NetherRealm Studios did pretty much the impossible with their 2011 reboot of Mortal Kombat. After ushering the golden age of fighting games in the early/mid 90s, the franchise lost its way for the following 15+ years. MK tried changing with the times, but no matter how earnest the effort, it was for naught.
Then came the inevitable. You often hear about a series having the fat cut away, being brought "back to its roots", but rarely does the return to basics approach actually work. Even rarer is how such an effort is shepherded by the people who created the magic in the first place (more or less). But MK9, or just Mortal Kombat, did just that.
Needles to say, anticipation for their follow-up has been high. But when word came that it would be a fighting game based upon DC Comics character, said excitement transformed into concerned, as well as skepticism. And the reaction would be completely unwarranted, if not for the fact that such waters were dipped into not too long ago.
For Mortal Kombat 8, aka Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, many saw the game as a sign of the franchise (and the people involved) as jumping the shark. So, how does their latest effort, the DC Comics-based fighter game Injustice: Gods Among Us, fare?
Well, Injustice is no MK8, that’s for sure. In fact, it's not really an MK game at all.
Injustice bears little resemblance to a traditional Mortal Kombat experience, at least initially. In general it's far closer to Capcom's take on fighting games than one would expect. Instead of the standard high kick, low kick, high punch, low punch arsenal that has been a staple of MK since day one, there are weak, medium, and strong attacks. The player has to hold back to defend, as opposed to a traditional block button. There's a dedicated throw button (light and hard attacks, when pressed at the same time, can initiate a throw) just like in MK9, plus both triggers are used to execute a super move, again just like in NetherRealm's previous effort. Most characters are able to do the MK-esque uppercut we all know and love.
Controls are significantly different from what an MK fan might be used to. Somehow, the back and forth is still just as frantic as in MK9. This is achieved partially through the character power button, which enables powers and abilities to each goody guy or bad. In some cases, additional offense is the result, while in others others, defensive attributes are gained or strengthened (depends on who you're using). It is also aided by interactive environments. Depending on who and where you are, certain special attacks can be triggered. For instance if you jump in the air while playing as Superman, a hovercraft move will be performed. Press the correct button at just the right moment and Supes will grab the vehicle and smash his opponent with it. Deathstroke. meanwhile, will counterattack by placing a bomb, causing the car to explode and its shrapnel to shatter, in turn inflicting additional damage.
The game, not surprisingly, is over the top when it comes to super moves. Each highlights the personalities of its associated character, and feels like the final pages of an issue in which all bets are off. Though the chaos also helps to add a great deal of depth into the proceedings; with so many factors to consider, face offs are a blind flurry of special moves, interactive environments, and good old fashioned luck.
One intriguing new addition to the formula is the Clash. It allows a player to wager a portion of their super meter against the opponent, with success resulting in health regeneration. While the concept is intriguing, the execution is not, oas its really only fair if both opponents have the same amount of juice in their super meter. If one character with three full bars goes against someone who has none, any guesses as to who will win? They're also too easy to initiate. But hey, A for effort. It's different at least.
The bulk of the game is in story mode, which is much like the one found in MK9 (arguably one of the game's most pleasant surprises). In it the good guys (and one bad one) are sucked into an alternate dimension, one in which Superman has gone nuts and rules the entire Earth with an iron fist. Assisting him are other meta humans who are either too scared to stand up to Supes or are too consumed with their own thirst for power to care.
But not everyone is on evil Superman's team. Unsurprisingly, the alternate universe's version of Batman is the biggest thorn in its side. The game sees the player controlling a specific character for a certain portion of the narrative. This was present in the last Mortal Kombat game and was a great feature. Here, it's a mild disappointment. Whereas before the player controlled both good and bad characters, here the game is presented mostly from the heroes' point of view. It also felt considerably shorter than MK's tale. It also assumes an enormous amount of foreknowledge, operating on the idea that every player already is familiar with all the characters highlighted.
Granted, MK9 wasn't heavy on the backstory for each individual character; none of the Kombatants have the rich backstory of the DC personalities. But in the end, unless you're an avid DC Comics person, most players will be left wondering about basic backstory details, rivalries and which bad guy is the arch nemesis of which good guy. On top of that, there isn't enough material to inspire one to go out and buy a comic to learn more about Shazam.
At least the story itself is serviceable enough. One might even say it's actually decent in spots? As one might guess, many characters act in the opposite way you’d expect, including one that I figured would show his "true colors" in the end, similar to how he would normally behave in the regular continuity. Thankfully that's not the case (sorry, but going into details further would totally spoil the surprise). Also, the script itself is excellent. When someone tries to act funny, they actually are. Another A plus in my book.
Looks wise, the game's overall esthetics are quite close to the Mortal Kombat, somewhat dark and harsh, which works well for the intended tone. Speaking as a fan of Japanese titles, as well as their other forms of entertainment like manga, it's actually a nice break to have something that looks and feels thoroughly Western.The character models are adequate (the attire is what how the studio would fashion them if they ran DC Comics themselves, I've been told), at least the males ones. Unfortunately (and this was a problem with MK9) the female characters look off putting, bizarre, even ugly. Wonder Woman in particular looks plain ridiculous, and any actual woman with a body type like hers probably wouldn't be to stand on her own two legs, even if she really were an Amazonian.
The audio is fine but nothing to write home about. Then again, music has never been NetherRealm's forte. The sound effects are spot on, including every punch, kick, scream, and crash. Too bad the same cannot be said about the voices. Kevin Conroy is back as Batman, as one might expect, but Mark Hamill is not as the Joker. This is not a huge shocker, as he publicly retired from that role after Arkham City. Unfortunately his replacement is just kinda "there", and not in a good way.
In addition to the Story Mode is a far more standard Battles Mode, which pits the player against groups of opponents based around certain filters (everyone's a good guy, or a bad guy, or a poisoned guy). The other big selling point is STAR Labs, which requires the player to complete objectives, such as defeating an opponent under specified conditions. Objectives run the gamut and are clearly designed to increase Injustice's replay-ability, particularly as performing well will free various unlockables, like alternate costumes and behind the scenes goodies.
While I hate to make comparisons to other games, the biggest problem is that this mode is not nearly as enthralling as it was in Mortal Kombat. I haven't made my way through the whole thing, but it seems to miss the sense of lighthearted goofiness that punctuated MK's Challenge Tower. One of the key driving forces in that mode was the chance to unlock a new finishing move, something Injustice completely lacks.
Yet, I'm still compelled keep going. Likely this is due in part to hopes of getting Injustice's version of Superman to resemble the one I grew up with. In the end, it does not offer the kind of replay value that I was expecting or hoping for, but at the same time, the ultra accessible gameplay of MK has been made all the better with a does of chaos, on some level equalling depth.
Only time will tell if I'll notice the game's imbalances and become frustrated. But I'm also confident the developers will stay on top of things and apply patches as necessary, as they did with the last release. It's just different from most of the other fighting games out there; t studio deserves credit for trying something different and taking a risk. If you're turned off by the over reliance on complicated combos in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 or are just tired of Street Fighter 4 (or heck, Capcom fighters in general), Injustice: Gods Among Us will help fill that void.
In my case, that'd be the time between now and release of Mortal Kombat 10.
Injustice: Gods Among Us 8 out of 10
Injustice: Gods Among Us was developed by Netherrealm Studios and published by WB Games. It was released on April 16, 2013 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 North America, at the MSRP of $59.99. A copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.