Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: iOS (mobile version), PS3, Xbox 360 (reviewed), Wii U
The stage has finally been set for the most iconic heroes and villains of the DC Universe to duke it out in style, thanks to the wonderful developers behind the Mortal Kombat series. As a preface to this review, I’m not going to focus very much on the specific fighting mechanics and styles of each character, so if you’re looking for a more detailed breakdown of some character types, go ahead and check out last month’s preview. That being said, the purpose of this review will focus more on the overall gameplay, features, and narrative of Injustice. Spoilers will be as light as your average synopsis, so nothing here will come as a shock, provided you’ve followed the game or seen any trailers at all leading up to launch.
Injustice kicks off with a bang, literally, as the city of Metropolis is leveled by a nuclear bomb set off by the clown prince of crime himself, the Joker. In the wake of such a devastating loss, particularly for a certain hometown hero, Superman decides he’s had enough of criminals going to jail or Arkham only to break out and wreak more havoc months later. His new solution is to build his own regime under one ruler: Yep, the man of steel. Of course, this type of “leadership” doesn’t go over so well with Batman, so the end result is a Marvel “Civil War” style scenario where unlikely alliances are formed between heroes and villains who’ve divided into “Team Superman” and “Team Batman”. As you might have guessed, what happens next is a series of player-controlled physical confrontations.
The story of Injustice is so much more than just “serviceable for a fighting game”; it’s a strong narrative that digs deeply into the core of these characters. It feels just as powerful and engaging as if the game were designed as a third-person action-adventure title. So, if you usually have a hard time playing fighting games because of their weak, often convoluted storylines, you can rest assured Injustice delivers the goods. There is never a point where a hero or villain feels like they are acting out of character, and the alliances that form are all the more believable for it.
If I did have to complain about anything story-wise, it would be the absurd, throwaway excuse for explaining how otherwise woefully underpowered heroes and villains can stand against the likes of superior opponents. This really isn’t NetherRealm’s fault, because at the end of the day there’s really no reasonable explanation for why Catwoman could ever shrug off being punched into outer space and then cratered back down to earth courtesy of the last son of Krypton, but the explanation Injustice provides just feels silly. Alas, it is what it is. It’s also unfortunate that some characters aren’t available for player use during the campaign. It was great seeing Raven and Harley Quinn have roles to play in the narrative, but I’d have liked it even more if I could play as them for a chapter. The story mode itself is only 3-4 hours long, so the entire roster could’ve been featured more prominently and gotten their own chapters.
Where Injustice really shines is in it’s feature-rich content. It’s worth mentioning that the story mode doesn’t simply thrust you from one fight into the other, each character chapter always contains at least one mini-game that tasks players with inputting the correct button prompt sequence. While the idea of quick-time-events will come as bad news for many, I’d like to point out that the only consequence for failing these events is beginning the next fight with slightly diminished health. Similarly, succeeding at the mini-game grants an easier fight, as your opponent’s health will start off partially lessened. The events are very cinematic, and actually help break the monotony of chaining one battle into the next. While I’m usually opposed to quick-time events, they are well-utilized in Injustice and are a welcome addition to the campaign.
If the story-mode doesn’t seem appealing, there’s always the classic “Battle” mode, where players select a single combatant and go through a series of 10 battles against random opponents. The final “boss” of the standard battle mode is Superman, and after completing the mode there is a short comic-book-style epilogue detailing what happens to the prevailing character after the events of the story. It provides a nice bit of closure to satisfy fans of any particular characters that didn’t get much screen time during the campaign’s final moments. Additionally, there are over a dozen Battle mode scenarios to play out if the standard mode gets tiresome. The conditions range from: Battling against only heroes/villains, winning within time constraints, battling a tag-team of opponents per match, and much more. The variety on display should provide plenty of replay value for anyone not engaging in the online circuit.
Yet for many, the online mode will be the star of the package. The important information to takeaway here is that matches are generally very stable, with customization options players can individually tailor to compensate for lag and other such issues. Gameplay-wise, the characters are well balanced, and in the roughly 25-30 hours I’ve spent with the game so far, I haven’t yet come across a matchup where one character severely overpowered the other. Each character comes with his/her own unique strengths and weaknesses that, once properly recognized and exploited, make for fair competitive play. Injustice features both a spectator mode and provides the ability to review recorded matches, plus a breakdown of frame and damage statistics for every move in the game, so those deeply interested in competitive tournament play will have all the tools they need to study the brawler in excruciating detail.
These features also make the game a very beginner-friendly fighter. Those who’ve previously felt overwhelmed by the amount of data pro players take in when learning a new game for competition won’t be left out in the cold this time around, as all the information is easily accessible should you choose to view it. Further helping to aid the uninitiated is the comprehensive training mode, where newcomers can get their bearings with a detailed breakdown of combos to experiment with before going up against savvy opponents. Other little dressings, such as the ability to highlight a desired combo from the “Moves List” on the pause screen so that it appears on the screen during matches, only further facilitate the learning curve and leave me wondering why so few fighting games are this encouraging toward beginners.
Last, but certainly not least, is the “S.T.A.R. Labs” mission mode. This mode comes complete with over 200 missions to better familiarize players with specific characters. The tasks range from completing battles under specific conditions, such as winning with a Super Move, to fun little mini-games, such as controlling Catwoman’s iconic feline companion Isis as she navigates through a museum security system in search of treasure. The missions are a varied blend that both refine individual character mechanics while simultaneously distracting from the otherwise non-stop traditional brawling taking place in other modes.
One final topic that must be addressed is the game’s overall aesthetic. Character and level designs are both gorgeous and detailed, just enough to make your eyes wander but not so overbearing that it distracts from the battle at hand. Characters take real-time damage reflected on both their costumes and, for those unfortunate few with exposed flesh, on their bodies. Shazam’s (Captain Marvel for old-school fans) costume in particular is excellent, as the lightning bolt insignia on his chest sparks to life continuously. Levels are lively, but not too busy; as cars explode in the distance, notable DC characters make cameo appearances, and the invisible jet crashes into nearby structures. As most Mortal Kombat fans are accustomed to, the majority of stages feature two unique transition segments, triggered by a specific command input, which are equally exciting to watch as characters crash, plummet or are otherwise redirected to a secondary battle location.
Overall, Injustice is a wonderful, feature-rich game that will delight both DC and fighting fans alike. If anything was ever going to be good enough to wash away the sour taste left behind by Mortal Kombat vs. the DC Universe, it’s this. With a story to match the epic scope of the heroes and villains it includes, well-balanced characters accompanied by beginner-friendly guides, and arenas that are as fun to look at as they are to fight in, Injustice is basically the whole package. If you’re only interested in the story, it’s worth a weekend rental for sure, but for those looking to take the game into the competitive scene will find everything they’re looking for as well. It would be, and I hate myself already, an injustice not to give this game a whirl. (Trust me, it could’ve been worse. It could’ve been a “hurts so good” pun, but I would never do that to you folks.)
What are your thoughts about Injustice? Which characters, aside from the already-announced Lobo, would you like to see get the DLC treatment? Are you happy with the amount of features and additional modes the game includes? Share your thoughts in the comments section.