’s more at home doing damage from mid-range. I can also confirm, courtesy of the NetherRealm developers in attendance at PAX, that Tara Strong is in fact reprising the role and lending her voice talents to Raven; although those who’ve seen the trailer will know the sound has been mixed to distort it.
Aquaman. Oh, Aquaman. You know, we really give the poor guy a hard time and, in reality, he’s not the useless, fish-talking buffoon we make him out to be. DC used their “New 52” comic book relaunch as a jumping-on point for many new readers, and to their credit they’ve done a great job making the King of Atlantis relevant again. During my time spent playing against him in Injustice, he is a serious contender that’s not to be taken lightly. Of course, the majority of his attacks are centered around either his trident or water-based projectiles. Like Flash, Aquaman has a unique block ability that lets him call up an impenetrable sphere of water that encases and protects him from any outside damage. He has a bit more range than most melee characters thanks to his trident, which is great for launching opponents into the air for effective juggling. I will admit that, out of all the character-specific “super moves” I saw, Aquaman’s was still the silliest and sort of made me chuckle. I won’t spoil it in writing, as I believe you deserve to see it for yourself, but suffice it to say, fish are involved. I don’t envy whoever’s job it is to maintain Aquaman’s relevancy to the community.
Solomon Grundy is a fierce brawler. Seriously, this is not a guy you want to let in close. His powerful grabs and slow, yet damaging fierce punches will drain your health bar faster than a succubus can leech you dry. He also boasts one of, if not the most gruesome super attack in the game; which consists of the undead brute pulling various knives and blunt objects out of his body to damage you with before pulling his own tombstone out of his body and breaking it over your head. His movements and attacks are slow, like you’d expect, but it doesn’t take much for him to beat you down. His physicality also places into how he interacts with the various destructible objects in the game. Whereas the Flash might push you into a car and shatter the windshield, Ol’ Born on a Monday here will just pick up the car and beat you into Sunday with it.
Harley Quinn’s moveset is beautifully reflective of her personality: Crazier than a bag of cats. It’s not hard to see why she was such a fan favorite on the show floor. You honestly never know what she’s going to pull out of her pockets when she’s chaining a combo. She’ll shoot you with her pistols, womp you with a cartoonishly-large mallet that would make Amy Rose blush, and place an exploding pie between your legs before taunting you as it explodes. She’s noticeably more chatty than many other characters during fights, which again, goes to show you the level of deep understanding NetherRealm has of these characters. She’s very combo heavy, doing a lot of low-damage, high volume mix-ups that leave her opponents literally dazed and confused as to what the hell just happened. At the end of the day, she’s a very capable fighter, and I expect that she will become one of the most frequently-played characters in the game merely due to her “fun” factor.
Green Lantern plays much like you’d expect, relying mostly on his constructs to do his fighting and defending for him. He can shield himself from attackers, grab characters from a distance, much like raven, using his energy ring to throw them across the room, and has a close-range grab that consists of creating a brick wall and kicking opponents through it. His combos are a mixture of fists, melee constructs such as bats, and sending out explosive missiles from long range. His super move brings players to Oa where he gives the Guardians an up close view of just how destructive his power ring can be. Of course, Hal’s famous jet constructs make an appearance. He’s a fun and incredibly visually satisfying character to play, and I think Green Lantern fans will be happy with the results. He also feels like a much more casual-friendly character that anyone can pick up and enjoy for a few rounds, needing much less finesse to enjoy at a basic level than the likes of Green Arrow. That’s not to say he lacks depth, he just has less of an early learning curve to enjoy playing as.
I’m going to take a break from character profiling now because I think the gameplay trailers you can find on YouTube speak for themselves. Besides, I’d like to shift focus onto the games narrative for a moment. Since I don’t want to spoil anything, I’ll give a basic overview before getting into a possible theory I have that has yet to be confirmed. The story of Injustice centers around a shifting of alliances between heroes in villains. After a catastrophic incident in Metropolis that has heavy emotional ramifications for Superman, he takes off the kid gloves and starts making questionable choices. This puts Batman in the position of needing the form his own faction to stop Superman before he makes a decision he can’t come back from. From there, various heroes and villains of the DC world fall on different sides of the fence and the ensuing battle begins. Now, in regards to my theory, I mentioned during my PAX highlights roundup that recent trailers and gameplay footage suggest potential links between Injustice and the Arkham series. I’ll post the videos in question so you can see what I mean:
So what does this tell us? For one thing, it’s easier to reuse assets from previous games; and since Injustice features so many cameos and characters in the backgrounds of every stage, it’s not surprising they would chose the character models from the popular Arkham series. But that trailer indicates something else. It indicates that the real Joker has gone missing. And without getting into any major Arkham City spoilers, folks who’ve finished that game know that Joker isn’t in any shape to be fighting after the final moments of narrative. What’s more, an Easter egg from Arkham City revealed that the Scarecrow had a major plan in motion for Gotham City, so his return seems a bit too coincidental for my tastes. My theory is that Injustice is canon with the Arkham universe and takes place after the events of Arkham City. It seems like NetherRealm is going to an awful lot of trouble to incorporate so much of the Arkham series, including the recently revealed “Arkham City Skins Pack” for Batman, Catwoman and Joker, for it to only be about simple aesthetic. On top of all that, there’s heavy speculation that the next Arkham game made by Rocksteady will be a Silver Age prequel, leaving the future events after Arkham City an open book. As I said, neither NetherRealm, Rocksteady, nor WB Games has said anything about this, so my theory is purely based on conjecture and personal analysis up to this point.
That about wraps up my hands on preview of Injustice. As you can tell, the game is a very solid successor building off the Mortal Kombat engine and is worthy of any fighting fan’s time. In fact, if the story plays out as interesting as it sounds, this might be a title worth checking out for any fan of the DC universe in general, simply for the original narrative. Injustice: Gods Among Us hits store shelves on April 16 and will be available for PS3, Wii U, and Xbox 360, with a June release date for folks in Japan.
Do you plan on picking up Injustice when it releases next month? Who do you predict your favorite fighter will be? Share your thoughts in the comments below.