*Note: This review is based on v.1.03. I have not had enough time with the latest version to fully test out the changes. Some of the issues I expressed in my review seem to have been “somewhat” addressed. I also haven’t bought any DLC of any kind so I am reviewing the game as is.
Fun, Flashy, Innovative and Unpolished
These are the words I would use to describe Injustice: Gods Among Us, NetherRealm Studio’s latest fighting game based on the DC universe of comic book characters. The game is fun to play and introduces many new welcome ideas to the fighting genre but its lack of polish in the gameplay department keeps it from really excelling above the genre’s other heavy hitters.
Injustice is, in my opinion, the best fighting game based off of the DC universe and the game utilizes its characters and setting very well. The game’s roster features all the fan favorites you would expect including Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Flash. There are also some lesser known characters such as Killer Frost, Soloman Grundy and Ares.
The character roster is the highlight of Injustice as it is large and varied and the characters play pretty much like you would expect them to. Batman is a hand to hand combat beast and his gadgets give him options for almost any situation. Superman hits incredibly hard while still being relatively light on his feet. Bane has his patented back breaker and Green Lantern summons objects like rockets, machine guns and brick walls when he attacks.
The characters in Injustice play very similar to their comic book counter parts
While the roster is varied and the character designs are mostly unique, the game favors a zoning style of play. A large portion of the roster has at least one zoning tool available to them and with many having multiple zoning options. I believe this emphasis on zoning has had some impact on the balance of the game which I will cover later on in the review.
Much like Mortal Kombat before it, Injustice features a lengthy and detailed story mode that is still uncommon to see in fighting games. The plot revolves around the DC heroes being transported to an alternate future where Superman has used his powers to take control of earth and create a military like state of government. The Batman of this future seeks the help of our heroes in stopping Superman’s oppressive regime.
A lengthy and detailed story mode doesn’t automatically make for a good story as it is pretty passable and lacks any real depth. The plot device the writers use to explain how characters like Joker can fight head-to-head with the more powerful characters like Wonder Woman is absurd and a deus ex machina at its finest. The dialog is bland and the ending is incredibly generic and anti-climatic.
The story mode also tries to distinguish itself from multiplayer in that the player has to play quick time event mini-games before certain fights. These mini-games are gimmicks and how well or bad you perform them has little to no impact of the proceeding fight. I found these mini-games tedious but at least they made me anxious to get into the actual game.
The story in Injustice is lackluster but entertaining
While I personally didn’t enjoy the story mode much, I am sure many players will find it entertaining. The absurd plot isn’t out of the realm of other DC comic book stories and the characters are presented fairly well overall. Some of the voice performances are done convincingly (Kevin Conroy!) and others not so much but overall it’s not horrible. The cheesy one liners tend to be more humorous than annoying.
Injustice features plenty of single player content outside of the story mode such as the traditional ladder style arcade mode, time attack modes, survival modes and many more, many of which must be unlocked.
Of these extra single player modes, Star Labs is the largest and most unique. Unfortunately, much like the mini-games in the story, I found Star Labs to be painfully gimmicky. Star Labs is structured like the challenge modes of other fighters, but instead of presenting the players with challenges that teach them combos or skills useful to learning the game, Star Labs has gimmicky challenges such as blowing up objects before they reach a defenseless civilian or fighting an opponent as lighting strikes hit you and interrupt your actions.
There are some challenges that might be useful to the player that actually helps he or she learn the game but they are weighed down by the other ridiculous challenges. The fact that you cannot choose which character’s challenges to play and are forced to play them in a specific order (at least until you earn enough points to unlock the others) makes this mode even less appealing.
Gameplay and Multiplayer
Despite its wealth of single player content, Injustice is just like any other fighting game in that its strengths lie in its competitive multiplayer, which is where most players will be spending their time. Thankfully, Injustice offers a fun, though unrefined, and unique multiplayer experience that I am sure many players will enjoy.
The game has a lot in common with other modern 2d fighting games, even more so than Mortal Kombat. Holding back to block is a welcomed addition that I’m sure players of other fighting games will appreciate. Using down back is still the preferred method to block against most characters as only overheads and jumping attacks can break a crouch block. Cross-ups are also present which will no doubt give players more options to open up their opponents. Other staple 2d mechanics such as special moves, super moves, push blocking, cancelable normals, anti-airs, invincible wake-up attacks, and ex specials (in the form of meter burns) are all present in Injustice.
Injustice differentiates itself with several new and innovative gameplay mechanics. Of these, stage interactions are the most critical to the overall gameplay. While other fighting games have had interactive stages before that have some kind of impact on gameplay, Injustice gives you control over these interactions unlike any other game before it. These interactions are used at specific spots on stages and perform a variety of effects.
The affects of these interactables are determined by the character you are using. Powerful characters like Superman will simply grab objects and hurl them at the opponent, causing massive damage. Agile characters like Flash will jump off environmental objects to get into favorable positions. Characters like Batman and Joker can plant explosives on the environment for more timed attacks. These are just some examples but the overall depth of stage interactables is much more varied.
At first glance, it appears that power characters have the advantage when it comes to interactables but, in my opinion, interactables feel pretty balanced for every type of character. Power characters for example cannot get out of the corner as easily as agile characters because of their inability to jump off of the environment. Also, when power characters use interactables, they are usually one shots as the object in question disappears. Other characters can continually use the same interactable multiple times. Again these are just examples and the way characters use environmental interactions varies greatly.
While I do not feel like stage interactions are over powered by any means, there are some aspects to them that I find questionable. Most notably, I feel having interactables be unblockable is completely unnecessary. Stage interactions occur very quickly, are executed with one button, can be used in combos and can be meter burned for hit absorbing armor. Making stage interactions unblockable simply puts the other player at more of a disadvantage than they already are.
Overall, I’m pleased with how stage interactions function in Injustice. They add a completely new level of strategy to the game. Not only do stages play a more important part of the overall gameplay but the character the player plays in conjunction with a stage is also very important. These interactions make Injustice feel fresh and unique from other fighting games on the market.
Injustice also features several other smaller innovations. Another innovative new feature introduced is the ability for both players to choose a stage at the start of the match. For the most part, fighting games have traditionally only given the ability to choose a stage to one player (either the winner or loser). In Injustice, both players can choose a stage and the game will randomly pick one of those choices. It is a rather small addition that changes the way stages are selected, which is actually of big importance when you consider stage interactions.
Another innovative new feature is the ability to choose between alternative control styles. The default option uses the Mortal Kombat control scheme where special moves are executed using single directional inputs in sequence. The alternative option features a control scheme similar to more traditional 2d fighters in which special moves are executed using circular motions. The latter option is much easier to play on an arcade stick in my opinion
Other fighting games have featured multiple control schemes but they usually come in the form of a normal and simple/beginner mode, which can drastically changes how the game is played and often removes options for those opting for the simpler control scheme. The alternative control style in Injustice simply changes the way certain attacks are executed, allowing players to further customize their controls. The use of alternative control schemes is something I hope more fighting games implement in the future.
I would also like to make note of another unique feature in Injustice: clash. The clash mechanic is this game’s version of a burst or combo breaker found in other fighting games with an additional twist. A unique animation plays when a clash is triggered and players enters a mini-game in which they wager their meter against that of their opponent. Players can wager any amount of meter but the player who wagers the most meter is the one who wins the clash, regardless of who initiated the clash. The winner receives either extra stamina for those who initiated the clash or extra damage for those who were the victim of a clash.
Clash unfortunately feels like a gimmick. I’m sure NetherRealm Studios was attempting to add some extra depth and strategy with this mechanic but it ultimately feels useless. Players who have a significant lead in stamina and meter have no need to wager anything. Their opponent will regain about 30 percent of their health but no damage is done to the leading player, and 30 percent stamina disappears quickly with one mix-up or combo. On the flipside, there is no reason the losing player shouldn’t wager all or most of their meter.
Additionally, wagers can be decided before they are even triggered. If either player has a lower amount of the meter than the other, the one who has the most meter will essentially win automatically. Ultimately the strategy surrounding wager is really shallow and the impact it has on the game is minimal.
Overall, Injustice’s gameplay system is unique and mostly solid. It is also simple and very easy to play. Newcomers and casual fighting players will no doubt find Injustice fun and easy to jump into. With this said, the system is far from perfect and many of the issues found in NetherRealm’s previous game, Mortal Kombat, are also present here and ultimately hold the game back.
To start, the combo system in this game is quite inconsistent. Combos are usually done using a combination of cancels and air juggles. Juggles work pretty much the way fighting game players would expect them to but cancels are a different story.
In fact, I don’t even see cancels in Injustice as cancels in the true sense of the word. In most other fighting games, cancels involve the player inputting the command for another attack while another attack’s animation is still in progress, canceling the animation of the previous attack in progress. Only certain attacks can be canceled and they are usually canceled at any time during the attacks animation or during a certain window during the animation.
This does not appear to be the case in Injustice. Rather than inputting the command for the next attack during a specific time, cancels seem to be executed by just simply inputting the commands in sequence, similar to how strings are executed. There really is no timing involved outside of just immediately inputting the command for the second attack after the first.
This form of executing cancels is problematic as it essentially removes the concept of hit confirming. Instead waiting to see if their attack connects before they perform a combo, the player has to either fully commit and go all in with the combo or just play it safe but do little damage in the process. Also because timing still plays a factor in juggles, the execution of combos can be inconsistent when combining cancels and juggles. This issue can ultimately be overcome and I’m sure most players will get used to how combos work but it’s still an annoyance and a disregard for fighting game mechanic fundamentals.
Another aspect of the gameplay system that doesn’t consistently work is the wake-up attacks*. Much like other 2d fighting games, players in Injustice can perform attacks as they wake-up from being knocked down. This serves to avoid mix-ups or stop pressure as the player returns to their feet.
The problem however is that wake-up attacks rarely work this way in Injustice because the timing to perform the attack always seems to be different. I’m not sure if this issue occurs because every attack in Injustice leaves the character knocked down for a variety of different times (different knock down frames for each attack) or if the timing just varies. Additionally, most wake-up attacks can easily be interrupted, including invincible attacks, by meaty attacks.
Wake-up attacks are just incredibly inconsistent overall and difficult to use in match. This is not a gigantic problem by any means but if a mechanic is available in a fighting game, I expect it to work consistently. I’m sure most players will find some way around this problem but it is unfortunate that they can’t rely on wake-ups to help them deal with 50/50 mix-ups, which are really powerful in Injustice.
Other gripes I have about the gameplay system: trades are odd, throws are too easy to break, frame data is inconsistent (at least based on the frame data given in-game), cross-ups are brain-dead easy, meter-burn execution is inconsistent and other various issues with the other mechanics I discussed early in the review. The controls also feel a bit stiff at times which I believe is due to the quality of the animation, which I will discuss later.
The online mode for Injustice is also pretty bad. Like Mortal Kombat before it, the netcode isn’t well developed as the game lags significantly. I suppose the netcode has improved from Mortal Kombat but not by much. Even playing online matches locally (about 30 miles) creates some noticeable lag. This is very unfortunate considering I believe this game will have a lot of appeal among casual players, who are more likely to play online than offline.
As always, it is difficult to gauge the balance of any competitive game soon after release and Injustice is no different. The game tends to favor a zoning style of play so characters with good zoning tools feel strong in this game. Characters with limited zoning capabilities feel like they have an inherent disadvantage. However, most of the characters have at least some zoning tools of their own or ways to get around zoning, so the balance isn’t too skewed.
The effectiveness of zoning may indeed change later on the game’s lifespan. With NetherRealm’s propensity to constantly make balance changes, there is really no telling how the game will change over time.
The gameplay system of Injustice is overall playable and most people will get a lot of enjoyment out of it. There is also enough depth to the gameplay for competitive players to find value in it. However, it still suffers from many of the issues that plagued Mortal Kombat and it ultimately makes the game feel unpolished.
Speaking of unpolished, Injustice‘s presentation, much like its gameplay, is also quite inconsistent. The character models, while having high polygon counts, look very plastic and many of the textures in the game are low resolution. The overall animation is pretty bad and downright terrible in some instances. The characters look incredible stiff when they are attacking which may contribute to the stiff feeling of the controls. The game slows down from 60 frames per second to 30 during cut-scenes, super attacks and stage transitions, which makes the low quality of the animation all the more noticeable.
The character models and animation aren’t impressive but the stages and particles look awesome
On the bright side, the stages look significantly better than the rest of the game. Artistically, the stages are well crafted and inventive. They are incredibly detailed with tons of interactions and effects being displayed in the background. The low resolution textures are also less noticeable for obvious reasons.
The sound in this game is incredibly generic. The hit effects sound more like slaps than punches and kicks, though the environmental interactions sound particularly brutal. The music is very low volume and mostly doesn’t fit the fast-paced rhythm of the gameplay. It is not bad but it just doesn’t add to the frantic and intense nature of the gameplay and ultimately feels out of place.
Fortunately, the gameplay is more than enjoyable enough to overlook these presentation issues. Poor quality animation in particular affects my ability to enjoy certain video games but I was mostly able to overlook it in Injustice because I was entertained by the gameplay. I will go ahead and assume that this will be the case with most of the players that pick up the game but I know there some out there that cannot overlook the presentational aspects of a video game so easily.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is a fun game across the board. The gameplay system does feel unpolished , with certain fighting game design fundamentals absent or poorly implemented. However, it is still enjoyable overall and its many new innovative features and mechanics, make Injustice feel fresh and unique for the numerous other fighters currently available. The stage interactions in particular are well done and add a layer of strategy that significantly changes the way players approach the game. Injustice is a very approachable and overall easy to play game with plenty of single player content, which will make it very appealing among casual players.
Overall, Injustice is fun and I encourage anyone who likes the DC universe or fighting games to give it a try.