Superman is not a character that gets discussed much in horror circles, and for obvious reason. He represents a lot of things that are diametrically opposed to the genre as a whole: he has a near-infallible code of ethics, understanding that his power is not meant for domination of the human race, but its protection. His hands can crush coal into diamonds, but they are also used to try and lift the human race to a greater good. Injustice: Gods Among Us asks a truly terrifying question: what if Superman gets pushed past his limits, past his capacity for compassion? What would finally make the Man of Steel snap?
Netherrealm Studios, the team of ex-Midway developers behind Mortal Kombat, raise this question in the format that they know best: a fighting game. This is not the team’s first pass at the DC Universe, as they crossed over DC’s stable of characters with the brutal fighters of the Mortal Kombat games in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. While that game was moderately successful, its crossover model made both franchises feel diluted: Mortal Kombat’s infamous penchant for violence had to be defanged for a T-Rating, and the DC characters felt weirdly out of place with MK’s cat of shaolin monks and ninjas. Injustice solves this problem by focusing completely on the DC Universe, folding it into a fighting game model that retains much of the MK DNA while still managing to create its own identity.
The plot of Injustice is the sort of thing summer comic crossover events are made of: in a parallel universe, The Joker nukes Metropolis, reducing everyone Superman knows and loves to ash. Driven mad with grief, Superman murders The Joker and decides on his new role as a global dictator, killing all who oppose his self-named Regime (quick aside: do regimes ever actually refer to themselves as such?) and ruling over the Earth with an iron fist.
This, of course, is simply an excuse for 24 DC characters to beat the living hell out of each other in the sort of two-fisted lunacy that makes fanboys titter in delight. There’s a suspension of disbelief—even more so than comics ask—when it comes to the godlike Superman being beaten into submission by, say, Harley Quinn, but it’s completely acceptable when the mechanics of Injustice are so well-honed. Netherrealm has made their mark in the 2D fighting arena, and Injustice keeps that track record going. MK fans will be able to slip right into the spandex of these heroes and villains with a minimum of effort, and will certainly appreciate the extra goodies thrown into each multi-tiered arena. Each battlefield is littered with interactive items to help reduce your opponent’s life meter: rocket boosters, oxygen tanks, even the Batmobile can be used to put an additional hurting on your foes. The edge of the levels also offer the ability to smash your enemy through walls into another segment of the arena, which adds even more variety to the battles.
The other major difference between Injustice and MK is the lack of Fatalities, for obvious reasons, replaced by over-the-top Super Moves. Dishing out and taking damage fills up a meter that can be used to pump up special moves or released in a single wave of destruction. The resulting moves are absurd, Rube Goldberg-like sequences that border on lunacy, sending characters into the stratosphere, through the core of the Earth, or on the receiving end of a bazooka blast to the face. While they lack the gore of a Fatality, they make the game’s battles feel exactly as they should: an earth-shattering brawl between two superhumans.
Once you get past the game’s long Story Mode, there’s still plenty to keep Injustice in your console’s disc tray. There’s the obligatory arcade-style ladder match (called Battles here) to which you can apply a host of tweaks and modifiers to keep you on your toes. There are also S.T.A.R. Labs Missions which replicate MK’s Challenge Tower, right down to XP points which you can use to unlock additional costumes, Battle modifiers, and artwork for your Player Card.
The Player Card is a ridiculously customizable statistics display that allows prospective opponents to view your stats before battling you online. This is but one of the many robust features added to multiplayer, including the entirely-too-entertaining ability to bet XP in King of the Hill matches on battles as you wait for your turn in the queue. Virtual gambling on a fighting game…impressive.
Despite the DC Universe wrapper, Injustice is a fighting game with rock-solid mechanics and enough features to give it incredibly long legs. However, Netherrealm clearly has deep affection for this universe and its characters, offering up scads of fan service to please DC readers be it minor characters in the background or winking references to the obscure. Fighting game fans, comic readers or not, have a new obsession to while away the time…