Review: Injustice - Gods Among Us / Format: PS3, Xbox / Developer: NetherRealm Studios / Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment / Release Date: Out Now
At last, an ambition, realised: should you so wish, you too can unleash the bubbling, long-held resentment of (a) King Arthur to punch your way through the DC Universe, battering everyone from Superman to Solomon Grundy (who invited him to the party?) into submission. Who's laughing now, Robot Chicken? Or, should you be the other way inclined, you've your pick of DC characters with which to beat poor Aquaman all around town. You can even punch him into space, if you so wish. Poor guy just can't catch a break.
And yet, laughing stock as he may be, Aquaman does have one of the only decent costumes in the whole game. And a shark. The Justice League's tailor must have been having an off day, since no one else quite looks like themselves. Certainly not Batman or Superman, whose elegant, streamlined costumes have been turned into jagged, ugly suits of armour. Poor Superman looks horrendous in the opening cut-scene, and his (super)pals aren't in much better shape either. It's a wonder The Flash can get any running done, wearing that get-up. Horrible looking from the get-go and with an apparently awful concept (what if your favourite Superheroes were all a bunch of bastards) Injustice seemed doomed from the start.
Thankfully, the gameplay more than makes up for its shortcomings. Based on the same engine as Mortal Kombat, the fighting is incredibly, almost unbelievably fun. The game will win over a lot of doubters before the tutorial is even over, as you jump straight into Batman's (bat)boots, punch Superman through a wall into the depths of the Batcave, then punch him into an elevator and punch him all the way back up again. Then, in a break from all the punching, knee poor Kal-El in the face and run him over with your Batmobile. Befitting this iconic group of characters, the fighting feels beautifully fluid and stupidly overpowered. Did we mention Superman's literally punching his opponents into space, then punching them back down again?
Thankfully there is an excuse for all of this, no matter how flimsy it may be. In one of DC's infinite universes, the Clown Prince of Crime has tricked Superman into murdering Lois Lane and a number of his friends. Once sober, this sends the Man of Steel into a murderous rampage, and Evil Superman is born. Other DC heroes are manipulated or bullied into joining his cause (if the whole Parallax incident taught us anything, it's that a rampage is never far away) and soon the whole world is screwed. A freak accident transports the regular (ish) good guy Justice League to this topsy-turvy world, and the two teams collide. It's a little like Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, except they're all DC Universe characters. There are similarities to Kingdom Come too, although Alex Ross would never have designed a costume as ugly as these. Jim Lee, on the other hand...
One suspects, however, that those nasty new threads are but an excuse to sell us plenty of DLC. The first of it is already available, with Flashpoint costumes and an inevitable zombie mode. With such downloadable characters as Lobo already announced, you may want to invest in the Season Pass rather than picking them up one by one.
Like most beat em' ups, the plot is secondary to the punching. They've tried, but none of it feels natural or well integrated. It generally consists of our badly characterised heroes wandering from one arena to another, encountering their alternate universe selves, and fighting until the player wins. Thankfully, that fighting is so enjoyable that the stupid plot just falls to the wayside. It's still less dumb than Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe though, which is something. Aside from the story mode, there's also a whole host of 'battle' scenarios, multiplayer games (including online) and some fun mini-missions in the 'S.T.A.R. Labs' game room. Here, you'll take part in short fights and button-mashing minigames, taking in a few Easter Eggs along the way. A particular favourite is Aquaman's Parappa the Rapper style game, in which he attempts to talk himself out of being eaten by a shark. His special move, by the way, is the best in the game. With references to Arkham City and The Dark Knight, along with lesser-known characters hiding in the background (Hugo Strange and the Martian Manhunter!) it's packed full of nice touches and clever ideas. This extends to the voice acting, where Kevin Conroy can be found voicing Batman and Stephen Amell (from the TV series) playing Green Arrow. Richard Epcar is no Mark Hamill, but he does a good enough job, bringing something of the Caesar Romero to the role.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is incredible fun. Fans of superhero fighting games should pick it up as soon as possible. Everyone else should probably wait for a rental or price drop, but what could have been a repeat performance of Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects has become something more akin to the successes of Marvel vs Capcom 3 or Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe. You read that sentence about punching people into space and back, right? For that alone, Injustice is everything we could have hoped for from a DC superhero fighting game.
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