After enduring months of an astronomical amount of anticipation, Injustice: Gods Among Us is finally... well, among us. We already know NetherRealm Studio is still capable of creating a solid fighter (Mortal Kombat 9), but can that level of awesomeness still remain when they tone down the gore and focus on the DC universe? Thankfully for us, the answer is yes and I'm stoked to say Injustice: Gods Among Us was absolutely worth the wait.
In case you're attempting to avoid any and all spoilers, I'll do my best not to include specifics about the story. All you need to know is Superman's essentially Earth's dictator and Batman's leading the resistance. While the digital comic is doing a good job of making Kal's decisions fairly understandable, it's fair to assume hardcore Man of Steel fans won't be pleased with Kal's portrayal in this game. Like, at all. Calling him "temperamental" would be a massive understatement and he makes some truly shocking yet baffling decisions. He's blatantly evil and there's zero conflict when it comes to who you should root for. Sadly, I didn't feel an ounce of empathy for Clark.
Over the months, one thing keeps getting brought up: power differences. They do attempt to address that in the story mode with a plot device that boost the physicals of street level characters like Joker and Green Arrow. I know that's a big deal for some people, but I honestly don't think it's even necessary. We're talking about a fighting game -- it's all about balanced gameplay, not logic. If we were aiming for a logical game, you'd obviously pick Doomsday or Superman every time... and that game would be zero fun. My advice? Don't sweat the small stuff because the balancing required to properly address this issue would take a ridiculous amount of effort on the studio's behalf. I'd rather have them focus on making the game a good time and they've succeeded in that regard.
The campaign feels like the one from Mortal Kombat 9 -- and if you've played that game, you know this is a good thing. It's not a traditional ladder of enemies and then topped off with a boss. Instead, you organically switch between characters as the tale progresses. Between matches, there's occasionally a quick time event and the results of that will impact the starting health bar for you or your enemy. They're all simplistic (most are "hit the target as it approaches!"), but Green Arrow's was without question the standout QTE (it's a FPS). In spite of the archer's cool mini-game, some of the others feel silly. Blocking bullets as Wonder Woman against Bane felt like a totally missed opportunity. Instead of showing off her reflexes, she merely holds up her arms and blocks them all in one spot. It's kind of bland and at one point you're destroying cars with drivers in them. And yes, you're playing as a good guy in that one. Aside from mediocre QTEs, there's some awkward dialogue sprinkled into the mix. All of the voice actors do an able job and Green Arrow/Joker have some legitimately funny remarks -- it's just every now and then there's a really cheesy line tossed in there.
A lot of the cinematics are dedicated to watching fights as well. Sometimes they're great (Aquaman was a boss), but other times I was anxious to have it wrap up so I could take control myself. Furthermore, it only took me roughly five hours to complete it, and that's including two quick breaks. Despite these complaints (short story, occasionally bad dialogue, mediocre QTEs), I still thought overall the story mode was a blast. Most of the cinematics are definitely amusing and, while the story wasn't up to par with the digital comic, it was still a hugely enjoyable experience. There are some very interesting elements in here that aren't really fleshed out (something with Nightwing, for example). Hopefully we'll see these huge plot points unfold in the digital comic because there were more than a few moments that piqued my interest and then the story just moved on.
When all is said and done with the story mode, there's still many more hours to enjoy when it comes to single player options. There's the traditional ladder experience and it's there you can unlock short endings for each character. Additionally, you can play the ladder with all kinds of different variables if you're up for the challenge (for example, your health doesn't regenerate as you progress). Then there's S.T.A.R. Labs. This is basically Netherrealm's equivalent of MK 9's Challenge Tower. There's over 200 unique missions and it's sure to keep you glued to the screen for quite some time. I've barely scratched the surface of this one, but I was scrolling through the tabs and there's a lot of variety in there. Meanwhile, you're earning XP during all of this and unlocking new items along the way. There's a library where you can check out 3D models (I'm a sucker for that), unlock new skins, variables for the battle ladder, concept art, etc. Needless to say, the solo adventure doesn't end with the story.
There's a lot of fan service tossed into this game. Each level is packed with easter eggs to spot and cameos that'll make you point at the screen like a fool and exclaim something like, " There's Martian Manhunter!" That comes as double-edged sword, though. Characters like Gorilla Grodd and Deadshot are busy with other matters in the background, but others are literally just hanging out and watching you fight. Please, don't worry about me, Martian Manhunter, you're fine hanging out over there and watching me get punched through the freaking planet by Doomsday. Thanks for the help, man. It's a totally minor criticism but I did find it pretty jarring during fights.
When it comes to the visuals, what you see is what you get. We've known for months now that Injustice isn't eye candy. In fact, it unfortunately feels a little subpar in this department when the pace slows down during cutscenes. Things look fine and fluid during the chaos of battles, but when cinematics get up close and personal, you can see the engine feels fairly dated. It ain't pretty, but it's not going to offend your eyes, either. It is worth noting there's some stiff animation from time to time in the cutscenes, too. Although, what's important to me is the gameplay and thankfully the visuals are more than adequate there -- especially during insanely fun stage hazards and brutal special moves. Witnessing Batman do a backflip over the Batmobile before it crashes into your enemy never gets old and warrants a confetti toss every time it happens.
As for the gameplay, if you don't train with each character first, you're likely going to spend a lot of time paused during the story to check out the move list for each character. Sure, you can mess around and attempt to figure out their unique set of combos and full move list on your own, but this game doesn't reward button mashers. You may get lucky here and there, but overall you'll likely be juggled and humiliated. That said, this is by no means a bad thing. If anything, it's a credit to how much time it'll take to truly appreciate and master every character available. It was a tad disappointing to see some moves are taken directly from Mortal Kombat (Ollie has a move identical to Sub-Zero's ice slide), but based on my experience so far, every character does manage to bring their own feel to the table. As for me, I'm a sucker for Deathstroke. Who needs heat vision when you can spam firearms at a distance and dish out sick sword attacks in close range?
Injustice: Gods Among Us is a violent bundle of fun and excitement. The characters are balanced (for the most part, of course... stage hazards definitely seem to favor powerhouses), pulling off lengthy juggles is cheer-inducing, and there's plenty of content here for completionists to enjoy. If you love fighters and you love DC, this is obviously worthy of your money. It may take some time to adjust to the gameplay, but once you get the hang of it I'm confident you'll be celebrating as you connect vicious combos. However, if you're only curious about the story, then it's worth a rental because the campaign can honestly be completed in one sitting. Well done, Netherrealm Studios... now let's hope they continue to provide us with a steady stream of downloadable content!
+ Fun and somewhat balanced gameplay.
+ Legitimately entertaining story.
+ Lots of content.
- Story mode is too short and has some awkward dialogue.
Gregg Katzman is a freelance writer for Comic Vine and IGN Entertainment. This is the part where he shamelessly plugs his Google+ and Twitter page in hopes of getting a new follower or two.
*This review was done on the 360 and multiplayer was not tested.