When it comes to the fighting game genre, you're often forced to select your preferred type. Are you a player of 2D or 3D titles? Tekken or Dead or Alive? Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat? Each series has its own unique identity, restricting its audience to a specific brand. As such, you'd expect Injustice: Gods Among Us, the latest brawler from NetherRealm Studios, to cater to Mortal Kombat fans, but instead it's a much more ambitious fighter, incorporating elements from multiple different titles, in order to deliver something familiar yet unique.
Don't expect the title to redefine your expectations straight away, though. At first, it feels a lot like the previous Mortal Kombat, with DC Comics characters and arenas. The studio's trademark ostentatious aesthetic fits the superhero setting perfectly, with character models and backdrops that look impressive in-game. There are some muddy textures, but you probably won't notice these in the heat of combat.
The various comic book heroes and villains feel a lot like Mortal Kombat characters to begin with, too. Batman's slide attack, for example, is identical to that of Sub Zero's, while many of the fighters' special moves are activated with the same gestures as you'd expect from an Ed Boon brawler. However, the comparisons are only surface deep, and once you delve deeper into the game, you'll uncover an abundance of mechanics and systems borrowed from other releases, such as Power Stone, Marvel vs. Capcom, and Street Fighter.
Though you fight on a two dimensional plain, the environment is alive with strategic possibilities. Items and gadgets in the background can be manipulated dynamically during a bout to damage your foe, while a well-placed attack can send your enemies careering through walls and obstacles. Brilliantly, these special attacks will prompt utterly ridiculous transitions, as the battle changes location on the fly, much like in Dead or Alive 5.
A designated power button – mapped to circle – activates each fighter's unique special ability. Wonder Woman, for example, can switch between a sword and a whip, while Superman can activate his super strength. Meanwhile, the R2 trigger expends a chunk of a three-stage power bar, increasing damage when combined with a special move, or prompting a more effective block. When you've built up this meter fully, you can exchange all three sections to fuel your character's super ability. In the case of Batman, this prompts the Dark Knight to summon the Batmobile, which subsequently runs over your opponent. Each of these moves are a real spectacle, and fun to watch at first.
Importantly, the characters feel right. Each hero and villain from the initial roster of 24 looks and sounds the part, with many familiar voice actors reprising their roles from the worlds of cartoon, television, and video games. Furthermore, the move-sets and arenas feel appropriate, and capture the essence of the source material brilliantly.
As with the previous Mortal Kombat, the developer has concocted another lengthy single player story mode that finds you jumping in and out of the tights of the majority of the roster. One moment you'll be fighting in the streets of Gotham as Batman, and the next you'll be beneath the water as Aquaman, with the underlying thread depicting the narrative of a tyrannical Superman, who's turned into a cold dictator by a successful attack orchestrated by Lex Luthor and the Joker. It's a decent plot that does an excellent job of accommodating the extensive roster, and it even manages to explain away some narrative holes in the process.
Beyond the campaign, there's a comprehensive training mode designed to get you to grips with each character, in addition to the obligatory arcade mode. Meanwhile, the S.T.A.R.S lab serves up 240 challenges across a wide range of objectives, with quirky mini games and more for you to complete. Each stage has three tiers, with rewards including costumes, concept art, and more. Unfortunately, this does feel like a bit of a grind in places, but the wealth of content is still wildly impressive. The game even features a dynamic difficulty setting, which helps you out when things get too tough.
Finally, there's the online mode, which offers random fights, private matches against friends, and rooms where you can challenge others in a winner stays on-style tournament. Unfortunately, the component isn't quite as polished as we'd like, with lag being a frequent offender. When it works, the action is a lot of fun – but it's frustrating when you're forced to play with stiff characters due to a dodgy connection.
Injustice: Gods Among Us takes the best elements of 2011's excellent Mortal Kombat reboot and fuses them with a faithful superhero setting, resulting in a solid fighting game with a likeable cast. The online multiplayer may not always be consistent, but this is still a heroic effort that's more than fit for the Gods.