Last week the highly anticipated and advertised game Injustice: Gods Among Us was released. As both a fighting game and a game about superheroes, if had my immediate interest. I followed all the promotional material, the screenshots and alternate costumes, and especially the videos of character moves and supers. Who wouldn't love a chance to make Superman and Batman punch each other to death? The battles possible in this game make about half the absurd fanfiction on the internet true and settle untold number of nerd debates. Add in the simple Mortal Kombat control system and it sounds like recipe for success, or at least for entertainment.
I recently had the opportunity to play this game. I didn't play it for more than an hour and only played the multiplayer, but it was enough for me to get an immediate impression. Would a more fully-formed set of opinions by someone who'd played through more of the game be more informative? Maybe. However, as someone who knows the DC Universe well (and has complained about the recent reboot), and by virtue of being a person on the internet, I feel as though my opinion demands attention. Demands, I say! Give me my soapbox and the five seconds of fame I'm entitled to!
While other bloggers and sources will provide detailed critiques of every aspect of the game and present an nice score at the end, I am primarily interested in one question: is the license used well? A lot of superhero games come out each year, and a lot of them are crap. Does Injustice: Gods Among Us stay true to its comic book roots or is it a cheap reskin of a fighting game?
From the multiplayer alone, it's readily apparent that this is a fun game. A very fun game. Even though I'm not very familiar with the Mortal Kombat system (Super Smash Bros and Marvel vs Capcom are my fighting games of choice), I was still able to figure out the very basics, which was enough for me to do decently well. When you're able to pull off a combo, even a very short one, it's very satisfying. Watching Harley Quinn fill Solomon Grundy with bullets, smack him with her hammer, and flip-kick off him into another attack is amazingly satisfying. Most importantly, the characters all feel like their comic book counterparts, both in how they're animated and how they control. The Joker is all tricky moves and fast, flailing attacks with insane weapons. Sinestro hovers about and sets up traps while Green Lantern grapples people in midair with his power ring. Characters with super strength can throw pieces of the environment as weapons while super-skilled humans can lay traps or use the stage for tricky dodges and jumps. Comparisons can be made to the way certain Mortal Kombat characters play, but this still manages to feel fresh, and despite the MK-esque controls, I felt like I was playing a new game and not another Mortal Kombat title (as compared to, say, Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe).
Past that initial fun, there are some issues with the game. Balancing seems to be a problem. Aquaman, of all characters, can lay waste to any opposition. Other characters seem less powerful, or just plain less fun. Some seem very out of place. Despite DC's immense cast of iconic characters with variable powers, some more famous characters are strangely missing, their places taken by questionable C-listers. I wasn't even aware that Ares was a DC character before this game, and the inclusion of Killer Frost is odd, when Mr. Freeze and Captain Cold are much more famous and cool (ha ha) ice-based villains. Other fan favorites are forgotten entirely. Martian Manhunter is reduced to appearing in the background of the Watchtower level. It's a shame, especially because Martian Manhunter's bevy of powers, including flight, stretchiness, telepathy and invisibility, would make for a fun character. Other characters I'd love to see include Zatana (magic!), Plastic Man (stretchy!), and Black Canary (stunning screams!). There will be a DLC, but we're going to get characters like Lobo (he uses weapons and punches things! Sounds all too familiar). I understand the desire to give some of DC's lesser-known characters a chance in the spotlight, but everyone I've talked to so far has blinked at the mention of Killer Frost and wondered why Mr. Freeze wasn't included instead. Sometimes what the fans want is right.
The less that's said about the story, the better. It's a convoluted mess full of murders and betrayals and punching, all so there can be an alternate universe where Superman is evil and everyone hates each other enough to start fighting. It's like they needed to justify the premise. But it's a fighting game. The only justification I need is “Don't you want to see the Joker and Lex Luthor fight to the death?” I'd rather have that very simple setup than a complicated and poorly-written story that disregards canon and character. It's worked for plenty of other fighter games, and even with fighting games that have stories (Castlevania: Judgement, Marvel vs Capcom 3, Soul Caliber), the stories are kept very simple: a fighting tournament, or stop some big threat. There's no need excuse your premise and create a story that'll make comics fans upset. I don't want to downplay the need for story, but this is not the sort of game that needed an extensive story, and I'll take a simple premise with minimal story over a large and poorly-executed story any day.
The writing, then, is the biggest disappointment for this game. Granted, it's not the sort of game that needs much of one, but considering the richness of the DC Universe, there was a lot of wasted potential. Superhero games have proved that they can have good stories (Batman: Arkham Asylum and X-Men Legends come readily to mind), so it's a shame that we missed out with this one. However, the game design here is spot-on, with moves and mechanics that feel right. There's no doubt when you play as Superman that you're playing as Superman. It's a joy.
A fighting game is a pretty good fit for a superhero license, but as much fun as the results can be I'd personally rather see the DC characters used in a game that emphasizes a good plot and an epic world-saving quest. Imagine a Justice League game where you could play with all the DC Universe's best heroes in a variety of missions, from stealth to information-gathering to sabotage to space adventures to good old-fashioned beat 'em ups. The upcoming Young Justice game seems to promise that, to an extent, but I think we deserve more. When I think of the DC heroes, I think of large scale. Injustice is a good game, a solid fighter and a lot of fun. But there are grander things that can be delivered with the same characters, a chance to feel like a superhero as with Injustice, but also feel like you can really save the day.
Overall opinion? This game is worth checking out. Renting, certainly, especially if you have friends over, but if you want a more complete and engaging superhero experience, stick with Arkham Asylum.