Cart: Injustice Gods Among Us Cab: PS3 / Xbox 360 / Wii U Coin: NetherRealm Studios
So it’s been over two decades since I really bothered to get to grips with a fighter. After becoming completely hooked on Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Tekken in my youth, I left the genre behind as the bright lights of PC gaming took a hold on me – a realm that, at the time, featured little in the way of decent fighters.
Years later, as I moved from PCs back to consoles, I dipped a toe once more in the boiling waters of fighters and found that I’d become hopelessly out of touch. Not just with the speed and the mechanics but, more worryingly, with the franchises. Some familiar faces were there, for sure, but the whole genre felt like a hollow cast of cardboard cut-outs with little to encourage me to invest any real time or emotion.
Which is perhaps why Injustice: Gods Among Us is such a compelling proposition.
Now, before some die-hard Street Fighter fan lectures me about the intricacies of Ken and Ryu’s back-story, consider this: has any fighter universe ever come within a city-block of touching the depth and richness of the DC universe? All of its comics, characters, films and cultural references rolled into one?
Didn’t think so.
So if you’ve even a passing interest in superheroes (which is basically what all fighters attempt to portray), Injustice is like having all of your Christmases at once.
In fact, it’s so good, it makes you wonder why someone hasn’t had the balls to do this before now?
Considering that the fighting genre’s been around since the late 70’s, the only real fighters to feature iconic comic-book characters have been 2008’s Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe and the Marvel vs. Capcom series of games. Yet whilst both camps feature accomplished games, neither was brave enough to throw itself completely into the realm of comics and for me, felt a bit ‘cheap’ as a result.
Injustice, believe it or not, is the first bona-fide traditional fighter based on nothing but ‘proper’ superheroes. Fancy that.
There was a risk here, then, of NeverRealm simply resting on the laurels of this oceanic source material, letting players’ prior experiences flesh-out a token-gesture narrative. Not so. Injustice features a lengthy, seven-hour, fifty-bout, solid story-driven experience that manages to masterfully weave-in over twenty-five of DC’s finest in an original and engaging affair. If your memory of fighters is of an old-fashioned ladder system of progression, think again: this is a true ‘experience’ featuring genuinely powerful and meaningful characters and an intriguing, exciting plot.
As far as the fighting genre goes: it’s a bloody revelation.
For someone such as myself, struggling to get to grips with my old fighter-training-wheels, it’s the perfect hook to help you persevere. And persevere you must. As with any fighter (it’s all coming back to me now!), the only path to success is though the woods of failure. Repeated visits to the practice room; constant revisions of the move lists; learning one character then flipping to another; upping the difficulty when it becomes too easy. The whole experience requires a serious amount of time and dedication if you’re to move past ‘thinking’ about what you’re doing and, well, just doing it!
The mechanics of the game feel straightforward enough for a novice to enjoy but also deep and varied enough for a seasoned veteran – rather like, say, modern FIFA games. Yes, there’s a whole range of tricky moves and skill-sets to master if you want to be the-best-of-the-best, but a measured approach to button-mashing will still result in an enjoyable experience. Rather like pass, tackle and shoot does.
Given the developer’s Mortal Kombat roots, it does have an air of MK, yet more than enough of its own identity to stand-apart – a huge part of that being the insane signature moves that can be unleashed when your power-bar is fully charged. The environmental interaction is worth a mention too, with levels featuring multiple areas and event-triggers that differ depending on your chosen character. On the subject of which: there’s one to suit every preferred play-style imaginable.
To support the stunning story-driven campaign, there’s a whole range of additional offline experiences that pull from the best ideas of the genre’s distinguished history. Everything from basic ladder progression and knock-out tournaments to an almost innumerable range of challenges and a solid versus mode will keep you busy refining your skill for perhaps years to come. Online modes are equally varied, yet built upon what many felt was the weak net-code that featured in NeatherRealm’s previous Mortal Kombat title. Things seemed reasonably smooth to me – but no online fighter, in my humble opinion, can beat the thrill of mashing someone to a pulp when they’re sat right next to you.
The only lag you really need to worry about, then, is how fast you can dodge some sore losers’ real shoulder-jabs.
Given the games numerous qualities and level of polish, I can’t for a minute imagine a fan of the fighting genre not seriously enjoying it. Neither can I imagine a fan of DC – or superheroes in general – not completely relishing the experience.
But the real revelation is that I’m finally out of retirement!