Comic book fanboys have long been arguing many of the deepest, most important questions of life.
For instance, if Superman and, say, Green Lantern went toe-to-toe, who would end up flying away with a satisfied smirk on his mug? Riddle me that! Or what would happen if Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl decided to muss each other's hair and start mixing it up with a few Amazonian knuckle sandwiches and Thanagarian mace blows? Or, hey, what if the Clown Prince of Crime splashed some soda water in Captain Marvel's face?
OK. So they're not right up there with how God can give us free will and simultaneously predestine our future, but they can still feel pretty important at 3 a.m. And 'til now, those kinds of what ifs were relegated to basement get-togethers and the occasional cover of a DC comic (where they were rarely played out to a satisfying resolution on the pages within).
But now, with Injustice: Gods Among Us, the answers and gripping drama (read: battles) leading up to them are finally within reach.
The game is designed as a 3-D-character-on-a-2-D-battlefield fighter. And its moves will feel and look pretty familiar to anyone who's played a one-on-one fighting game in the past. (Especially so for those already exposed to the latest reboot of the Mortal Kombat franchise.)
The gameplay centers around the proper timing of unique character flips, jumps and special souped-up attacks in locales ranging from the streets of Metropolis to the halls of Atlantis to Batman's secreted-away batcave stronghold. But this is more than just a pick-an-arena-and-ring-the-bell arcade fighter. There's an extensive comic book tale to play through as well.
What's the Story, Supes?
The story mode revolves around an alternate reality where Superman is tricked by the ultra-evil madman Joker into doing horrible things—including killing his beloved Lois Lane and nuking his adopted home city of Metropolis. The Joker's seemingly never-ending nastiness pushes everyone's favorite superguy to the snapping point this time. This version of Supes decides that he's done with turning the other invulnerable cheek. He's not up for another round of locking the crazies away only to watch them escape and kill again. So he takes Joker out in cold blood (it's offscreen) and determines to use all his might to force the world's high-end heroes and villains to tow a new line: Live lawfully and follow my lead … or die.
Of course, even the most avid letter-of-the-law hero is bound to find that kind of deadly force and usurpation of freedom to be a bridge too far. And so it's up to Batman to reach into the alternate dimensions and bring in some duplicate heroes who can help set things straight and overcome a super-good guy who's turned super-bad.
The interesting part of this story mode is that it doesn't play out like a lame "bad-guy-sets-up-a-tournament-for-fighters" retread. Instead, it's a compelling, well-voiced animated tale giving off the vibe of an interactive movie. And from within that interactive movie, you get to keep switching capes, playing as a wide range of characters—from Batman, Aquaman and Green Arrow to Wonder Woman and Flash. Dark-side characters such as Lex Luther and Joker are fair game too, just so you know.
Ouch, Oh and Ooh-La-La
There's nothing unique or difficult about the fighting moves here. But the game's Clash system definitely adds a new twist: Performing attacks or taking hits charges up a character's super meter, which can then be used for special attacks. At one point in a battle, however, a clash animation begins onscreen—usually when one of the battlers has lost quite a bit of his life bar. Once that animation kicks in, players have a few seconds to secretly wager an amount of their super meter, with the highest bidder subsequently dealing a healthy dose of damage to his opponent … or healing himself. That puts extra value on saving some power for when it's really needed late in a match, and it adds one more element of fight management to the mix.
Now, this is a T-rated battler that can be described as, let's say, brutal-lite. Small splashes of blood spurt from combatants when they're hit with punches, batarangs, poison sprays, gun shots, heat-vision blasts, or the occasional missile or vehicle. Jokers like, uh, the Joker also have a knife up their sleeve or a blade in their boot for a quick bloody slash or two.
And when those Clash interludes kick in, things can become even more bruising. The yellow-beaming Sinestro, for instance, will use the moment to violently crush a foe (repeatedly) with an enormous hammer or maybe between two ring-projected buses. We only see one character ever actually die, however, in a cutscene heat-vision-blast-to-the-brain kill. More typical: In one-on-one battles, defeated fighters simply sit or take a knee when their life bar runs out.
Other content issues include a smattering of foul language (uses of the s-word, along with "h‑‑‑" and "d‑‑n"). And then there are some super-suited female heroes who let their revealing spandex wardrobe, well, reveal too much. Joker's main squeeze Harley is one such woman whose outfit is all cleavage and midriff. And then there's an alternate-reality Wonder Woman, whose real superpower must be the ability to keep strips of cloth and armor stuck in place over her impossibly buff and buxom torso!
Still Fighting for Freedom
All that being said, I should restate that this is a hero's game of save-the-day battles. And it makes it perfectly clear that right is right and even well-intentioned wrong is still very wrong. These good guys may not be cheering "for truth, justice and the American way" like they used to in comic book days gone by. But they're still very much into happy endings and rescuing the innocent.