I can't claim to know much about the history of DC's heroes and villains. I never watched the Batman or Superman cartoons when I was a kid, and I've read a grand total of five comic books in my life. The appeal of DC characters punching each other didn't draw me into Injustice: Gods Among Us. What drew me in were the things I saw in Injustice that no other current fighting game had.
The mechanics that makes Injustice stand out aren't new. Dead or Alive had level transitions for years. Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee had interactive objects as a major part of gameplay, as you threw bridges and buildings at your opponents. Still, seeing these elements combined in one game immediately set it apart from other 2D fighting games. In movies and cartoons, superheroes and villains always smash their opponents through buildings and throw heavy junk at each other. It only makes sense to put it in a game about superheroes.
To beginners, the interactive objects in Injustice can seem cheap. They do a punishing amount of damage for what seems like relatively low risk. However, the tradeoff is using any interactive object has a slow startup that can be punished easily. If the object is a thrown item, it always travels in the same path. I quickly memorized how each object would react so I could jump out of the way or evade it with the small amount of invincibility frames on backdashing.
The level transitions are very painful to get hit by, but not every stage has them and are only activated if you get hit by a slow wall bounce move that is easy to avoid.
And if you still find these elements of the game too distracting or unfair, you can turn them off. The Injustice community has generally accepted level transitions and interactables as fair for tournament play, which is cool because it's one of the things that sets the game apart from others, especially its predecessor Mortal Kombat 9.
But before I started worrying about getting hit in the face with air conditioners, I tested out various single player options to see if Injustice would be a game I could get into. The tutorial is highly recommended, as it teaches nearly every aspect of the game quickly.
I had a couple of issues with the tutorial in the end. One is just an issue with the Reversal system. After you block any attack you can input a special move and do it faster than normal, which is a feature in most fighting games (Street Fighter comes to mind). I like how it says “Reversal Window” when it's possible, but the timing is so awkward that I never really go for Reversal moves because I don't know if they'll come out or not.
The second issue is that the tutorial doesn't teach you enough about your meter.
You can hit the meter burn button while using an interactable to gain several hits of armor, making many of them basically safe to use. To assist in stage transitions, you can also meter burn your wall bounce (back+heavy) and your ground bound (forward+heavy). The tutorial also doesn't teach you which interactables can be Meter Burned, which might be understandable because there's a lot of them.
After the tutorial, I jumped into the Story Mode. Similar to Mortal Kombat 9, you play a large cast of characters through the story, giving you a chance to learn their moves. I also enjoyed the minigames that took place between fights to break the monotony. But what was up with Superman killing all those civilians?
That's not all for the single player content. There's Battles mode where you fight several characters while hindered by a gimmick like draining health, handicap matches or a shortened time limit. There's S.T.A.R. Labs that contain a huge amount of challenges for each character. If you want to learn more about how to play a character, the S.T.A.R. Labs all contain a mission that acts as a brief tutorial. There's even some missions that are execution drills, forcing you to use a handful of special moves over and over until you can do them easily.
There's one issue with S.T.A.R. Labs as a training device, however. You have to unlock later character's missions by getting enough stars on the earlier ones. If you want to play Wonder Woman or Ares' tutorials, you might have to beat over 100 missions just to unlock them! Also, some of the downloadable characters don't have tutorials at all.
For those characters, the excellent Training mode makes things a lot easier. On top of expected features like full control of the AI's states including record and playback, you can turn on a detailed display that tells you how much damage a move did and what region it will hit (mid, high, low, or overhead). You can highlight where you need to stand to use an interactive object or transition. You can tag up to six moves to appear at the top of your screen so you don't forget them as you practice, eliminating the need to return to the pause screen and look up moves every couple of seconds.
That last one is something I think should be included in every fighting game. Tagging moves is amazing. You can even tag moves for multiplayer matches if you're the type of person to freak out and forget your moves mid match (I am!)There's frame data on each move and combo string, but I've heard it's not accurate.
So in my quest to Get Good, I found the S.T.A.R. Labs missions were actually more helpful than I thought. Missions where you can't let you opponent hit you once are a quick drill on your character's movement options and keepaway attacks. Missions where you have to hit a high-damaging combo force you to innovate on the spot and maximize your damage. Of course, looking up YouTube videos like the one I linked above helped a lot too.
Now that I've been playing online a lot and winning enough to get a fair amount of hatemail, I've really found out what I enjoy about Injustice. With the exception of maybe The Joker and Cyborg, there aren't any matchups that have felt hopeless. Most characters can perform a 20%-30% basic combo with one bar of meter, and their Character Power helps them out of desperate situations. I play lame in most fighting games, which naturally drew me to Raven as a keepaway character. Raven's Character Power lets her cover basically anywhere on the screen with projectiles and grab her opponent from full screen. The Character Power is a great feature that makes each character feel totally different even as they share the universal inputs.
I feel like the game is fairly easy to pick up because of the universal mechanics like down+Medium for launchers and back+Heavy for wall bounces. If you can hit those, you can get a quick and easy combo. It just takes training to maximize your damage off of that one hit.
With the exception of a few weird command grabs and Close/Far projectiles, the inputs aren't difficult and the combo strings aren't dependent on strict timing; you just input them as quickly as possible and they work. Clash is an interesting twist on a traditional “combo breaker” because you only get one and it's dependent on meter, so even if you break the combo you could still be one hit away from losing.
I've enjoyed Injustice: Gods Among Us more than I thought I would, and I've been playing it regularly since April, just recently passing 200 matches played (with a little over 100 wins). The game is balanced well enough that you can get wins with most characters (except for The Joker and Cyborg probably), and I have fun playing it. It would be an injustice if this game doesn't get a sequel with even more DC characters I don't know.
What I Liked:
-Execution barrier is low. Most combos don't rely on strict timing and are easy to execute
-Many strategic uses for meter
-Story Mode that lets you try out many characters, and has fun minigames
-S.T.A.R. Labs provide more solo content than most other fighting games
-Very detailed and customizable Training mode
-Daily Challenges gives an incentive to keep playing online
-Unique online multiplayer modes
What I Didn't Like:
-S.T.A.R. Labs contain character tutorials, but they aren't all unlocked from the start.
-Netcode can be unreliable
-Lots of quitters online
-Awkward inputs for some special moves like command throws and Close/Far projectiles
-Damage effects don't look good
-Load times are frequent and too long
-Input window for reversal attacks is difficult to discern