Injustice is essentially Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe without the Mortal Kombat side and somehow it manages to be a much better game for it. Taking the basic mechanics from Mortal Kombat but with a few new twists and a control scheme that takes a few cues from Street Fighter, it brings the DC Universe roster to the fight without all of the compromises that plagued MK v DC. As a quick disclaimer, I’m entirely awful at fighting games. I have played eight matches online and ranked so far and lost every single one, so if you’re one of those beat-em-up kings (or queens) who counts frames and understands what zoning is, take my appraisal with a Dead Sea’s worth of salt.
Oddly for a beat-em-up but following the trend of more recent Mortal Kombat games, the storyline really draws your focus in Injustice, it’s set out in the same way as the excellent Mortal Kombat 9, where you play through a series of fights tied together seamlessly with cut-scenes, and you get a chance to play as many of the characters. There’s 24 heroes and villains in total, with an extra four on the way as DLC in the future. That’s a pretty hefty roster, and each character plays pretty differently, even if they can fall into basic types. Thankfully there’s none of the genre’s typical copy and paste though, with each character moving like you’d expecting them to and requiring different approaches to be successful. The only issue with the characters is that unless your a DC fanatic you’re unlikely to recognise all of them. There’s the mainstays that everyone will know like Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman, with some of the popular villains such as the Joker, Lex Luthor and Bane filling out the other side. There’s also the Justice League character who I’m sure will get more familiar to people over the next few years like the Flash and Green Arrow. But then there’s a whole bunch that haven’t been in films or popular culture for a long while like Doomsday, some hawk girl and Raven who come across as filler in the lineup. There’s also a notable lack of some of Batman’s friends and foes but with an already Batman-heavy list I assume it was to avoid too much of a bias.
Gameplay is much as with any beat em up. Movement is a little more important than Street Fighter, with large fighting areas allowing those more mobile characters like Catwoman and the Flash a chance to avoid the enemy for much of the fight should they so desire. Things like flying characters have been toned down, avoiding a gimmick I’ve always found irritating in the genre. As someone who will never play in a tournament, I’m all about the flashy moves and simple specials that anyone who has come round and fancies a go can pull off without getting too frustrated. This games provides plenty, with interactive scenery such as firing the Batmobiles Rockets and knocking players through the walls of the Fortress of Solitude, and the biggest, flashiest moves are achieved by pressing both triggers when a meter is full at the bottom.
These moves are ridiculous and amazing the first time you pull them off, but they do get tiresome after a while. The first time you see Batman call in the batmobile to run over your dazed opponent, it’s insane. Sadly when you get to the point where you’re doing it twice per fight, you start to get bored of exactly the same animation each time. A little bit of variation or a minigame determining damage would have been nice, but they have done a good job in creating fan-pleasing spectacles. Aquaman’s in particular never seems to get hold, filling the arena with water and using the other player as bait for a giant shark. Somehow this game has made Aquaman cool, something I had never thought possible.
The single-player campaign isn’t too challenging, and even with my cack-handedness I never lost a fight more than twice. The whole thing took me about four hours, which is short as campaign’s go, but this is a fighting game and the story is fun if a little silly at times. It takes itself way too seriously, especially in the second half but it was entertaining enough that I was looking forward to finding out what would happen next.
Fleshing out the package, there’s a challenge mode called Star Labs that features loads of challenges that you can try and get three stars in. Many are fights with simple rule mutations or objectives such as only using one move or avoiding getting hit by a certain attack, but some are minigames or completely change the core gameplay in fairly interesting ways. The sheer amount of these challenges would keep you going for a long time and as you go you can level up (as you do in every mode), unlocking more challenges, costumes and pictures to put on your player card for multiplayer.
So far in the few days since launch, online has been mostly steady. I’ve experienced lag in a couple of matches and it can often takes ages to find an opponent, but once you’re connected every seems to run without a hitch. In unranked modes there’s more fun to be had for hopeless combatants like me, with King of the Hill mode allowing you to spectate fights until it’s your turn to go up against the reigning champ, with a big pot of XP waiting for whoever can dethrone the leader. Tactics online have been controversial, with some players finding certain unbalances and spammable moves, so I don’t think it’s quite ready for serious tournament play quite yet. There is a season pass and DLC incoming though so I imagine the developers will be looking after the game for some time to come. Hopefully that will include tweaks to the balance.
Overall I’m happy with Injustice. It’s not perfect, and as someone who isn’t great at the genre, I’m sure I won’t be playing it in a months’ time, but it’s flashy and fun with just enough fan service to stand out over the current stock of beat-em-ups. After writing this review I’m going to go play around in the training mode and perfect my Aquaman, so it’s definitely got its hooks into me for now.