Fighting games are a strange breed. Beyond aesthetics, they’re more about balance and response; of measure and recourse, meaning you could effectively have a boxing kangaroo in your game and it wouldn’t seem overly ridiculous, as long as his moveset worked within your framework.
So it’s interesting then to see NetherRealm attempting to apply more emphasis on their characters for the forthcoming Injustice: Gods Among Us, and just how and why they’re wailing on each other beyond a simple, unwieldy context-driven premise. In fact story is so important for this unique reimagining of the DC Universe, DC actually started work on a comic book backstory to help set the scene and tone for the game.
But the bigger question then is: Is the story really worth it in the grand scheme of things? The answer will depend largely upon whether or not you care about any of the 24 DC characters set to appear in the game, or its 15 uniquely repurposed environments. And if you don’t, well the good news is that at its core, Injustice: Gods Among Us is still a solid fighting game, it just changes the rules a little bit.
Here's the playable characters NetherRealm as revealed so far of a possible 24:
Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Nightwing, Flash, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Lex Luthor, Joker, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Deathstroke and Solomon Grundy.
Not that we should expect anything less from the Mortal Kombat guys -- they’ve been working at expanding their own spin on the fighting game genre since, well, since they began back in the 90s. In Injustice: Gods Among Us the biggest change-up comes by way of the environment and what you can do with it. Time will tell if the interactivity of elements around you, beyond your own moves, is less tight fighting game mechanic and more party game mechanic, but so far it looks as though the team has balanced things out nicely, and my recent hands-on with it has proven the game has a lot of potential.
Characters also have their own unique differentiator, activated within each match with the press of a button (I played on Xbox 360, so it was B) and this can be anything from switching between arrow charges for Green Arrow, to calling in a handful of robotic bats to surround, protect and arm Batman. Some characters have complex uses of their unique power, such as Solomon Grundy who can bust out a serious combo streak if you can successfully nail all of the inputs (which I’d venture you’d need to be a hardcore fighting game player to be able to do), which points out the team’s emphasis on both depth and accessibility.
Each character also builds up a super meter, which when full, can be activated simply by pressing both triggers. Landing these, however, is slightly harder with some characters needing to be well-positioned to have their devastating move connect. They can also be easily avoided for the nimble reactive players out there, so smart launching when your opponent is on the backfoot will be a requirement in more seasoned match-ups.
There are a number of characters we've seen as part of the game's story that are likely going to be revealed as playable characters, but as far as our own wishlist goes, this is who we'd like to see:
Darkseid, Azrael, Lobo, Bizzaro Superman, Black Lightning, Geo-Force, Killer Croc, Savage Hawkman, Talon, Satanus, STEEL, Silver Banshee, Spectre, Red Hood and Swamp Thing.
(Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?)
The aforementioned environmental interactions come by way of actually picking up pieces of the map to use as a weapon on your opponent, or by slamming them into an interactive area. There are also level transitions, where you knock the other character through to a whole new arena. From the new arena (complete with its own unique interactive points of interest), you can knock them back into the starting point, and each transition actually has a combo counter.
From a visual level these are all pretty cool, though at this stage they’re all the same for each character (of the ones I played, anyway), so hopefully as more environments and avatars are revealed we’ll know more about the transition variety of the game.
The single-player story offers up different chapters for each character, meaning you’ll play through the whole game multiple times and from multiple perspectives. This should add some serious replayability to the campaign portion of Injustice, especially for comic book fans looking for as much fan-service layered about the place as possible. And for those same players, the list of characters is really starting to shape up with the likes of Deathstroke, Shazam, Bane, Lex Luthor, Nightwing and even Doomsday revealed, among many more, already. At this point in time though, we don’t have the full list of playable
characters, so who we get to pummel Superman with on release day is still a bit of a mystery, but dang I’m hoping Lobo shows up somewhere.
Moreover, the balance of archetypes is looking pretty good with a heady mix of brutes, mid-range, and light characters. Being able to utilise parts of the environment will also help in levelling the playing field against ranged characters for smart players using melee characters, and so it’s definitely looking up in the new additions to the genre camp for the team.
It’s also worth noting that you’ll be hearing some familiar voices throughout, including the likes of Kevin Conroy for Batman, but as a massive DC fan and, specifically, Batman, I wasn’t that impressed with Joker’s voice. It’ll be a small thing for most, but don’t come in expecting Mark Hamill, because you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Beyond that let-down though, I was thoroughly impressed with my hands-on with the game. The mix of characters, archetypes and a decent story definitely already gives this one a leg-up, but turning the environments into participating characters themselves, and on this level, could be a genius move once all the super-powered dust has settled. Add to this an in-depth fighting system with multiple layers and NetherRealm are on to a real winner with Injustice: Gods Among Us
I definitely can’t wait to learn more about other characters, maps and more on the game’s story, and if all goes well with the game’s release and the continued success of the comic adaptation, it’s unlikely Gods Among Us will be the last we see of the Injustice universe. Stay tuned for more as it becomes available.