Video games have long been associated with comic books and superheroes. From City of Heroes, X-Men, Spiderman, Batman, Judge Dredd & Rogue Trooper video games have offered a possibly unique medium to translate our superhero dreams and put you in the driver’s seat. Unlike in movies, video games allow us to really give our favourite heroes and villains the life as originally imagined. No need to compromise for issues of reality, budget, the laws of physics or the fact that costumes that look great on paper are rarely flattering in real life. Now, like all licensed titles it would be an understatement to say that there had been some awful games created along the way.
As a games and comic fan who lives with an even more hardcore game and comic fan I have to say that Injustice – Gods Among Us did cause a bit of a stir when we saw the adverts and youtube vids. Stunning visuals & endorsed by geek God Kevin Smith we, at the very least, had to try. Yes, the award winning success stories of Arkham Asylum & Arkham City leave us with some hope but could a Beat ‘Em Up, once the powerhouse of video games, come out swinging, or is this game just pretty?
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
Visually the game is breathtaking, the characters are life like and true to the comic books with unlocks, including costumes from DC’s New 52 relaunch, keeping things firmly based in comic cannon. Add to this the use voice talent such as Kevin Conroy, Alam Tudyk & Adam Baldwin, among a cast drawn from actors who have played their characters comic book personae on TV, the scene is set for something that should aesthetically keep any nerd rage to a minimum. The only fly in the ointment is the notable absence of Mark Hamil as the Joker. Richard Epcar steps in and while the performance is solid the absence of Hamil when you are faced with Kevin Conroy as Batman does jar. So all star geek cast, and great visuals…but what is it like once you have your hands on the controls?
Jumping straight into a vs match it very quickly became clear that this is NOT a Tekken style button masher and that spending time in the practice mode and listening to the tutorial is HIGHLY recommended. As tutorials go it is a little clunky, and fairly charmless when compared to the excellent storytelling in the rest of the game, and considering how neatly most tutorials are included in most modern games this one is a let down but necessary to get the most out of the game. Jump straight in and without the ability to access special moves and combinations you are going to miss out on much of what this title has to offer.
That said there do appear to be some compromises as many of the moves use the same trigger combinations and this can seem a bit a bit weak. While each of the characters does have a distinctive feel and play style, the use of very similar move commands chips away a little at your sense of achievement for completing a particular move, though this may be due to my coming from the generation that cut their teeth and earned blisters learning Mortal Kombat finishing moves and timing the perfect dragon punch. By comparison younger gamers may find the less instinctive UI and added level of difficulty in accessing the game frustrating. If done deliberately I can understand, while not necessarily enjoy, the compromise although I suspect that it may well impact on some players enjoyment of the game. However, for more cynical gamers it may smack of lazy design and development.
That having been said these are niggles and investing a little patience and effort definitely reaps rewards. For a title with graphics, cast, IP and a soundtrack album that wouldn’t be out of place at a major movie launch Injustice – Gods Among Us delivers a wealth of content, with a DLC menu that promises much more to come. The story mode in particular is a joy and a MUST for comic fans. While not the interactive movie that some developers dream of the story and different points of view keeps you coming back for more. The use of cutscenes in games is a long and tiring debate between the ambitions of producers and artists against the need of gamers to play the game they paid for. This time the story arc is breathtaking and something that will have you frantically pounding your way through the next opponent to find out what happens next. Drawing from classic DC cannon enough to keep traditionalists happy there is, I am assured, more than enough new content in there to make the story look and feel original. All I know if that the story definitely had me grabbed.
While the story and cast are to be admired if the game only had story mode and vs it would feel more than a little empty, but with a variety of different challenge modes, huge unlockable archives and the S.T.A.R Labs missions adding a change of pace in gameplay (as well as additional character depth and story development) there is plenty to play with and for.
In my opinion, the sheer amount of content does mean that while definite value for money, I am not convinced that the game is good enough to hold my attention long enough to hunt down every achievement, trophy and unlock. While I can’t see myself addicted to Injustice – Gods Among Us for months to come, I can see is the title being a worthy tribute to superheroes well realised and a title I can pick up off the shelf for years to come to challenge friends to a tournament for Metahuman bragging rights.
In terms of play style this title shuns the 3D fighting environment for a play style that harkens back to the heady days of Street Fighter II; With developers NetherRealm best known for their work on Mortal Kombat this is not necessarily surprising nor do I think this takes anything away from a thoroughly enjoyable fight game. Yes, there are more realistic looking and playing fight sims out there especially with the growth of the Wii, PlayStaion Move and Kinnect, but you’re fighting with heroes and gods, so if you’re looking for realism this isn’t the title for you.
While using a classic 2D side view fighting style NetherRealm have given the game a genuine sense of the epic. The environments are iconic and atmospheric with the added fun of not only property destruction but the sort of interaction points that can turn a battle on a dime (if you get them to work). Add to this the ability to transition between arenas with a well timed blow sees NetherRealm give the game a wonderful, and needed sense of the epic.
In this game you are playing with Super Humans, Gods, and the fact that you can pound an opponent through a wall to get mauled by a giant to see them crash into a new arena a mile away gives a genuine sense of power. Good scripting, voice acting, animation and a solid variety in play styles does mean that the game can be A LOT of fun.
The Hero we Deserve?
However, this hero is flawed. The clunky tutorial, compromise on the selection of special moves and inconsistent challenge rating runs the risk of putting off both committed and casual gamers. The sheer quantity of content (over 140 STAR Labs missions alone) runs the risk of shortening the game’s lifespan rather than extending it and might have been better served as part of the DLC content rather than unlocks.
I can’t speak for other gamers but one of the great appeals for DLC and microtransaction gaming is not having to pay for large amounts of redundant content, and in this case it does make the game feel padded in places. The game is also not without bugs. A massive pain with many modern games and developers choosing to patch minor issues after release is a personal bugbear.
For Injustice – Gods Among Us inconsistent results when activating the environments using the R1 or Square + Triangle buttons is something that should have been picked up and fixed in QA. The interactive environments lend a great aspect to the battles and provide the sort of property destruction you’d expect in superhero battles. But, when you risk losing matches or challenges to a lack of responsiveness on screen while AI opponents us items that you cannot (or worse you flail at buttons trying to grab an item you NEED to finish a mission) it can easily lead to fans and players feeling cheated, especially when it victory or performances can be SO important to the gargantuan amount of unlockable content.
Hero or Villain
So let’s sum up. While a good game Injustice – Gods Among Us misses out on greatness. Much like comic books this may well end up as a bit of a niche title. The visuals, cast, and storyline should keep most comic fans grinning (Though you can guarantee there will be long debates amongst comic fans about that) and the fighting is well balanced and fun. While a little difficult to access, a bit of patience reaps genuine rewards.
However, the game, like many of our heroes, is flawed. The sheer amount of additional content feels padded in an era when downloads have forced developers to raise their game, minor bugs and the reuse of special move triggers hint at lazy development and enjoyable but generic feel. But these niggles, while frustrating, may well be the sort of thing that turn this game into a cult classic for fans.
While Gods Among Us isn’t radical or breaking new group it is fun and with the sense of detail put into its art and storytelling shows its heroes and villains the respect they deserve. It is an homage by fans to characters they love and this is shown very clearly in careful selection of the voice cast, so much so that Mark Hamil is conspicuous by his absence. Definitely not a 10 out of 10 but a fun and satisfying beat ‘em up and a definite must for DC Comic Fans.