The Joker destroys Metropolis. This event, occurring in the first minute of Injustice: Gods Among Us, radically changes the DC Comics world. This alternate timeline results in Superman becoming a ruthless world tyrant. The heroes who oppose him are killed or forced into hiding.
In Injustice: Gods Among Us's story mode, some of the members of the Justice League are pulled into this alternate dimension. The story follows them as they attempt to overthrow Superman. They'll have to battle the super heroes and villains who have decided to serve the Man of Steel's new world order.
The campaign jumps from character to character as the plot proceeds. You'll play four matches as Batman, four matches as Aquaman and so on. The result is that you're introduced to a wide variety of metahumans. Not every character gets his chance to shine (were you expecting Solomon Grundy to play a major role?) but nonetheless the campaign is a good tour of the DC Comics pantheon. It's not that memorable of a story but it's good enough to make you curious about the comic books that spawned these characters.
It's hard to craft a story out of a long series of one-on-one brawls but NetherRealm gives it the old college try. Minigames in between brawls give the action a bit of variety. In one scene, Solomon Grundy is tossing furniture at Green Arrow and the player has to shoot them from a first-person perspective while also firing a few arrows at Grundy. The starting health of Green Arrow and Grundy in the subsequent duel changes depending upon your performance in this segment. These minigames aren't anything special but make the fights between characters less formulaic.
The translation of these characters to the fighting game genre is admirable. Yes, you have to suspend your disbelief about Superman being beaten in a fist fight by a human opponent like Deathstroke or Harley Quinn. Nonetheless, each character's feels distinctly different in terms of their speed, range and strength. Lex Luthor, outfitted in a massive robotic suit, lands slow and powerful blows while the Flash relies on his agility and lightning-quick combos. The moves lists show off the varied powers of the characters as well. In addition to light, medium and heavy attacks, each superbeing has a special ability activated with the press of the fourth face button. Superman can boost his stats for a short period of time while Wonder Woman can pull out her sword. These character-specific abilities provide additional strategic options to players while also making the character unique. Their ultimate attacks are gaudy tributes to the character, allowing them to look as awesome and otherworldly as possible. Superman punches his opponent into space and then hammerblows them back to Earth.
The destructible environments make these fights really feel like clashes between superheroes and supervillains. The arena will be slowly torn apart throughout the course of duels. Players can use their surroundings to their advantage, hitting opponents with nearby objects or knocking them into new sections of the level. Environmental damage seems a bit too high but fortunately it can be turned off by fighting game purists.
Combat revolves around the super meter, which grows as you rack up combos or take damage. While you can spend your super meter on enhanced moves or counter-attacks or save it up for an ultimate, you also have a third option: Clashes. These Clashes allow players to wager portions of their super meter, with the winner regenerating health. The Clashes didn't feel like they added much to combat, to be honest. They cause small cutscenes that just needlessly stall the fights. They're not all that fun, either. They add randomness to otherwise skill-based fights.
NetherRealm included an impressive amount of other single-player content in the game besides the 5-6 hour story mode. In battle mode, players can control any character they want and fight eight opponents. At the end, they'll be treated to a special character-specific ending. S.T.A.R. Labs is analogous to Mortal Kombat's Challenge Tower, with 240 tests of players' skill. Two of the earlier challenges ask you to avoid getting hit by an enemy for 15 seconds and protect a civilian from incoming explosives. Labs feels like something that will hold my interest long after the rest of the game; it twists the rules of the game around to keep players constantly on their toes. Each challenge has multiple bonus objectives as well, so even if you beat it once, there's reason to come back for more.
The multiplayer offering is standard for the genre. It plays out over three modes: single matches, King of the Hill and Survival. In the case of the second and third modes, you'll sit in an eight-player lobby and watch the ongoing match until it's your turn. The biggest issue I have with that setup is that if you enter a lobby with a match already in progress, you'll be watching a blank screen until the next match begins. The lack of replays is surprising, too.
The single-player and multiplayer modes both earn you experience points. Leveling up or completing challenges will unlock collectibles such as new multiplayer icons or costumes. Even if you're not aiming to climb the global ranks for the game, you still have an abundance of goals to strive for.
Injustice transforms DC Comics into a fighting game much better than you'd expect. It's a faithful adaptation from the story to the gameplay. Hardcore fighting fans might take issue with a few aspects of the game but nonetheless, it's a deep and enjoyable game with tons of variety. It's worth a look even if you never plan to read a comic.
Platforms: PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360 (reviewed)
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment