Thirsty for Injustice

I miss the Earth so much, I miss my wife, It's lonely out in space

Definitely get the Ultimate Edition

Injustice: Gods Among Us - 2013
Produced by Hector Sanchez
Directed by Ed Boon
Developed by NetherRealm Studios

This is not a review.

They never are, even though they sometimes are, but this one definitely isn't.

I come not to tell you whether Injustice: Gods Among Us is a great game or not.  I come to tell you how great of a game it is.

The fighting game genre is a tricky one.  Victim of a long, slow decline, fighters have been dominated by a few core franchises ever since Sega dropped out of the console race.  As I'm writing, here in mid-2015, Tekken is preparing its 7th whole-numbered entry, Soul Calibur; its 6th, Dead or Alive and Virtua Fighter are on their 5th main entries, Mortal Kombat is up to X, and while Street Fighter is merely prepping its Vth entry, it bears mentioning that the first IV Street Fighters each came out in multiple editions.  VERY few new fighting games have been able to break into that top-tier class.  Sure, you have your hardcore niche fighters like BlazBlue but no one is breaking into the AAA club without taking a AAA chance.

Injustice not only takes that chance, but evolves the fighting game for the modern player.  Virtually every aspect of design is addressed with the question "How can this be more FUN?" 

No home field advantage
The first aspect where that comes into play is the core premise.  Rather than starting with new, unknown characters in common video game character tropes, Injustice is based in an alternate timeline of the DC Comics Universe, with a bevy of beloved characters in common comic book tropes.  NetherRealm had previously made a Mortal Kombat vs the DCU fighter, but the inconsistency between MK violence and DC violence was the source of a lot of criticism.  For some reason it was the Joker pulling a gun in MKvsDCU that caused a 5-minute notroversy.  Now, out on their own, the DC characters are approached with fresh eyes, and unleashed to fully throw down within the context of their reality.  As such, the combat feels really fresh, being designed for superheroes rather than martial arts combat, as most other fighting games are.  HOW the combat achieves this sensation involves the combination of a number of elements.

Don't want no scrubs
First off, there's the attention paid to these previously established characters.  They all look and move the way they should, and most of them have a variety of alternate costumes.  Most importantly, of course, each one of them fights the way that they should, barring adjustments for balance.  They're split between Power types and Gadget types -- a basic acknowledgement that not all superheroes come to their abilities in the same way.  Obviously Superman could finish Batman with a single punch under ordinary circumstances (...and shut up about Frank Miller already. How much kryptonite do you think there IS on Earth? Too much to knock out of Batman's hand with heat vision or a thrown automotive factory? Yeah, shut it.)  While it's certainly POSSIBLE to beat a Power with a Gadget, it's seldom an advantageous position (unless you're Deathstroke).  Superman uses punches, heat vision, super breath and swooping moves.  Wonder Woman can switch between fists & lasso moves and sword & shield moves, and throw her tiara to boot.  Deathstroke is brutal with long range gun moves and short range sword flurries.  Nightwing is more inspired by martial skills, using electrified fighting sticks or a bo staff.  Batman... he punches and flings his cape around a lot.  Confidentially, I haven't figured out how to get a lot out of Batman, but at least he looks like... well, the stiff movie Batmen more than the athletic Batman I once knew, or even the brutarian from the Arkham games.  I suspect it's in him, but buried in some of the more complex combos.

Hold still...
While a lot has been done to balance the clever humans with the indestructible gods -- essentially consisting of down-powering the impact of godly punches -- there ARE balance issues, particularly those related to ranged attacks.  There are a few characters who can strike from any distance, and some are less blockable than others.  These can turn into some wickedly cruel matches, allowing the player with the ranged attack to either slaughter their enemy from afar, or force them into a relentless close range fight with little respite.

It's not necessarily a case of there being a few overpowered characters, as the common complaint about fight games goes, but that MOST of the characters are overpowered... and a few just aren't AS overpowered. As players, we have had to establish some loose house rules -- 1) No fair choosing a Power after someone else chooses a Gadget (except Deathstroke; see Rule 2), and 2) the Restricted Characters: Sinestro (death from above), Aquaman (death from below), Deathstroke (death from over there) & MK's Scorpion (death from within) should mostly fight each other.  The best fights come from well paired characters.  While that's always been true of fighting games, it's especially true here. Character-specific rivals from the comics often make good pairings, because they have the history (and purpose) of being well-matched.  I may not know how to get much out of Batman, but Batgirl and Nightwing are great against each other or Joker and Harley Quinn.

Wa-a-ait for it...
Adding to the character-driven combat, each character has a special ability button and a super move.  The sauce that powers up the super seems to come largely from taking damage, which makes it a handy game changer.  These are HUGE moves, like Doomsday pummeling you through the Earth and back or Lex Luthor calling in a satellite strike.  These take off huge chunks of health, BUT they can be dodged or blocked (if you're quick), depending on the character and how their super initiates.  Some are easier to land than others, and in Batgirl's case, it took us a long time to discover than hers can only be triggered in the air.

But that's not all!  Each level is filled with several interactive objects.  There's often a zone at the center of a level where an opponent can be kicked into the background and bounce back.  There are objects that Supers can pick up and throw, or Gadgets can bounce off of or blow up, depending on their style.  Punching a console in the Batcave will launch the Batmobile's Batmissles to knock an encroaching opponent on his Batass.  Personally, I like to slap folks around with the pig hanging in Arkham Asylum's kitchen.  These things really augment the epic nature of these battles.

You're the one in her hand
The levels also have an even bigger feature.  Most of them feature 2 stages (some more, some less), which can be accessed by punching a foe off the correct edge of the screen.  This sends them crashing through a wall of hurt to pick up the fight in another place.  Gotham & Metropolis go from street level to rooftop (to an interior, in the later).  Havoc rages around the Hall of Justice, inside and out.

And about those stages.  They're mostly well-known locales from the DCU, rendered beautifully, but there's so much more to them, and that's another part of that "reconsidering fun" agenda.  In addition to the ways one can interact with the stages, there's just so much going ON in there, and the fan service is served up hot n' hearty.  As battles progress, the sheer amount of UNLEASHED AWESOMENESS causes an impact on the environment.  Statues topple.  Buildings crumble.  The power goes out in Gotham.  A blimp explodes.  Giants collide.  Devastation abounds.  Easter eggy background characters go about their own business.  It's incredibly well orchestrated, and every element augments the sensation of doing godly battle across the world stage.

That's not even all they have going on in there.  There's a lesser class of special move known as "meter burn" which my gaming partner and I have not yet gotten the hang of, and a whole other fight event called a Clash, which involves some sort of speed wagering, but we've really only ever triggered that by accident, and we still don't understand why one or the other of us wins such confrontations, but usually one of us gains some health or does bonus damage.  Honestly, there are a lot of ways to lay down smacks, and every time we get the hang of another feature, it ripples through our gameplay, making us adapt.  I get, from a more hardcore fighting stance, that these things are experiences we're supposed to have with other fighters, but I've never had the experience myself.  Injustice conveys a sense of wanting you to figure it out, where others -- including and especially Mortal Kombat -- have made that feel like protected knowledge.

Whose house?
Another interesting twist that really punctuates the theatricality of the battles is the life bar.  Each fight comes with 2 life bars, and there's a brief pause in the action whenever the first one is emptied.  It's a small thing, but the effect it has on the rhythm of the game adds to the dramatic structure of the game.  It's always bittersweet when you unleash a Super or knock you opponent into another part of the level, only to realize that your foe had a smaller segment left in their first life bar than the damage you'd have done them.  Sometimes the pause is a nice breather, if you've been getting slapped around, and sometimes it's a drag because it forces some distance between you, giving certain characters the window to start in on the ranged attacks.  Essentially, it builds into the game a small aspect of "Best of 3" challenges, which has always been a non-tech part of the fighting game experience anyway.

Would you like to play a game?
The music is vague, orchestral and urgent, so it's not out of place for the Hans Zimmer generation.  It's not outstanding, but it augments the drama the way it's supposed to.

The menus keep a lot of options under the hood, and once again, following the directive to make Injustice more fun, players each get to vote on what stage they want to play, as well as both chiming in on whether they want a rematch or a new character.

It bears mentioning that Injustice has been a very different experience for me.  Ordinarily, I would play through all the single player modes before getting an opportunity to play head-to-head.  In this case, I have predominantly played multiplayer, and only later got to check out the Story mode.  Injustice has shown the same attention to the single player modes as everything else.

Kal El's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
The story mode is unlike any I've ever played before, and thank Kirby for that.  Fighting games reliably feature the WORST stories in all the realm of video games.  You pick one character, fight X number of characters, and then there's a scene (or less) telling you what happened after/because they won.  When you have to create a different narrative that allows for each character's victory, then no one of them is "true."  I've read people talking about the way the "story" has arched throughout the Tekken series, and I've been utterly baffled at where they got that from, because it's presented so insubstantially and executed so poorly in the games.  As a story person, this has always irritated me to no end.  Not the case here.

Say Cheese!
The Story mode plays like a movie, changing characters and unreeling the total story of Injustice in no uncertain terms.  Cutscenes transition seamlessly into fights which give you an opportunity to familiarize yourself with many of the characters.  Now I, personally, have some major misgivings about their authenticity to the character of Superman, but they had a story they wanted to tell and it's a well done DCU mega-crossover kind of story.

Beyond the story, there are a boatload of ways to go solo.  Challenges sets the player up with different thematic fight ladders, while the STAR Labs missions get even stranger.  I've played very few of these, but they show the same kind of unconventional approach to the modern fight game.  It really feels like they took nothing for granted and the result is one of the most refined fighting game experiences ever made.  Comparisons to Call of Duty are often meant to be insulting, but I feel it's both fair and highly complimentary in this case.  Injustice (like COD, relative to its peers), has been refined as a fighting game experience, designed from the ground up with tremendous attention to detail in order to be a game based on the flow of all-meat visceral moments.  COD isn't about aiming; it's about shooting.  Injustice isn't about chipping your opponents life bar down bit by bit.  It's about some rude fisticuffs and shrewd maneuvering, and then it's about taking a BIG JUICY CHOMP out of your opponents life bar.  It's no less technical for having that kind of stratagem, but I get the feeling that there are going to be some gamers who like their fighting games like they like their women -- dull, unambitious, and unaware of the 21st century.  

Roughhouse in the Madhouse
I tend to see these advancements as focusing the game on the most fun parts.  Perhaps a better, more universally recognized compliment may be that Injustice is like Super Smash Brothers (which is, itself, like Mario Kart) in the sense that the games allow for a lot of back and forth between players, with plenty of opportunities to "screw your buddy" at the finish line.  That's the secret alchemy for a great, great multiplayer game right there.  Smash Bros isn't about being the better player, it's about playing this round better.  That's all you need.  It's just plain fun, in one of its simplest, purest forms.

I get that a lot of "hardcore" gamers prefer the control and advantage they get with games that behave much more mechanically (and familiarly), but I don't agree with them.  I mean it's fine for them, but one grows weary of their outraged insistence that games should remain stuck in the same past that they are.  I shouldn't make it sound like Injustice isn't a technical fighting game.  There are layers of moves and combos that I will never get to.  I'm used to that in fighting games.  But where the difference lies between Injustice and, say, the King of Fighting Games You're Supposed to Like; Street Fighter, is that in SF, the new and even intermediate player is not given a lot of cool moves to do, which makes it pretty boring.  Hey, I can ineffectually throw a punch in my real life already.  Why do I need you?  Injustice ALWAYS has something cool to see and do.  Sure, you may still get stomped by a more experienced player, but dude, you're friggin' BANE getting stomped while the world explodes, rather than some guy in pajamas falling down in the street.

For my own part, there's not denying that I am, after all these years of gaming, finally starting to build up a callus from mashing out combo moves in Injustice.  I have remained a fan of fighting games during these lean years, but nothing has shaken up the format like this since the third dimension.  Injustice for the DCU is justice at last for fighting game fans and DC fans.

Lobo's Back

Who's Got Next?

In the interest of inviting a few clicks over for a couple drinks, I am submitting not ONLY to the tasteless act of list-making, but I'm engaging in PURE INTERNET SPECULATION about a future nerd event.

Rumors have begun to percolate about an Injustice sequel, particularly now that NetherRealm has Moretla Kombat X off its plate.  I may still be hip deep in Injustice, but that doesn't mean I'm not already slavering for more.  They really don't have to change much -- in fact, the thought of changes makes one nervous when so much is so right already -- but we're definitely going to be needing MORE of that more.

Before I get on with the more, there are three changes unrelated to the rest of the article that I'd like to bring up.  Well, a change, an addition and a simple suggestion.  To wit:

Change) Character balance needs some work, most particularly the giving of far-too-deadly range attacks to characters with far-too-deadly close combat.  I can see giving an edge to a Gadget character who would be wise to not the get in arm's length of a Power, but it didn't really work out that way.  Deathstroke is murder at any distance.  Flash and Batman should be far more useful.  Flash can time travel, fer Pete's sake.

Addition) In the spirit of pumping up every aspect of the fighting game, might I propose a tag mechanic?  It's the only thing I can think of in other games that makes them more fun that Injustice doesn't already have.  Obviously, team attacks, especially ones that are unique to specific pairs, would add to the epic grandeur and back-alley brutality that already makes Injustice so much funnerer.

Suggestion) Dude, you already killed or corrupted 1/2 the DCU between the comics and the game.  The story ended.  Let it go.  I don't need to spend any more story time in that dark and ugly timeline where Superman is not Superman.  Go back to some pivotal moment, or alternate alternate timeline, wash up, and tell a new story of divergent events.  In fact, I suggest this for every single Injustice game moving forward.  We really don't need a whole 'nother big, bloated continuity to drag around.  I say this for the developers as much as for the fans.  Treat yo'self.  Start fresh.

Now on with the show...

As soon as one has had a chance to sample every character in Injustice, one can hardly help but start supposin' what other characters would be fun to play.  I'm just going to assume that every character from Injustice (including the downloadables) will carry over.  NetherRealm has been pretty good about that with their MK games.  I have seen other articles of this sort online, but they've been wrong and I'm right, so here's my version.  The Right Version.

Some attention has been paid to the Injustice storyline in the game as well as the prequel comic series, but it's ultimately presumed that one can write anything one wants into a story, so elements like gameplay balance, how potentially fun their powers would be to play, and bottom line cool factor count for more.


Swamp Thing

You want to know how I know that other list like this are bogus?  Because hardly any of them thought to include Swamp Thing, and one even listed John Constantine instead.  Dude.  A guy in a coat, or fucking SWAMP THING.  Chances are you've seen a guy in a coat.  Hell, chances are pretty strong that you've BEEN a guy in a coat.  On the other hand, you have a guy who survived a horrific lab accident who ultimately becomes an elemental god of nature.  Dude.

In terms of gameplay, Swamp Thing is a brute along the lines of a Solomon Grundy.  So far, most of the brutes have been on the villains' side.  While special attacks are the one area that Constantine would excel, Swamp Thing's would be at least as cool.  Basically, even Zatanna is a better magician with more visual appeal than John Constantine, and I almost forgot she was in the game.

Swamp Thing.  The correct answer is Swamp Thing.


Firestorm is kind of a third-stringer, but he's on the rise thanks to the Flash TV series, which conjoins their origins.  I had originally considered Captain Atom who takes on a pretty interesting role in the Injustice comic series (as a living bomb, considered a potential countermeasure to an unhinged Superman), but Firestorm not only has similar-ish atomic powers, BUT he's visually MUCH more interesting, and that's saying something when you consider that Captain Atom is essentially chrome plated.  I'm sorry to tell you, Captain Atom, but Firestorm is has fire pouring out of his head.  Maybe you can be an alternate skin.

A nice benefit here is that NetherRealm's designers might finally give Firestorm a bad-ass costume worthy of FIRE POURING OUT OF HIS HEAD.

Considering that Killer Frost, a Firestorm villain (!) was already in Injustice, Firestorm himself seems like an omission to be rectified.  With the upcoming show, Legends of Tomorrow spinning off from Arrow & Flash, Firestorm will be stepping up to the show, making him a doubleplus natural here.

Big Barda


I am really tired of wimp-ass females in fighting games!  Over and over and over again, we get female characters who have short reaches and are fast but weak.  Even in Injustice, Wonder Woman is inhibited by her female physique more than she's empowered by the gods.  I want a female character that I WANT to play!  I want Big Barda to be the big beautiful brute that she's meant to be, with her long reach and earth-shattering body-slams.

Plus, Barda and Superman totally did it that one time.

Mister Miracle

Okay, yeah, sure, as long as we're having Big Barda, we have to have her husband too, right?  Wrong.  I mean, yeah, but also, Mister Miracle is a perfect fit with a lot to offer too.  So far, Swamp Thing, Firestorm and Big Barda would all fall under Injustice's "Power" character category.  Scott Free, the world's greatest escape artist, however, would make an outstanding "Gadget" character, in the game's other category.  He's gadgety, but they're gadgets from worlds of the New Gods, giving them extra visual appeal, and incredible potential for super attacks.

Miracle and Barda have both been affiliated with the Justice League, making them good candidates for Injustice.

Plastic Man

Think I'm kidding?  Sure, Plas is the class clown of the DCU (which may not be such a bad thing), but his powers would translate brilliantly to the mechanics of fighting games, provided they really put the time into making him look amazing -- and based on the first game, I have no reason to think that they wouldn't.  He's an alternative to the Powers that doesn't take Gadget too literally.  He'd be like... a cross between Joker's snake-fast moves and Green Lantern's emerald creations, except through a comedic filter.  There's nothing about Plastic Man that doesn't scream "fun as heck," and that was certainly a winning formula for the first game.

Alternately, one of the Metal Men would have that flexibility and look cool as all hell.

Other Considerations: Blue Beetle (martial arts, super gadgety), Starfire (a green, barely dressed space princess with fire blasts), The Atom (also on Legends of Tomorrow), Supergirl (now with her own show), Static (started as a Milestone comic, he has since been folded into the DCU. The young folk know him from a decade old cartoon series. The diversity wouldn't hurt) or even Bronze Tiger (one of DC's top martial artists, also African American, and frequently a member of the Suicide Squad, which also has a movie coming out).


There's no shortage of options here.  You have virtually every option in terms of fighting varieties, so that's not my top consideration.  I'm looking for visual appeal, significance within the DCU, addressment of some heroes who didn't have villains in the first game, and how their abilities would mesh/contrast with those already represented in the first game.


This one almost goes without saying.  Given Darkseid's appearance in one of the level transitions, he's another one that seems like an egregious omission from the first to be rectified in the second.  On the one hand, it would be easy to argue that Doomsday and Lex Luthor already fulfill the roles of long-reaching brutes from Superman's cast, Darkseid could be designed as a Gadget brute OR a Power brute.  He certainly has the size and ability, but Darkseid generally sees himself as too good for the grunt-level labor.  A schemer, even when he's confronted in person, he relies on his Omega Beams to deal with the riff-raff so he doesn't have to touch the subspecies.  There's a lot of potential there to craft the character in different ways.

With Mister Miracle and Big Barda involved, there would be every reason to get Darkseid involved, or vice versa.

Gorilla Grodd

Okay, I admit it.  I love the brutes.  Grodd certainly hulks, but he's also a super-telepath.  Like Darkseid, he could potentially function as either a Power or a Gadget, or, where some characters change battle stance, they could change stance on a grand scale.  That would certainly make things interesting.

Of course another purpose for Grodd would be to add a Flash villain.  Given that Flash has one of the best, most colorful Rogues Galleries in all of the DCU, it's a genuine absence, not having any in the first game.

The visual appeal should go without saying.

I would alternately consider Heat Wave for a Flash villain.  Captain Cold is more iconic, but also redundant to Killer Frost.  Weather Wizard would be another way to go.  Despite being Flash's arch-nemesis, Professor Zoom is kind of a "meh" consideration, given Flash's lackluster performance the first time around.  Let's face it, Grodd's the man.


While Injustice wasn't hurting for Superman villains (with Doomsday, Luthor and Zod), Brainiac is at least as big a problem for the Man of Steel.  With his role in the recent Convergence crossover event, his cache should be rising with DC readers.

Brainiac has changed in some pretty dramatic ways through the various reformations of the DC Multiverse.  As such, his story and powers are even more inconsistent than most.  He's a powerful villain that can be as unwieldy as a spare butt in the wrong writer's hands -- er, when written by the wrong writer.  Including him in Injustice 2 might give DC an opportunity to get casual fans up to speed on who Brainiac really is today.

But most of all, he's a cold, ruthless killing machine.  Part living, part machine; he often plots from the darkness, but he also has (depending on the version) psychic powers and wicked space-robot capabilities.  Like Darkseid and Grodd, I think he'd make an interesting Power/Gadget swapper, which I just really think would be an interesting twist to the game mechanics already established.

Ra's al Ghul

A master fighter with strength augmented by the Lazarus Pit.

Like Deathstroke, he's grown much bigger than merely pestering a single hero or team, having been featured prominently in both Batman Begins and Arrow.  So a fan favorite might be a good idea.

With the lighting fast and brutal skills one would expect from the leader of the League of Assassins, Ra's may be what it takes to balance out the likes of Deathstroke.  He's hardly above a bit of treachery, so smoke bombs, poison darts, snares and redirection should help make him formidable at any distance.

Poison Ivy

The first Injustice isn't exactly hurting for Batman cast members either.  Nevertheless, Poison Ivy felt absent, on top of which she'd be another visually fascinating character.  She'd be a Gadget character, using plants rather than technology.  That would compensate for the usually short female reach, and make her a fast character with abilities beyond her own limited physical skill.  Plus, their overlapping abilities create story potential between her and Swamp Thing.

Other Considerations: Clayface (another Bat-villain, but the kids, they love the Bat. Possible Power/Gadget swapper with his size and mud), Terra (betrayer of the Teen Titans, a small, fast fighter who throws rocks... ALL the rocks), Silver Swan (WW foe with wings and a scream), Circe (ruthless sorceress, foe of WW), Atrocitus (a Red Lantern, channeling the power of rage), Granny Goodness (vassal of Darkseid, leader of the Female Furies, charged with capturing Mister Miracle. She's also old, so how's that for diversity?), or at least Stompa (another Female Fury, more directly suited as Barda's rival).

In any case, I can't wait.  It would be impossible for them not to add DC characters that I like.

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