Injustice: Gods Among Us Review
There is nothing more depressing in fighting games than watching your opponent standing at full screen, desperately flinging empty punches in the air as he’s trying to get a fireball to come out.
You can both feel the slight sense of shame. It’s just a quarter-circle forward and punch, you both think. Why is this so difficult.
And yet the ritual continues. Endless standing punches flung, not a single fireball. This is the big problem with fighting games. Accessibility. Not everyone can play them, as not everyone has muscle memory on how to pull off fireballs drilled in by hundreds of fighting games over the years.
Well actually no, there are two problems with fighting games. Accessibility and the lack of meaningful single-player content, which throws you through an arcade mode propped up with some text and victory music at the end. Fight this guy! Fight that girl! Hurray! You win!
Both have been big problems for the genre. Injustice: Gods Among Us solves both of those problems. And yet for its progress in tackling the two biggest problems the genre has, it lets itself down with a few minor niggles.
Injustice – Do You Even Hadoken?
First of all, yes, Injustice: Gods Among Us is essentially a reskinned Mortal Kombat. Netherrealm Studios knows what it likes in its fighting games and what worked for Mortal Kombat hasn’t changed here – the combo system, the special moves, the inputs, the juggles, the chip damage on normals, and so on. It’s immediately familiar.
The reason Injustice is so accessible is that special moves are incredibly easy to pull off. The inputs are incredibly lenient, allowing you a huge margin of error when attempting special moves. You can also switch the traditional Mortal Kombat inputs (back, towards + button) to Street Fighter style inputs (half-circle towards + button), a rare nod from a game to its rival. Whichever method you choose, Injustice has a remarkably low execution barrier. As long as you have working thumbs, you can play Injustice. You won’t be that guy standing at full screen throwing punches at nothing.
Likewise with its attack strings. These are the core of Injustice, allowing you to mix up between overheads, lows and cancels into special moves. This doesn’t have a Dead Or Alive level of leniency where all button presses translate into a flowing offence, but it’s as close as a 2D fighting game has been.
And like Mortal Kombat, Injustice has the largest negative edge window we’ve seen in any fighting game. Before you run to your moon language translator, we’ll explain – negative edge is when you performing a move by taking your finger off a button, not just by pressing it. That also makes Injustice easier to play (if negative edge gets in the way, you can switch it off in the options menu).
Finally, anti-airs in Injustice are generally quite poor and walk speed is fairly slow, which means new players can jump at other new players and get away with it. As we all know, new players love jumping. This at least makes it easier for new players to feel like they can make progress and get in on opponents without having to do too much work. Obviously, this changes as opponents get better who either find anti-airs that work or other ways around jumpy opponents, but the point remains. It’s much easier to jump at opponents in Injustice than it is in, say, Street Fighter IV.
If you haven’t gathered yet, what we’re trying to say is Injustice is really easy to pick up and play.
Injustice – Mortal Kombat 10?
There are big changes to the old Mortal Kombat system. The universal overheads and wall bounce attacks are new, and both have significant parts to play in Injustice. Likewise stage transitions, where you can smash an opponent through the ‘edge’ of the screen and into a new arena. The animation for these is a little too long once the novelty wears off but it’s a nice mechanic, helping differentiate Injustice from other fighting games.
Interactive objects! There’s a mechanic that actually makes a difference to the gameplay, rather than merely being ‘nice’. Each stage is stuffed with objects you can interact with in the background – tanks, cars, missiles, gas canisters, even the Batmobile. Depending on your character type, you can use these against your opponent. Fast characters like Killer Frost will divekick off hovering cars while powerful characters like Grundy will bring them down on top of their opponent.
It makes spacing important in that you have to fight over control of these interactive objects, often second-guessing when your opponent is going to attempt to use them and either interrupting or getting away from the danger. It adds a new dynamic to the gameplay and on a practical level, can make some fights unintentionally hilarious when you decide to pick up a car and smash it on your opponent’s head like a comic book comedy sketch.
The biggest change from Mortal Kombat to Injustice is that the block button has been removed in favour of a more traditional holding-back-to-block method. This changes the dynamic of the game somewhat – blocking is ‘easier’ but blocking cross-up attempts means you have to guess where the attack is coming from rather than holding down a button – but overall, it’s a change that makes the fighting more accessible.
This also has the Darkstalkers style of health, where you have two lifebars, with a break in the action and the opponent forced to back off once you’ve lost the first lifebar.
Injustice – The Clash
Breakers have been replaced by a new system called Clash. At high-level play, Mortal Kombat players simply held onto meter for Breakers, so Netherrealm has changed things a little. Clash sees you break out of combos and ‘bet’ your meter against your opponent. Whoever bets the most wins, eithe regaining health and doing damage to their opponent. Clash is also only accessible in your last round.
It sounds fine in theory but it doesn’t quite translate to success in the game itself. There’s no real meta-game over how much meter is wagered – it just seems to be that enough is always gambled to beat the other player. For that same reason, it’s also pointless using Clash when you don’t have more meter than your opponent, because you’ll just end up losing.
Because of that, Clash is the opposite of Breakers. Where Breakers became a dominant part of Mortal Kombat, Clash doesn’t look like it’ll factor into Injustice in a signifcant way. Still, it does lead to some of the best lines of dialogue, as the two characters face up to each other (Harley Quinn: You’re scary when you’re mad! Batman: That’s the idea)
So how do these changes work out, in gameplay terms? Like… Mortal Kombat. Because the actual core gameplay hasn’t changed from that game – you still learn attack strings, all characters can zone their opponents, the combo system is still largely the same – it still feels very much like Mortal Kombat did.
The reason Injustice will be easy for beginners to pick up is that special moves are dominant and the interactive objects on each stage make a big difference, so it’s easy to feel as though you’re making progress with Injustice. Perhaps not so much when you’re playing online and Sinestro is dropping thousands of rocks on your head, but we’ll get to that. First, single-player content.
There’s a story in Injustice! An actual story mode in a fighting game. Praise the gods! (Among us). The story in Injustice is loopy and inconsistent, being anchored around the idea of an evil Superman regime versus the Batman insurgency, but it just about works.
You play as different characters across the storyline as the plot develops and it’s peppered with mini-games throughout too. Fire arrows at Grundy to fend him off! Shoot the cars Black Adam’s throwing at you out of the sky! Gimmicky, yes, but it helps break the endless fighting.
There’s more effort in this storyline than we’ve seen in any other fighting game (bar, unsurprisingly, Mortal Kombat). It’s probably just about the right length too, at three hours, because the real meat of the single-player content is found in S.T.A.R. Labs.
This is where Netherrealm really pushes the boat out. Variety is the focus of S.T.A.R. Labs challenges, which are eccentric, weird and bizarre. You have to fly through rocks with Hawkgirl, navigate a cat through a security system as Catwoman, dodge missiles with Cyborg, play a bizarre version of paper-scissors-stone with Joker (which is sword-shield-bomb) and so on. There are lots of bizarre mini-games and every fight has a twist on it.
There are also 240 challenges in total. That is a lot to get through.
The downside is that some challenges have slipped through the testing net and are ridiculously hard, to the point where it feels unfair. Also, some mini-games aren’t nearly as fun as others. But given there are 240 challenges, that’s probably forgivable in the grand scheme of things.
Some have already questioned the balance of the roster but for its first week, Injustice is more balanced than most. All of the characters bar Bane, Flash and Doomsday have projectiles – while not always effective, this means every character can compete from any range.
Some characters are clearly dominant (Superman, Killer Frost) while others are lacking (Cyborg, Hawkgirl) and everyone online seems to be picking Deathstroke right now. But Netherrealm will continue its system of ‘background’ patches and updates that was successful with Mortal Kombat. With that game, Netherrealm showed that it doesn’t abandon its fighting games once out in the wild.
So balance should not be an issue. What is an issue is how long it takes to load anything.
For example, it’s bizarre that Netherrealm can have the foresight to include frame data in its training mode options (although some of that data has now been proven to be inaccurate) and yet not include a quick restart for player matches, forcing you through needless loading times to have the same characters fight on the same stage.
Similarly, the long loading times makes going through S.T..A.R. LABS missions a chore when you hit a difficulty spike. You have to sit through the Mission Unsuccesful animation, wait for retry to appear, hit retry, wait for that to load, wait for the mission to reload, then try again. And if you fail again? More loading.
It’s a problem that stretches to the online side of Injustice too but that’s also where a bigger, more significant problem can be found.
The big area of concern for Injustice was how it would hold up online. Mortal Kombat’s netcode was notoriously poor – has there been enough time since then for Netherrealm to get this side of things right?
Almost. Almost. Injustice is a huge improvement over Mortal Kombat’s netcode, keeping the best elements (King Of The Hill mode returns here) while the game itself is actually playable online.
However, the online performance still isn’t quite there, and there’s often a level of lag present that sees you having to adapt your combos and tactics slightly to adjust. Injustice online is still playable but ‘perfect’ connections are a rarity, and transitioning from offline training mode to online play in a long Injustice session is often bumpier than it needs to be.
Lag also creates some new problems – zoning characters become extremely irritating to fight. Deathstroke is popular online and his tactic of standing a full screen away and endlessly firing his guns becomes much harder to deal with when lag screws up the timing of your dashing between gunshots or jumping. Same if you eventually catch up to him and land a combo, only to drop it through lag. Frustrating. Same applies to Sinestro (endlessly dropping rocks on your head) and Superman (jumping and firing eye-lasers). The risk-reward of some characters gets distorted through the laggy netcode.
If we’re being honest, it’s still not quite good enough. We’ve been spoilt since GGPO has been brought to consoles and while that technology belongs to the house of Capcom, it’s still raised the bar for what we expect from online fighting games. Injustice struggles to reach that standard. It’s playable but it’ll frequently annoy you too.
From the arcade to the sofa to playing online, fighting games are traditionally seen as multiplayer first, single-player second. If anything, Injustice: Gods Among Us is the opposite of that trend – it goes out of its way to please the sole player and in doing so, perhaps neglects the online side of things.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is really good fun. It’s accessible, has a wealth of content, great characters and like Mortal Kombat, it feels like a distinctly unique fighting game in what is a crowded genre. It’s just a shame the loading times and netcode take the shine off the overall experience but for fighting game fans of all abilities, this is still highly recommended.
Version Tested: PS3