Injustice: Gods Among Us PreviewPublisher:
PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U
North America 16 April 2013, EU 19 April 2013.
DC’s franchises are more relevant and accessible than they’ve been in years. Most notably, as the comics have undergone an attempt to appeal to a new audience, there has been a critically and commercially successful film series and an incredible pair of open world games based on the Batman world.
As such, Injustice: Gods Among Us
, DC’s second fighting game partnering with the Mortal Kombat developers NetherRealm, comes at a good time where expectations are high for the next thing with a DC logo on the box. It stands a chance of drawing in existing fans while also having a fresh batch of new inductees to appeal to.
That intention is immediately clear from the character choices. Yes, all the necessary inclusions like Batman and Superman (plus the rest of the entire current Justice League) are there, but NetherRealm has also chosen heroes and villains from plenty of the less well known titles. That includes characters made more famous by the recent video game incarnations, like Solomon Grundy, and picks that just came out of nowhere like SHAZAM, Deathstroke and Sinestro. This range seems to focus on providing variety in the fighting styles of the characters too, with traditional fighting game archetypes like rush-downs, grapplers and ranged-attackers being fully represented.
There’s also an intentional accessibility in the mechanics, where although command inputs follow expectations from Mortal Kombat, the placement of the controls now make more sense to a layman. Regular attacks stem from buttons mapped for light, medium and heavy, with the fourth button on the pad dedicated to a character specific move. This can range from Batman calling in a set of remote batarangs that can be fired as projectiles on a second tap of the button, Green Arrow immediately firing off his bow and Nightwing changing from quick attacks with two batons to snapping them together and using this longer staff to retain some distance. This lends an immediate and apparent idea of how the play style varies between characters.
Attacks can also include the environment in interesting ways that are entirely based on which map is selected. There will be points where instead of using a grab move your character will interact with the background. In the batcave you’re able to throw your opponent into the batcomputer or fire missiles from the batmobile using a command console. There’s also a section where electrical wiring can be displaced and it will then stun enemies in the air at that point, allowing for longer combos.
Each map has two environments that the players move to when a specific attack is performed on the correct side of the screen (that’s dependant on the map too). This will not only change where the fight moves to – with accompanying cutscene transition - but also deal a significant amount of damage to the recipient of the attack. All of this makes the environments more than just a backing to the battle, they’re now directly involved in the momentum of the fight and confer their own advantages depending on your technique.
Normally it’s hardly worth bothering with the story in fighting games. They're generally so feeble and tacked on that they end up more a disturbing distraction that an interesting interlude. However, as shown in the previous Mortal Kombat game, NetherRealm is doing its best to make the narrative worth paying attention to.
For instance, during the Batman campaign of Injustice: Gods Among Us
the fighting is seamed together by a story involving a massive supervillain conspiracy, the full intrigue of which is slowly revealed throughout the campaign. What’s more the in-between-fight sections aren't just passive bits of narrative, instead there are occasionally quick time events that can have an effect on the upcoming fight. For example: Batman will attempt to apprehend Lex Luthor, and in a few moments before the fight begins the player can input commands to throw Batarangs. If they’re successful, Lex’s health bar will be lessened in the upcoming match.
Largely impressive is the accompanying voice acting, with Kevin Conroy reprising his role as Batman, Tara Strong as Harley Quinn and - in a charmingly surprising choice - the voice of Cyborg is being provided by the actor who played him in Teen Titans. However, it's nonetheless a disappointment that Mark Hamill is not playing The Joker, having retired from that role forever. The guy actually doing it, at best, feels as if he’s just doing a bad impression. He manages to do a convincing laugh but the rest is just not enough of a departure to be unique nor similar enough to be immediately acceptable.
Fighting game quality is hard to gauge from anything less than an extended time to really weigh up the complexity and feel of the systems within, but based on the wrapping alone and the potential for more, Injustice: Gods Among Us
is an exciting prospect.