I just want to say this up front: Halfway through the story mode, Green Arrow says “shit.” It’s not a spoiler, naturally, but it tells you a little about the tone of the game. This is a not a bright, cartoon-style fighting game like Marvel vs Capcom; this is dark, like verging on Garth Ennis but staying close to Grant Morrison.
The reason for the game is, like MvC, to see superheroes and villains smash the crap out of each other and it certainly delivers on that front. But how can a character like Nightwing survive being smashed in the face by Doomsday?
Well it’s sort of explained in the story mode in a throwaway line, which is totally not a spoiler. The not-as-robust heroes take a pill “based on Kryptonian technology” that makes them as tough as Superman (but doesn’t give them laser eyes and flight.) That’s it, now keep playing the game and be happy Batman can actually hurt Superman without having to wear giant Frank Miller style armour. How it means Deathstroke’s bullets can hurt Superman, however, I’m not sure [His bullets clearly also took the pills, duh - Ed.]
There are a number of modes you can fight in. Single fight does what it says on the tin, as does Practice.
Battles are essentially a line-up of opponents you fight through one after the other. Each battle has its own handicap or theme, such as Poison where your health bar decreases throughout the fight, or Heroes where you only fight good guys. The further you get into the game, the more Battle-types you unlock.
Star Labs is a sort of training and mini-game mode. Each mission is based on a particular character and sees them performing a certain number of actions or simple quicktime-esque fights. Each mission has a three goals to perform; completing each goal gets you a star (because it’s Star Labs, get it?), and the stars are used to unlock newer missions. Some of the games are quite fun, such as the one where you play as Catwoman’s cat. Others are just annoying and you'll grit your teeth as you try to get three stars.
As a note you may want to complete Story Mode before playing Star Labs, as there are some minor spoilers.
Story Mode is slick. It follows a narrative and is interspersed with multiple cut scenes that are reminiscent of many recent comic book (direct to DVD) animated movies. The voice acting is, as you’d expect by now, superb, and the Joker genuinely made me laugh - though not while he was wielding his knife. Where in a comic or movie there would be a fight scene (which is quite often, when superheroes are involved), a battle is triggered.
The narrative is divided up into different characters, so for example in the first part you’ll play as Batman. It doesn’t cover all of the characters, but you get all the main ones. Also you get to see all of the alternative costumes. Sadly though once you play through the story, there’s no real incentive to replay it as the plot will never change.
The actual fighting gameplay was surprisingly simplistic. The move lists are long but not too complex and chaining combos together was simple even for a moderately terrible but enthusiastic player like myself. Each move has all of the frame data alongside it for those of you who are serious about your fighting.
I did find the combos repetitive. What I mean is that every character has roughly the same moves and none feel unique. There doesn’t seem to be that character who has incredibly complex but devastating moves.
What does separate the characters are their powers. Pressing the power button uses a unique ability for the character. For example Green Arrow has special arrows, the Flash makes his opponent move slower, and Catwoman can unleash an unblockable combo. It’s a good way to manage the “why don’t they just...?” question that you inevitably be thinking when super-powered humans battle.
The super part is certainly noticeable when the super moves are unleashed. The Joker shoots you in the face, Bane breaks your back, and Superman punches you into SPACE! Annoyingly / luckily these are easily blocked or avoided. Luckily because they can remove half your health, annoyingly because it takes a long time to fill your power meter. Combos can be enhanced by adding an extra boost to the end of them.
There are a few unlockables in the game, like costumes and backgrounds for your Hero Card (where all of your stats are collated. Costumes are unlocked by using “access cards” gained by winning battles and completing achievements (10 wins as Cyborg for example). In a cool idea, you get to choose which things you want to spend your cards on. In an annoying flipside to this, you might have a fight with Batman vs Batman where both are wearing the same outfit.
Injustice is an incredibly fun bit of fantasy fulfilment as you get to test Earth’s mightiest heroes (cough) against each other. It is also a very dark look at these heroes and villains. As you fight you gain bloody damage and the end scenes for some of the villains can be quite disturbing, unless you think the Joker setting fire to someone is something you’d like to see over and over. Now we just wait for the DLC...