Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Injustice: Gods Among Us review

    I have an affection for fighting games which goes back to the Super Nintendo version of Streetfighter 2. The internet has revived much of the joy to be had playing against strangers in arcade games with multiplayer even if design has moved away from being able to sit in front of a TV with friends and multiple controllers. Of course, I've never been terribly good at fighting games since I'm a compulsive button masher. Likewise, I've always wanted more story and more investment in the characters while plenty of gamers I know prefer less (with some wishing there was none at all). Thus, I was a little skeptical anything could make Injustice: Gods Among Us interesting. Then I saw the introduction.

George Newbern's acting both as "normal" and "crazy" Superman is quite impressive.
    The premise is Superman goes insane after the death of Lois Lane and destruction of Metropolis by the Joker. Executing the Joker for his crimes, Superman creates a totalitarian state ruled by him and the corrupted version of the Justice League.

    This premise would probably be too dark and a character assassination of Clark Kent if not for the fact we immediately switch to an alternate reality where our heroes are still in existence. Superman's corruption occurred in a parallel reality and "our" heroes are recruited by Batman to take the evil Superman down. Longtime fans of DC comics and their spin-offs will recognize the "Evil DC Superheroes vs. Good Ones" plot as very similar to both the seminal comic series Kingdom Come (though Superman isn't the bad guy there) and the "Justice Lords" episodes of the Justice League cartoon. There's even elements of Mark Waid's Irredeemable.

    Some fans have expressed that it's a bit of a cop out to have the renegade Superman not be the 'real' one but I'd argue against this. As much as there's a kind of seedy joy to seeing heroes fall from grace, I'm an optimist in real life and prefer to see good triumph over evil. As such, my chosen character in Injustice: Gods Among Us is Superman and he's going to beat the crap out of the version who disgraced everything he stands for.

The environments are extremely well-designed.
    The gameplay is hard to really talk about since it's nothing new but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's more or less an adaptation of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, which was more or less an adaptation of the Mortal Kombat franchise to begin with. There's an addition of many mini-games which are fun and the cool factor of destructible environments but people who have played fighting games know what to expect. Two guys sit on opposite sides of the stage, start pounding on one another, then one finishes the other off.

    The stage design is wonderful, making Metropolis and Gotham City as well as so many other sights evocative. You can fight in the Fortress of Solitude or Bat Cave plus plenty of other recognizable locations. I especially liked the Atlantis, Hall of Justice, and Insurgency stages which really qualify as works of art.

Harley Quinn makes any game better. So, it gets a +1 just for that.
    At heart, though, what makes this game work is the fact its a bunch of recognizable characters the audience cares about going through a dramatic arc. For perhaps the first time, the plotline is not just an excuse for the fighting (well, it is, but it's not just an excuse). The plotline of the game takes place through multiple perspectives, chronicling various characters both good and evil as they explore the Brave New World created by the alternate Superman. You get to play from the perspective of Green Arrow, Superman, Batman, Cyborg, the Joker, and others.

    My favorite moment in the campaign is when Aquaman from the "normal" universe receives an ultimatum directed at the alternate one to surrender Atlantis. He proceeds to kick the ass of Superman's flunkies (including Captain Marvel) in a truly epic way. I also love Wonder Woman standing up for the true ideals of the Amazons (no matter what DC comics says): peace and justice. The voice actors give it their all and you manage to believe everyone is who they're supposed to be. The fact the game got so many actors famous for doing the characters in other mediums.

    This is a work which really "gets" the characters of the DC universe. The moral ambiguity and co-dependency of Harley Quinn, the peaceful warrior credo of Wonder Woman, and Damien Wayne's absurdest need for a father figure who unleashes his dark side are all handled wonderfully. I'm annoyed Supergirl doesn't have a role in the story but, otherwise, I'm impressed by so many characters having cool ties to the new world. 

The gameplay's biggest point? It's fun.
    I will say, the story gets a little too dark in places. For example: Not only does the Joker have to kill Lois Lane and Metropolis but the game makes it so Lois is pregnant with Superman's child at the time. I was like, really? You felt the need to go there? Then there's the fate of a certain child superhero's double who Superman executes to show he's fully beyond the moral event horizon. You know, like turning the planet into a Soviet police state wasn't enough. Overall, though, this was a very impressive bit of writing.

    How good is the plotting in the game? The fact they take the time to explain why Green Arrow can fight Superman in a fist fight along with the Joker. Sure, the excuse amounts to a magic Kryptonian-technology pill which makes people almost as strong as Superman but it works. The fact this excuse shows up in cutscenes is a great little bit of fan continuity which "sells" it to the player. There's a few slow parts in the plot but most of them are quite interesting.

    In conclusion, Injustice: Gods Among Us is a great piece of capepunk fiction. Superman's corruption and the toxicity it brings to his fellow heroes is a suitably well-developed tragedy. The fact it isn't, "our" Superman doesn't impact the fact the new world is treated as a valuable and important place in its own right. The fact I was invested in the story from start to finish says its worth getting for those who likes fighting games. If you don't, the storyline is unlikely to change your opinion but this is at the top of storytelling in its genre. With the exception of Arkham Asylum's games, this is probably the best DC comics video game ever made.


1 comment:

  1. If you think about it that bit about Lois Lane being pregnant with Clark's child darkly mirrors The Joker's possible backstory in the killing Joke. i'm a sucker for thematic similarities with Heroes and villains so i gave that part a pass. though the part about Billy i agree.