A heaping helping of DC Universe fan-service bundled in an aesthetically idiosyncratic fighting-game package, Injustice: Gods Among Us is both a big, bold (sometimes recklessly so) attempt by NetherRealm Studios to outshine their estimable Mortal Kombat reboot and a galumphing valentine to diehard comic-book and gaming enthusiasts alike. Boasting an appropriately screwball storyline that sees Superman losing his marbles after being duped by the Joker into mistakenly slaying Lois Lane and his offspring in utero, thus grimly flipping a switch and choosing to defect from the Justice League, Injustice’s tall tale is a precarious balancing act that somehow manages to constantly portray non-canon improbability while still generously appeasing its finicky fanbase. As for the gameplay itself, it’s fittingly off the wall given the ludicrous context, capitalizing on the successful refinements of NetherRealm’s previous effort and introducing an array of combat mechanics that placidly incorporate brute strength and gadget-based characters, multi-plane stages, and organically interactive environments. Injustice is an especially busy brawler, teeming with content and imagination, yet its gamut is often stifled by its own ambitiousness; in trying to accomplish so much, it intermittently comes up shy of ultimate realization.
Injustice’s colossal production values do well to supplement its scattered shortcomings, featuring a stellar voice cast, impressive soundtrack, and in-battle graphics that routinely outperform those on display during cutscenes, NetherRealm Studios can proudly stick another feather in their cap as a result of their technical achievements here. Injustice’s initial roster of 24 characters, some more well known than others, has been expertly transported to this alternate DC cosmos, their appearances and personalities metastasized through a darkly atmospheric, unblushingly ostentatious filter. Depicting the likes of Aquaman, Green Lantern, Deathstroke, and Sinestro as glaring gods rather than traditional superheroes/supervillains is a perilous maneuver, and yet creative director Ed Boon and his team neatly pull it off, making the impalpable feel tangible and strangely down to earth. However, this sanctity is broken at various junctures, in part due to some clunkiness in the cinematics and sporadically clumsy execution of the transitional scenery conversions. Characters who wouldn’t be likely to forcibly launch their opponents through barricades (Flash, Harley Quinn) appear awkward doing so. It’s a minimal complaint, to be sure, but the annoyance has the capacity to spread like wildfire through the ranks of self-specified DC nerds.
Mortal Kombat’s tactical DNA is splattered all over Injustice, though the game does well to partially escape the unjust labeling of a thoughtless, cash-cow MK9 clone. Sure, there’s the signature series’s high-impact, ferocious blows and ruthless juggling combinations, but Injustice imparts a supplementary layer of strategy to the proceedings that keeps it away from a harsh button-masher branding. Direction-oriented defense takes the place of a fixed block command, and stout tosses are more streamlined than Mortal Kombat’s mixed bag of offensive breakups. The flashy, gambling-esque Clash system is another highlight, giving players the one-shot ability to interrupt combos after losing one of their health bars, segueing into a mini-game of sorts that has them betting portions of their HP meter; whoever wages more energy wins the Clash and consequently gains the upper hand. There’s also the inclusion of summonable character attacks, most of which cleverly suit whoever calls upon them. Power-centered fighters, like Superman, enact stat boosts or devastating close-quarters assaults, while other, more calculating characters rely on their ornamented contrivances to inflict heavy damage (Batman can sic robot bats on his foes, for instance). Additionally, if anyone has ever wanted to see Super Smash Bros.-style object-throwing elements in a Mortal Kombat title, this is about as close as they’re going to get. The environmental interplay scheme is easily the most unstable of the new setups, but its admittedly chaos-educing antics reveal themselves as one of Injustice’s consistent guilty pleasures.
Thankfully, the kinks in Mortal Kombat’s training and online modes have been mostly ironed out (though in-depth tutorials for winning strategies are sparse, sorry newbies), and the STAR Labs scenarios provide extra solo challenges following completion of the solo campaign. In this day and age, comic-book games almost always come with the guarantee of loads of worthy unlockables, and Injustice doesn’t disappoint. Bonus artwork, sound cues, and alternative costumes are all present in spades. Truly, what could have been a phoned-in Mortal Kombat doppelganger is an entertaining, if occasionally imbalanced, fighter, and NetherRealm deserves an amiable pat on the back for taking the risks necessary to satisfy their persnickety audience while executing their plans with confidence.