Monday, August 11, 2014

Impressions #11: Injustice: Gods Among Us

This may come as a surprised to people who only follow me here, though that appears to be a distinct minority, but I sometimes play fighting games when the mood strikes me. Not that I am any good at them, but I do have a certain fascination with the genre. At the same time, I also adore superheroes like the ones from Marvel and DC. How do those two facts come together? Well, Injustice: Gods Among Us: Ultimate Edition was $8.40 on PSN a while back. For such a low price, I had to purchase it. Though I have yet to play it with a friend at the time of writing, I have played through the entire story mode. And I feel that I have sunk enough time into the game that I can make an adequate judgment call on.

When it comes to presentation, most fighting games are stuck in this rut where either the whole plot is explained by crawling text, or each character only has one “plot” scene when beating their Arcade mode. Injustice works differently. Rather than use the standard text blocks to explain the story in between battles, Injustice uses cinematics to great effect. The biggest draw is that there are no loading times between cutscenes and fights. When a fight begins, the characters take their combat stance, the black bars on the top and bottom of the screen vanish, then the HUD appears.
The transition is not always completely seamless, as there are some instances where the pre-rendered cutscene graphics and the in-game graphics do not completely match up in terms of quality. The transition from fighting back to cutscenes also suffers a similar problem, but is otherwise of as high quality. Fans of the most recent Mortal Kombat game should recognize this, as it is the same style used in that game. I personally thought that this presentation improved the overall flow of the story, and I would encourage more fighting game developers to use this style. It is much more entertaining than simply having to read tons of text to understand what is going on. Because of this, the player is much more and the fact that a fight could break out at any time, players are much more engaged and attentive than they might otherwise be.

That being said, the most important thing in a fighting game is the actual combat. To that end, the combat is Injustice: Gods Among Us is solid. Most players of Mortal Kombat and other fighting games will be familiar with the basic elements. Each fighter has their own moves, both basic and special. The key is for the player to look for openings in the enemy's movement and attacks in order to capitalize with their own combos. Generally, it requires some time to practice with and against all sorts of characters to learn their unique command lists and the properties of each command. None of this is new to anyone who has ever played a fighter before, so it is not worth going into much detail.
One of the features that does separate Injustice from its contemporaries is the way the game handles hit points. Most fighting games separate fights by rounds, and the player who wins the most rounds in a best of 3 (or 5) wins. In between rounds, health is completely refilled and fighters reset to a “neutral” position so that the playing field is leveled. In this game, the situation is different. Instead, both combatants have two health meters on the outset of a fight, a white bar on top of a red bar. A round of combat ends when one of the health bars is depleted. Further, damage and player position are carried over between rounds. As a result, while it may be easier for a defeated player in the first round to win the second round of combat, they are left at an overall disadvantage because their opponent will still have an entire health bar in the final round. This system makes the fights more interesting to watch, as comebacks are much more impressive. Having said that, the game, for better or worse, becomes much more tense for the loser of the first round, while the winner has a less stressful time. This one change does affect the overall flow by giving an even greater incentive to play carefully and manage the risk/reward of making bold moves.
Injustice also separates itself from the rest of the crowd with its Clash system. Like other games in the genre, fighters in this game can build up super meter by both giving and receiving attacks. This can be used to fuel special variations of moves and each characters super move. More importantly, this meter can be wagered in a Clash. When one combatant is on their red meter (meaning they have lost a round already) and they have super, they can counter an enemy attack by instantiating a Clash. During this event, both players wager a portion of their super meter discreetly. The one who bet the most wins the Clash. If the one who initiated it wins, the enemy's move is nullified and the victor recovers lost health in proportion to the difference between gambled super meter. Should the attacker come out on top, the defender will take damage dependent of the same difference. What this system does is force players to better judge how they use their super. Players might not necessarily want to use up all of their super to perform powerful moves because the enemy might capitalize on their lack of super to outmatch them in a Clash. Having some saved up for such an occasion is a much more understandable concept. I do not know if it is enough to really affect the overall flow anyway, as often the damage from pulling off a super is greater than the recovery from a Clash, but it is an interesting attempt at doing so.

One of the biggest things I felt when playing Injustice, and I do not know if this just a personal complaint, is that the fighting felt a bit stiff. It could be because I am used to games like Soul Calibur or Persona 4 Arena, where animations seem very fluid and flow into each other, Injustice feels a lot more rigid. While combos can be developed on the fly in a Soul Calibur game (based on their properties), the combos in this cannot. Any combos were ones completely designed and intended by the designers. Combinations that feel like they otherwise should connect will whiff if they were not one of the predetermined combinations. Whether that is a good or bad thing is dependent on the person playing the game. Some people will adore it, while others like myself dislike it. I do not know if I can call it bad, but I do think that some fluidity would have been nice.

Overall, Injustice: Gods Among Us is a solid game. The DC characters are represented well and the fighting mechanics are solid. Though I did not talk about the story, it is interesting and holds up over its entirety. Bringing in new health and Clash systems helps separate Injustice from other products in the genre. Lastly, the presentation of the game's single-player campaign gives it a sense of cohesion and spectacle that other fighting games generally do not equal. For fans of Mortal Kombat and/or the DC universe, this is an easy recommendation. Otherwise, you would be okay in skipping it.

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