I’ve been a gamer about as long as I’ve been a Green Lantern fan, cutting my baby gamer teeth on an Atari 2600, probably the best Christmas present that Santa Claus ever put under my family’s tree. Over the years there have been some great comic book inspired video games and some real duds, but in the current generation of games the quality has improved greatly both in terms of the basic gameplay and storytelling, more often getting it right than wrong. Warner Brothers has done a great job with DC products like the superb Batman series by developer Rocksteady Studios and now we have the latest DC Comics game by Warner Brothers’ acquisition and creator of the legendary Mortal Kombat games, NetherRealm Studios, Injustice: Gods Among Us.
First and foremost Injustice: Gods Among Us is a fighting game but NetherRealm has done a great job of making sure that there is both simplicity in the game mechanics for players that find the complex combo systems associated with the genre difficult to pull off as well as the depth demanded by the veteran fighting game lover. I tend to fall somewhere in the middle myself and was able to play through the game with the default medium difficulty setting fairly easily. I will fully admit to having some difficulties with pulling off some of the combo moves – a combination of what I’m sure is my ever-advancing age and the poorly designed d-pad on the Xbox 360 controller. This is one genre that tends to play better on the Playstation platform since the one thing Sony’s controller has over the Xbox is the d-pad for fighting games. This in particular made the training levels in the STAR Labs challenges frustrating for me and as a result I haven’t explored that part of the game in much detail.
Where the game really excels is in the story telling department and NetherRealm wisely worked with veteran comic writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti to craft a powerful and dark story which plays off of the multiple Earth scenario. Just what would it take to push Superman over the edge and into territory which not only makes us fear him, but empathize with him as well? As the opening cinematic rolls you learn that this isn’t quite our Superman, but one that is always a grim possibility. When Superman crosses the line the rest of world truly understands why super powered characters are just as much of a potential threat as they are a benevolent force for good. A line is drawn and the surviving DC Universe characters are forced to choose sides with dramatic results.
The Green Lantern Corps gets a cameo as well
The single player campaign does a great job of weaving narrative driven cinematic cut scenes with the various fights where the player takes control of one of the characters in the melee. There is something gleefully fun in pitting characters against each other that would normally shake hands rather that rattle swords. There was a lot of attention paid to detail not only in the story but in the interactive environments. Things like knocking your opponent into a melee going on in the background between Giganta and Black Atom only to see him or her become a part of their battle before being thrown back into the fray is pure fanboy joy, and the fighting arenas are littered with odes to DC’s mythology. NetherRealm has truly embraced the universe these characters inhabit and brought it into the game in a creative way.
“Time to kick my ass!”
Each character also has a super move that really pushes an over the top game even further over the top, although I’ll admit that it gets a little boring after a while since each character only has one move and the whole concept could have really been enhanced by offering a number of randomly or environmentally determined options. There’s something that takes you out of it when you start to question how Aquaman could summon a shark to the Watchtower let alone Batman getting the Batmobile there.
The wager system allows for a little bit of strategy to enter the game, forcing the player to consider how much of their superpower bar to gamble against their opponent to determine the outcome. Those moments are fun to watch and the dialogue is cleverly written to ensure that character’s statements make sense given the opponent they are pitted against. The system can result in tilting the scales in the overall battle, something that may or may not sit well depending on which end you happen to be sitting on.
Hal’s supermove includes an unpleasant bus trip to Oa
Gray and Palmiotti also use the story to address an initial concern from comics fans regarding how certain non-powered characters could go toe to toe with DC’s powerhouses let alone survive the seemingly cataclysmic pummeling they receive. While some might seem it to be a little contrived I thought it was very creative, and dare I say literally a 5U93R super idea!
Outside of the single player story mode there’s of course local and network player versus player modes that offers a lot of reasons to pop the game in once you’ve played the story mode. The one downside I found in the online play was in the inability to get an instant rematch against someone you just fought and being forced back to the matchmaking system. There are also battle modes where you can take any character and work through any one of a number of scenarios with them.
Classic battle mode reveals an interesting ending for the character you chose and those range from question inducing to the really, really cool. Green Lantern’s ending, for example, left me wanting to know more about the mysterious events that happen afterwards while Sinestro’s had me fist pumping the air. One thing that quickly became annoying in the battle modes was seeing the same ending sequence for a character at the end of every fight. It might have been better if, like the super moves, there were multiple fight enders perhaps driven by the foe in the battle or the choice of arena.
The narrative pits ally against ally as DC’s heroes and villains must take sides
There’s also the aforementioned STAR Labs challenges that feature a number of mini games which adds a bit more gameplay for you financial investment. These don’t connect back to the main story but they are fun little tasks that you can play through to add some variety to the game or for something to do when you don’t have much time.
Something that NetherRealm did that I think is really great is allowing the player to post customized move lists on the screen to help learn the moves for a particular character. I found this particularly helpful in trying to remember moves in the heat of a battle and I applaud them for providing tools like this as well as practice mode to help players learn the characters they want to explore. As much as NetherRealm showed their love of the universe in the game design they likewise made sure that the moves made sense for each character and that alternate skins line up with various costume incarnations that actually appeared at some point in a character’s history.
You get to fight with, and against Sinestro and other infamous DC villains
Playing through the game allows you to “level up” the characters and earn points in the game’s ecosystem that provides you the chance to unlock alternate costumes, concept art, elements for your player card and more. It’s a neat way to reward players and what I found really cool is how the game interconnects with the iOS version, allowing gamers who own both to unlock rewards in one version for things done in the other.
The character roster is pretty diverse and there’s something there for everyone. Some choices might seem odd at first and there’s surely going to be a segment of the fan community that is dismayed that character A got chosen over character B, but NetherRealm looked at the entire DC roster and chose characters that had to be there and balanced the roster with characters that not only were fan favorites but met the needs in balancing the game and providing a roster that lined up with a number of different player styles. Lobo has already been announced as the first of four DLC characters, so there’s still a chance that your favorite character didn’t get completely left out.
Something of particular note for Green Lantern fans comes by way of Best Buy, who offered code which unlock a Blackest Night costume for Batman as well as “Zombie Mode”. Many people had difficulty finding zombie mode in the game’s menu system due to some sort of bug (solution for that can be found here), but the mode itself really does little more than toggle all of the characters’ appearance rather than provide a new gameplay mode. While it’s not false advertising I think I’m in the majority in hoping that it was more of a true Blackest Night series of battles rather than a mass skin pack setting.
Since the first Marvel Ultimate Alliance game I’ve been really looking for a similar experience in the DC Universe that had the same compelling story telling and provided a similar cinematic presentation. Injustice: Gods Among Us does just that inside of the fighting game genre. Your enjoyment will likely be colored by the style of gameplay and for many comics fans it might not be your cup of tea. Knowing that you don’t need to be a fighting game expert will hopefully encourage people to pick the game up to experience the story and maybe learn to like the genre a little more. That was my experience and while I fully realize that I’m never going to be as competitive at the game as others the story and pure fun make the game a worthwhile addition to my library. Injustice: Gods Among Us is a superhero romp unlike any other and a game I’m glad gave me blisters on the my thumbs!
For those who don’t want to give the game a try but want to see what the story is all about, the video below contains all of the cut scenes strung together. Four out of five Lanterns.