Injustice: Gods Among Us PS3 preview – superhero brawler goes dark
Metropolis nuked. Millions dead. These are the first words that greet you – headlining the Daily Planet – at the outset of Injustice’s campaign. It’s a familiar DC comics scenario, although never before on quite this scale – millions dead, for Spandex’s sake. That’s Gods Among Us’s first big surprise, and the second follows as soon as you tap Start. Usually fighters kick off with vignettes of men adopting combat stances or tying bandanas around their heads. Netherrealm’s new brawler does story differently.
Injustice: Gods Among Us PS3 preview
As you’re introduced to Injustice’s roster of storied heroes and villains – a blend of mainstream icons such as Batman, and fan-focused additions like Flash and Solomon Grundy – it’s clear this is no dream sequence about to blur its way back into reality. Superman’s stomping ground really has been levelled, and the man behind the massacre is the Joker himself.
You’re finding all this out in a cut-scene that doesn’t ask you to so much as throw a punch for well over five minutes, despite teetering on the edge of hand-to-hand combat almost constantly. Superman’s understandably miffed when he wakes up and realises half the city burned to death on his watch while he was drugged, for example. Only when Batman and armed-to-the-teeth mercenary Deathstroke meet, though, do we get the chance to sample the Dark Knight’s strength, reflexes and gadgetry first-hand.
Injustice’s control set combines light and heavy attacks with ‘Character Traits’ – in Batman’s case his Batarangs – giving you a firm grasp of superheroics without too much time fretting over move lists or wearing your thumbs down to lifeless nubs pasting lifeless AI in a graph-paper training level.
That simplified pad layout means you’ve got to make every move count
On the flipside, that simplified pad layout means you’ve got to make every move count – button-bashing is as useful here as it is while desperately trying to remember your PIN number through the fug of the nine Jagerbombs you just necked and now need to pay for. And that doesn’t just mean using ranged attacks like said Batarangs and pulling off the more powerful combos with the D-pad and attack or quarter circle inputs: it means turning the environment to your advantage, too. Because what self-respecting 3D fighter doesn’t have multi-tiered, destructible stages in this day and age? Even Dead Or Alive 5 managed that – and pretty well, too.
o, with Bats under our control and Deathstroke operating under what we suspect with some shame to be a fairly forgiving difficulty level, we start by arming and deploying the Batarangs with a double-press of Circle. It works a treat. Encouraged, we move in close, but find our punches and kicks outmatched by Deathstroke’s longer-ranged kicks.
Immediately discouraged, it’s time to try a different approach: the stage itself. In desperation, back against the wall, we jab at R1 and unleash an environmental attack that pushes our foe into a wall of electricity. With Mr Stroke stunned and at distance, we use the grapple gun to reel him in and kick him back away, calling to mind Scorpion’s “get over here!” chain attack from Netherrealm’s impressive 2011 version of Mortal Kombat.
MK’s just-right speed is retained too – a welcome move – although each character’s skillset does have a bespoke feel. Batman, it takes us the best part of an entire fight to realise, is all about long to mid-range attacks. He’s what creative director (and MK royalty) Ed Boon would call a ‘gadget character’, lacking the weighty punches and kicks of ‘power characters’ but restoring the balance at a distance. And when any character has filled their special bar by landing enough attacks, they’re rewarded with a special attack that not only drains 30% of the opponent’s health bar, but makes quite the song and dance about it – Batman finishes his by literally running them over with the Batmobile.
As the story unfolds, you progress from one character to the next, rather than sticking with Green Lantern through to the credits screen
If you’re thinking, ‘Screw that noise, I’ll stick with a power character,’ Injustice has some news for you: not in single-player you won’t. As the story unfolds, you progress from one character to the next, rather than sticking with Green Lantern through to the credits screen. It’s a good chance to get to know each character’s weaknesses, apart from anything else – there’s nothing like taking a loss to make you realise what sort of approach works best for whom.
Perhaps the primary reason for Injustice’s unusual structure, though, is to tell its story – only the Blazblue series has given such attention to spinning a yarn as of late, and the Hollywood blockbuster vibe is Injustice’s raison d’être. It’s the reason the dev chose to stick with three dimensions instead of two, dodging a Marvel vs Capcom comic-book aesthetic and countering with something glossier, more Joss Whedon.
Netherrealm tries to blur the line as much as possible between its cut-scenes and fights, occasionally throwing a mini-game at you to segue from one to the other. Batman gets the chance to lob Batarangs at his next combatant, Bane, affecting the follically redundant one’s health bar when the fight begins proper. Honestly, it’s a slightly hamfisted addition – there’s no real danger of not hitting Bane as he strolls towards you – but perhaps later mini-games will carry more clout.
If you came for the fighting, Injustice’s narrative bent might frustrate, but it’s still exciting to see a game that as yet has fewer than 20 playable characters and instead focuses on making each unique, and true to their source material’s strengths and weaknesses. Skullgirls was a fascinating fighter for doing just that with only eight characters – now imagine if those characters were freaking Batman and Superman.