Friday, April 19, 2013

Review: Injustice: Gods Among Us (PS3)!

Let’s face it, super heroes are jerks. They are musclebound oafs who can’t solve the simplest problem without punching somebody in the throat. Long gone is the mythical, heroic age, today’s modern heroes are all about inflicting injuries followed by sarcastic quips. And grimacing like they’re shitting. Cyborg appears to be the worst offender here, pumping his fist in the air and bellowing, “Booyah!” after hurting someone. After knocking the crap out of Catwoman he let’s us know that he’s, “Still turned on”. Welcome to the progressive world of Injustice: Misogyny Among Us? That’s probably overstating, but Injustice’s biggest crime is that it’s dumb and unsophisticated.

The comics fan is a curious beast. The media leads us to believe that these are the kids that were constantly tortured and humiliated in high school, usually by muscle bound jocks who would then scream, “Booyah!”. So why idolize these monsters in fiction? Do you often think about the snappy quips that you would come up with after punching somebody in the face? Sure, violence is par for the course in fantasy good versus evil adventures, but how about some humility? Honour? Heroism?

Editorialising aside, this is a fighting game, fuelled by bone-crunching punches and kicks, so we’re going to embrace them! The dialogue/personalities/values on display might be questionable, but Injustice is still pretty damn good at what it does. So before I suck all the fun out of the room, let’s get our super-powered fight on... after the jump!

Now, if you can push past the storytelling, the fighting is furious and fun. Which is not to say that the ambitiously large Story Mode is not without merit - there’s a grotesque pleasure from watching a ton of cutscenes in which various iconic heroes and villains run into each other and find an excuse to fight. The issue I ran into here was that I STARTED with Story Mode and these constant cutscene interruptions were dampening my ability to get into the flow of the game. Two minutes of fighting, four minutes of dialogue. After the 30th interruption I began to skip through them just to I could actualy PLAY . But I do appreciate its inclusion and it’s something I will go back to in order to absorb the story properly. It can be confusing at times - there’s a lot of dimension jumping, alternate versions of characters, and bad guys wearing eyeliner. Evil eyeliner Superman is terrifying. Tackle Story Mode once you’re familiar with the rest.

But if you signed up purely to get your punch on then you won’t be disappointed. There’s a deep roster of varied characters (24 to begin with) each with an extensive arsenal of character specific moves. And you’re going to have to get familiar with, and execute those moves, Mortal Kombat or Streetfighter style - no casual one-button special moves here! This is where the real thought has gone into the game and the multitude of moves are both aesthetically pleasing and creative. Take the Joker for example, who becomes a wonderful mishmash of Joker lore, drawing from all manner of sources, past and present. At times his stance evokes Heath Ledger posing on a poster, but many of his moves and mannerisms also evoke Moore’s The Killing Joke. He as acid squirting flower and chattering teeth, but he also slashes wildly with a knife. And his super move is brutal, including a point blank pistol shot to the face and a wake up call with a bazooka. The majority of characters also share this same level of inventiveness and detail. This is where the game really shines.

Although a brief tangent - Aquaman. Often the object of ridicule, he feels way too fast and overpowered to me in this game, as though the developers especially want to lure us into playing him. Whenever I go up against him I am bombarded by his trident, whether he’s launching it at me, flipping me over his head, or stabbing it into me faster than the Flash. (The Flash ironically feels positively lumbering compared to Aquaman). Does anyone else feel this way? (And don’t try to give me that, “No, dude, read the New 52! Aquaman is badass now!” because I read those self-referential first few issues and he’s STILL lame. Any good will generated by acknowledging the jokes quickly deteriorates into a silly piranha man story meshed with scenes with Mira that look like they’re from a cheap romance novel. Screw you, Aquaman. I’d punch you in the balls if you didn’t keep kicking my arse).

What were we talking about? Oh yeah...

Similar attention has been paid to the level environments, featuring iconic locations like the Batcave, the Fortress of Solitude and Atlantis. Each is populated with destructible or destructive elements that can be directed at your opponent, often in character specific ways. For example, there is a motorcycle parked outside Wayne Manor. An agile character like Batman or Nightwing can leap aboard it and run down the enemy. A larger, more powerful character will simply pick up the entire bike and smash it over a head. The levels are also multi-stage if you correctly trigger them. Knocking an opponent off the edge of a level map will trigger an insanely over-the-top cutscene which will not only injure that player, but transport you both to the next part of the stage. Both of these elements greatly add to the unpredictably of each match and assist in varying up your strategy. It is crucial that you’re aware of your environment at all times.

I also credit Injustice with giving us a variety of modes and challenges to not only keep things fresh, but also respond to ways in which you may prefer to play. For single players there's the aforementioned Story Mode, plus a Battle Mode in which you can fight and unlock themed lists of opponents, playing through without all the interrupting cutscenes. There’s a STAR Labs section which has about a billion challenge matches which require you to defeat an enemy under unusual circumstances (e.g. debris raining from the sky). Many of these are character specific, for example there’s a Superman mission where you have far less health than your enemy but can recharge in shifting sunbeams. And then, of course there is multiplayer...

Now I can’t speak much about multiplayer at this stage as I haven’t played locally and I’m having a lot of grief connecting to an opponent online. It’s already frustrating to spend five minutes queueing for a two minute fight, but then every time the stage loads up and I’m about to fight, it loses the game and I have to start again. It’s on the backburner for now.

But even in singleplayer you level up and continue to unlock character skins, production art, music, and backgrounds/characters/icon for you identifying player card. Although the basic fighting mechanic always remains the same, there’s plenty to keep you occupied and if you were to complete every single challenge it would take a hell of a lot of time. Injustice has legs and I think people will be exploring it and perfecting it for many months to come.

So I may be underwhelmed by the meathead script and characterization but Injustice is ultimately too much fun to not recommend. Skip through the cutscenes and have a blast being Batman.

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