Injustice: Gods Among Us is the latest DC Universe fighting game and is part of, what is so far been for the DC characters, a rather uninspired lineage. The high point for this genre (so far at least) would probably be Capcom’s 1990s Marvel franchise from the PS1 era. These games were based on the 2D Street Fighter 2 game engine. The already bombastic Street Fighter template worked well for the larger than life superheroes. The games were a flurry of quick attacks, overdone special moves, and snappy dialogue. DC fans never really had anything equal to those Street Fighter based Marvel games.
(Those of you with good memories will remember the disappointment of Justice League Task Force, but the less said about that the better.)
Back in the 1990s the two biggest fighting franchise were the cartoony Street Fighter and the bloody Mortal Kombat platforms (I preferred Tekken, but there you go). So it was then rather ironic that, a decade after the peak of the Marvel based Street Fighters games, Midway Games (the developers of Mortal Kombat) picked up the license to the DC characters. Thus in 2008 we were treated to Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe (MKDC). WB must have liked the result as they subsequently acquired Midway.
What was obvious from that start was that MKDC was a Mortal Kombat (MK) game into which a group of DC cosplayers had inadvertently wandered. It was an average MK game with the DC elements really just serving as window dressing. Even the MK elements had been neutered as DC obviously would not allow MK’s famous “finish him” ending moves. Nevertheless, MKDC is still recognizable as the game that set the template for Injustice: Gods Among Us. First announced in May 2012, the game shipped in April 2013.
Injustice and MDKC both feature linked arenas which battling characters can transition between, a story mode that makes use of parallel universes, and a grappling/challenge feature. However, the game play in MKDC was a little too sedate for a superhero game as it stuck a little too closely to its roots as a martial artists fighting game and didn’t really embrace the furious over-the-top elements that worked so well for Capcom and Marvel.
Injustice takes the MKDC template and turns every dial-up to 11. Attacks in Injustice are faster, characters feel more individualistic, and a lot more of the attacks are based on the character’s powers/gimmick. This means you feel like you are fighting with (say) Green Lantern rather than a martial artist dressed as Green Lantern. The lighting, effects, and textures in Injustice also feel like a generation ahead of the older game. Indeed it’s hard to believe that both games are running on the same console (I’m reviewing the PS3 version).
The plot device for both games is the same – two different parallel worlds coming into conflict. Injustice features a relatively normal Prime Earth where there is a recognizable Justice League and their enemies. There is then an Alternate Earth (or Earth V as its called in some of the concept art). This Earth was virtually identical to the Prime Earth until the point that the Joker destroyed Metropolis with a nuclear bomb killing Superman’s wife (Lois lane) and their unborn son.
The Alternate Superman then went off the deep end and made himself a virtual world dictator in the name of “order”. There are obvious parallels with the Superman TAS episode Brave New Metropolis and several Elseworlds tales. The Injustice story mode involves the Prime Justice League being pulled into the Alternative Earth by the resistance who hope they can bring down their increasingly insane Man of Steel. The two worlds gives an in-universe logic to the variant costumes used to differentiate players when the same character is fighting himself. And these costumes are busy.
Comics books, even the New 52 versions with all their seams, tend to be limited in detail so that an artist can draw them in a realistic amount of time. The Injustice costumes don’t suffer that problem and the designers have gone for as much extraneous detail as possible. This works really for some characters — Green Arrow in particular looks good — but, it looks done right silly on others. The prime example of this is the Flash — why the hell would a runner carry around that much extra weight?
The voice talent on Injustice reads like a who’s who of DC voice talent. George Newbern (Superman), Susan Eisenberg (Wonder Woman), and Kevin Conory (Batman) reprise their roles from Justice League Unlimited. Alan Tudyk (Green Arrow), Mark Rolston (Lex Luthor), and Phil LaMarr (Aquaman) also reprise their roles from Young Justice. Tara Strong (Raven) and Khary Phayton (Cyborg) reprises their roles from Teen Titans. Grey Delisle (Catwoman) returns from Arkham City. Even Adam Baldwin (Green Lantern), who played Hal Jordan for his one brief appearance in JLU, makes a comeback.
While Injustice looks better, it has simplified some of the game mechanism inherited from MKDC. In both games you can hit a character hard enough to break through from one arena into another. The difference is that the transitions in MDKC are active (the fight continues as a short button matching mini-game), whereas they are passive (just cut-scenes) in Injustice. The cut scenes are more dramatic, but less interactive.
The challenge element from MKDC is carried over, but is also simplified. In MKDC it was a simple wrestling lock that was resolved by another button matching mini-game. However, Injustice is much more furious with each character “betting” a certain amount of their specials bar on the clash. The winner does enhanced damage if he was the initiator or has damaged healed if he was the defender. It’s a nice technique and goes make the specials bar more integral to the game.
One thing I do miss is Arkham City‘s very forgiving fighting controls. They went to a lot of effort in that game to make even a novice player look good. Not so in Injustice. This game can be very unforgiving on even the default difficulty setting. Particularly in the later stages of the arcade mode, some opponents can he devastating and you only have a chance if you can keep them off-balance – let them recover even for a moment and you’re toast.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is definitely the high-point of the DC fighting genre. It takes the MKDC template and ramps everything up to the point where it feels more like one of the old Capcom Marvel games. Mostly this works okay, but the game still has an unforgiving edge and you’re mileage may vary depending on how you get on with the MK franchise’s control system.