Superman scares me. He never used to, but after playing Injustice my opinion of the cleanest cut hero in the whole of DC comics has changed dramatically.
What Ed Boon and his team at NetherRealm studios have done is drastic, but also brilliant. Turning the Man of Steel from Earth’s mightiest protector into its greatest oppressor is a bold move and one that is, within the confines of the DCU at least, perfectly plausible.
You see, the DC Comics are set within a multiverse, based on the principle that every action creates a new reality based on its consequences. The compelling storyline of Injustice is centred around a plot by The Joker to trick Superman into killing Lois Lane and destroy Metropolis. In one reality he succeeds, as a result Superman kills the Joker and slowly decides to take over the world because humans can’t be trusted. He does this with the best of intentions and the help of most of the other members of the Justice League minus Batman, Green Arrow, Nightwing and Aquaman who believe that what he is doing is wrong and start a resistance movement against The Regime, Supes new one world government.
Furious with Batman and believing that what he is doing is right, Superman eventually captures Batman and holds him prisoner. It is at this point that another version of the Justice League appears from a dimension where Metropolis has not yet been destroyed. They have been transported to the alternate dimension to stop Superman, who has well and truly lost it.
Sounds a little farfetched but that’s the fun of multiple dimensions and comic books in general. The entire game feels like an adaptation of a big comic cross over event and there are some fantastic scenes, especially between Bats and Supes, but also a great sub plot that explores the relationship between Wonder Woman and Superman as well as how Harley Quinn deals with the loss of The Joker, set to the backdrop of a superhero Civil War.
If you’re a comic book fan, even if you don’t usually play videogames much, or are not a fan of fighting games, I would still recommend you at least read the prequel comic series and rent the game for its narrative alone.
The whole epic saga is presented in a story mode that feels like much a more refined version of the formula Nether Realm used in the Mortal Kombat reboot to similarly brilliant effect. Yet again the narrative is broken down into chapters each focusing on a different character with each fight bookended by cut scenes that drive the story forward as well as other mini games that enable players to participate in different events and larger scale battles outside of fights. These do a fantastic job of keeping you engaged as well as potentially give you an edge in the inevitable fisticuffs that follow them. As such, the whole experience feels almost seamless thanks to a combination of great story telling, varied gameplay and marvellous performances from the games cast. It took me about six hours to get through and was a joy from start to finish.
There’s plenty more single player stuff to do once you’ve finished Story Mode as well. There’s the usual Ladder Style Arcade mode, this time called Battles. As you’d expect has you fight against a set number of enemies that get progressively harder with each bout, finally facing Superman who beats the snot out of you most of the time but doesn’t feel cheap.
How NetherRealm have improved this classic mode is by giving you lots of different ladders to chose from. Some have different opponents, for example heroes; in which every opponent is a hero or the very similar villains ladder, which does the same but with villains. There are also ones that handicap you in some way like having to defeat the entire ladder with greatly reduced health.
Lastly there’s Starlabs, which kind of works as an odd cross between a mission based training mode and an excuse to make up as many fun superhero based mini games and stories as possible. Each set of missions focus on each of the games playable characters as they attempt to avert some kind of disaster or carry out a nefarious scheme. Successfully completing each mission rewards you with stars that then allow you to hopefully unlock the next set.
On the whole it’s a fun idea but the missions themselves are incredibly hit or miss. For every fun mission rescuing civilians from falling asteroids as The Flash, there is an awkward stealth mission with Catwoman. For every fight in the dark as Nightwing there’s trying to shoot barrels as Superman. Luckily the more obnoxious missions can skipped if you’re having trouble with them and, trust me, you will want to.
This leads me swiftly onto the main event, the actually brawling itself.
Although on the surface Injustice looks and sounds very similar to the recent Mortal Kombat, keeping the same air of brutality that permeates through all of NetherRealms games, mechanically it’s a very different game. MKs two punch, two kick arrangement has been replaced with light, medium and hard attacks as well as a power button which does something different depending on who you are playing as. The block and run buttons have also been dropped both now handled via the d pad.
Fatalities and X-Ray moves are also out, replaced with super moves and wagers. Super moves work almost identically to MKs X-Ray moves, but are far more spectacular to watch. Once your super meter is full and your characters logo lights up, hit the triggers and your chosen hero or villain will launch into an attack which is as devastating as it is flashy, so long as you connect. Personal favourites include; watching Grundy pull a tomb stone out of his gut and beat his opponent half to death with it, The Joker chucking a cream pie into the other combatants face, shooting them with a revolver, walloping them with a wrench and then finishing them off with a bazooka at point blank range, and The Flash running all the way round the world before smacking his foe straight in the jaw.
Wagers on the other hand are an interesting, strategic move that allow a player to potentially reclaim some health at the expense of some of their special meter. Only useable once per battle, each player then decides how many sections of meter they want to bid as the two characters trade insults before charging into each other with a big flashy attack. The player that was willing to sacrifice the most sections wins. If the winner is the one that initiated the wager (the attacker) they regain a portion of their health based on the difference in bids, if the defender wins, the attacker loses that amount of health.
It sounds more complicated than it actually is and, at least on paper, is a great idea. However, in practice; many use it after their opponent has failed an attempt at a super move, guaranteeing them a big chunk of their health back. To be honest though, it’s a trick the game’s AI uses more than actual human players.
The other meter based moves are known as burn moves. These power up your characters special moves adding extra damage, juggle time and lots of other little twists in exchange for a segment of your special meter.
The biggest gamechanger in Injustice though is the ability to interact with the environment by hitting RB when you’re close to various parts of the scenery. This enables you to do all kinds of fun things depending on your size and strength. Smaller, nimbler characters like Catwoman or Green Arrow may use a car to quickly out manoeuvre a foe, while as larger or stronger characters like Solomon Grundy or Black Adam will just pick up the car whack their opponent with it.
Being mindful of your position is crucial to winning each battle, something that I’ve never really found in a 2D fighting game before. Usually the only worry is to not get trapped in the corner. Injustice makes this situation even more dire if you are unlucky enough to get caught in a transition; a devastating environmental attack triggered by performing a heavy attack at the edge of a level that moves players from one tier of a stage to the next.
However, successfully performing a transition is incredibly satisfying as well as incredibly entertaining to watch. My personal favourites being kicking your enemy through a ton of sharp crystals in Superman’s fortress of solitude or watching your opponent get gassed and pummelled by the Scarecrow in Arkham Asylum, in a nice reference to Rocksteady’s classic.
Combat on the whole is incredibly fun and relatively freeform as each of your characters moves can be strung together with specials and environmental attacks to create some pretty long combos. Some of the characters do have cheesy moves, like Superman’s eye lasers or Deathstroke every time he pulls out a gun, but there’s nothing that can’t be overcome with a little tact. Inputs are also fairly forgiving but if you’re planning on playing the 360 version for any great length of time I would recommend getting a fight pad/stick simply because the 360 controller’s d pad is utter balls.
Though the thing that impressed me most while fighting was how each of the games twenty four fighters felt totally different from one another. It’s clear that NetherRealm have spent a lot of time making sure that each character feels authentic. In the same way that Rocksteady made sure you felt like Batman in the Arkham games, Nether Realm have gone to great lengths to do the same in Injustice.
There’s the lumbering and extremely powerful Solomon Grundy who shrugs off damage and flails wildly at opponents with devastating blows. Batman; cunning and brutal, using all manner of gadgets to get the job done. Green Arrow; scrappy and quick, attacking enemies from afar with volleys of arrows. Then there’s the likes of Superman who makes everything look effortless, floating slightly above the ground and literally toying with his opponents at times. He feels almost godly, because he is.
There are also fantastically oddball characters like The Joker and Harley Quinn; The Joker uses a variety of weapons with attacks that almost feel sporadic. Harley on the other hand juggles enemies with dual pistols from a distance while jumping and cart wheeling across the screen before walloping her opponent with a giant mallet.
There’s literally someone for everyone and finding a character you can connect with is half the fun, the rest lies in learning how to properly use them, which is something I recommend doing before you attempt going online as there are already some seriously good players emerging. Luckily for you, and serious fight fans, the game boasts an incredibly robust and comprehensive training mode that even gives you frame counts, damage stats, screen prompts and everything else you’d ever need to be able to improve with your character of choice.
The games multiplayer features are just as robust as its single player. There’s the usual player and ranked matches, although truth be told you will usually have to wait a while to actually find anyone else to fight. I would put this down to how well the games lobbies work, enabling players to simply join a room and challenge others, as well as spectate and gamble on matches that are currently underway.
You’ll also be happy to hear that online matches were, at least in my experience anyway, generally lag free and very quick and easy to get into. I don’t usually bother with online play much, especially in fighting games as you usually end up fighting the same characters over and over again (Seigfried, oh goody) and get hit with the same cheesy attacks to the point of mild infuriation (tiger, tiger, tiger, boooo). But I have to say I’ve been sucked in by Injustice because so far I haven’t encountered either of these problems, just plenty of people to have a good scrap with.
The only minor niggle I have is with the game’s costumes, there’s tons of them. You can have all your heroes in their new 52 look, the new ones created for injustice, or their silver and golden age versions, there are various costumes from famous comics like Superman Red Son, Darkest Night and the Killing Joke, Sounds brilliant doesn’t it, and it would be if half of them weren’t DLC or pre order bonuses from certain retailers. It’s not the end of the world but I would have liked to have had the option to play as a Communist Superman without having to buy the game from Amazon.
Still, it’s just fluff so doesn’t effect the actual gameplay in any way at all, just something to keep in mind if you were hoping to be able to deck your favourite character out in a certain costume.
On the whole though, Injustice is a robust, genuinely entertaining brawler and a quality comic book game to boot.
NetherRealm could have simply phoned this in and given us a reskinned Mortal Kombat but instead they’ve given us the rarest of things; a game staring Superman that doesn’t suck and a comic based fighter that actually makes you feel like a superhero. As much as I love Marvel vs. Capcom all the Marvel characters feel slightly hollow, a rough sketch that fight in a manner that sort of fits. Injustice on the other hand makes you feel as fast as the Flash, as powerful as Superman and as cocky as Oliver Queen. The amount of attention they’ve paid to making sure it did the source material justice means that not only is it a solid fighter but a brilliant adaptation at the same time, with all the spectacle and bombast of a major comic crossover.