One of the classic geek pastimes is arguing over the superiority of superheroes. Is Superman or the Flash faster? Does Batman have a higher IQ than Lex Luthor? Ultimately, these debates break down to a question of might. It always boils down to who would win in a fight.
NetherRealm Studios lets fans answer these "what if" scenarios and offers up a compelling story to boot. "Injustice: Gods Among Us" continues the evolution of the developer behind the "Mortal Kombat" series. It's by far the biggest change for creative lead Ed Boon and his team. "Injustice" borrows elements from their past works, like "Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe," and brings some needed innovations.
"Injustice" introduces players to an alternate universe where Superman has gone mad. The Joker tricked the Man of Steel into killing Lois Lane and their unborn child. At the same time, the crime lord sets off a nuke in Metropolis. Those tragedies lead Supes to kill the Joker and set up a one Earth government ruled by superheroes.
It's a bizarre world, one where Superman is an authoritarian leader, but crime and conflict have been quashed. This doesn't sit well with Batman and others, so the Dark Knight discovers a way to bring the good version of the DC superheroes to this realm and free the people once more.
With two sets of DC characters running around, NetherRealm creates a fertile ground for cataclysmic fights and an epic plotline. Fans play through a Batman vs. Batman matchup or see who would win in a spat between the Joker and Harley Quinn. There are plenty of scenarios and minigames to tackle over the single-player campaign's 12 chapters.
Those expecting "Injustice" to be like "Mortal Kombat" will be surprised to find out that it's more like "Street Fighter IV." NetherRealm does away with the block button; pressing back is good enough. A majority of special moves are done with the familiar quarter-circle motions. Players can dash back and forth by double tapping in either direction. These changes make an unfamiliar game easier to learn.
But the better improvements come in the environment and the comeback mechanics baked into the fighting system. "Injustice" does a brilliant job of making the stages a part of the battle. Players can pick cars out of the air and smash them into foes or uses devices to escape corners.
In stages such as the Fortress of Solitude, punching rivals so they go tumbling through rooms is the norm. Fighters can even use the environment in a combo, slamming foes into the background before juggling them in the air. It pays to know the ins and outs of a stage now, and it factors into attack and defense.
The comeback mechanics are more unusual. First, there are the ultra moves that do heavy damage but need a full power meter to activate. They're always fun and absurdly exaggerated, amplifying the size and scope of the fight. Then there's the Clash move, which lets players wager their power meter in hopes of winning the exchange. Whoever risks the most meter wins the Clash, dealing heavy damage or healing the character. It adds another layer of strategy and is fitting, giving rivals a chance to banter like in the comic books.
"Injustice" introduces good ideas; unfortunately, they don't seem as polished or balanced as they could be. Players don't rack up enough meter energy to take advantage of the higher-level moves. The character power is important to some fighters more than others, while the fluidity of combat just isn't there. The pacing of a match can feel staggered.
Still, fans have to admire the risks that NetherRealm took. It's not the prettiest fighting game or the most responsive, but there are enough fresh ideas to make the title worthwhile for DC aficionados.
Contact Gieson Cacho at 510-735-7076 or email@example.com. Read his blog at http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei.
'Injustice: Gods Among Us'
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Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U