Last night I returned home from PAX AUS 2014. Long story short, it wasn't perfect, but it was quite possibly the best weekend I've had this year. It was a lot of fun. If you'd like to continue reading, the long story is just below.
Buckle up. This is gonna be...
How many different punching sound effects are in this game?
Fighting games involve a lot of punching. Strong punches, weak punches, high punches, low punches… mid punches… the list goes on and on and no one knows that better than NetherRealm Studios, the brains behind Mortal Kombat. They've been programming punches for decades, but their latest innovation in the genre is the oft-ignored Story Mode. 2010's 2011's MK reboot provided hours of compelling single-player content and even more in the Challenge Tower.
Those modes return for Injustice: Gods Among Us, but it doesn't take Batman's detective mode to figure out the differences between Mortal Kombat and DC Comics. Signature fatalities, gore, and a dark sense of humor don't fit in spandex tights or brightly colored boots. Superman might be faster than a speeding bullet, but gratuitous violence could have been kryptonite for Ed Boon and company. Thankfully, Injustice plays up the fan service and throws in the kitchen sink, even though the mechanics won't delight stalwart Kombatants.
When The Joker manipulates Superman into killing Lois Lane (and their unborn child), DC heroes big and small see their lives shaken by one of two possible outcomes: Either Superman kills Joker in vengeance and subsequently installs himself as Earth's supreme leader, or he mourns his loss while continuing the fight for truth and justice. Injustice begins when these two worlds collide, but it should be clear that the narrative comes second to gameplay. You'll play several fights with heroes and villains to learn much of the game's roster and get a feel for who best matches your style. All that comes with plenty of silly dialogue.
Most characters find that their penultimate opponent in the story mode is their alternate universe version, resulting in awkward mirror matches. As in 2010's MK, the difficulty scales to your ability throughout the story. If the CPU wipes the Bat Cave with you, a rematch will allow you to find better openings and deal more damage. I played the campaign in sporadic stretches and had trouble keeping pace, but Green Lantern and company quickly become welcome company. Fans of the JLA will laugh out loud when Batman faces off with himself while the soundtrack and effects astound. Superman's punches sound like billion-dollar jets breaking the sound barrier and the Warner Bros. orchestra creates ever-so epic moments.
Casual fighting fans will also find a lot to love in custom S.T.A.R. Labs challenges where mini-games and distractions help you learn the deeper mechanics. One Superman mission focuses on two core special moves and programs you to react with one or the other in a versus match. I had trouble with the Man of Steel's optic blasts, but focusing on it in a challenge made me practice and adopt the move into combos.
Players can also "sticky" specials and combos to their screen in certain modes to help their execution in combat. Gadgets and powers add another friendly layer for genre casuals. Wonder Woman can switch between her whip and her sword; Batman has batarangs that hover around him; and Superman can charge his strength up. It's just a shame that these advances couldn't be made without losing the tight action that made MK so popular in competitive circles.
Combos feel like every button press needs to be entered before any attacks land, and the use of environmental hazards can feel random and totally overpowered. The tutorial asks you to counter a grab by pressing the buttons to grab yourself, a move that isn't out of the ordinary but is a bit too difficult to pull off in match. Cinematic super moves or punching the opponent through a wall and into another environment forces the balance between two characters to swing violently.
Despite that, even getting your ass handed to you looks awesome. Anthony took the time to beat me up online and watching the fists fly was perhaps more entertaining than if I were playing a top-tier Mortal Kombat match. Every hero and villain feels different (as they should) but that variation seems to have made balancing more difficult. This is a small complaint, especially if you approach Injustice: Gods Among Us as a DC game and not as a competitive EVO fighter.
There have been plenty of DC-themed brawlers over the years, but none of them hold a candle to this. Unlockable concept art, costumes, special battle parameters, and more make for a treasure trove of engrossing extraneous content. You can also use points earned from fighting online and in single-player to purchase experience boosters to level up and unlock even more. Variants turn online lobbies into arcade matches where the best fighters can earn greater rewards the longer they stay on top.
There's tons of awesome attitude and love of the subject matter, and none of it is wasted on the player. Taking "good" Superman's fists and using them to beat the snot out of "bad" Superman, or hitting people with the Batmobile to finish off their final sliver of health, feels fresh for the brand. Writing off the impossibilities of weathering a punch from a demigod with a little pink pill in story mode might seem too easy, but it's refreshing to dust off tired video game tropes with a smirk.
If you don't take the genre too seriously, Injustice is likely the most entertaining fighter of all-time. Its witty, tongue-in-cheek humor and blockbuster production are a joy. Duking it out with friends online or on the couch provides hours of fun. Competitive fighting game fans will find a more even and balanced playing field in another game, but patching down the line will likely fix that shortcoming anyway.
Could you take a punch from Superman? Probably not. We know the boy in blue pulls his punches, but after facing off with friend and foe alike, Kal-El's temper might be pretty short. NetherRealm smartly bends DC Gods and lore alike, making for one satisfying rumble. Once the dust settles, all that's left is deciding who's gonna foot the bill for repairing the Hall of Justice.
Copy provided by publisher. Based on PS3 version. Also available on Xbox 360 and coming soon to Wii U.
Injustice: Gods Among Us
High-flying production values
... sometimes feel over-powered and easily abused
Varied and deep roster
Tons of unlockables and faithful fan service
Each fighter feels different
...but some are definitely unbalanced
Online modes feel like an arcade experience
Energetic, dramatic presentation and a real love of the brand