keskiviikko 23. huhtikuuta 2014

REVIEW - Injustice: Gods Among Us | PS4 | 2013

GENRE(S): Fighting
RELEASED: April 16, 2013 (PC, PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360)
AVAILABLE ON: PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Wii U
DEVELOPER(S): NetherRealm Studios, High Voltage Software (PC, PS4), Armature Studio (PS Vita)
PUBLISHER(S): Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

In 2008, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was released to universal curiosity, yet not much actual acclaim. Three years later, the Mortal Kombat franchise was rebooted with the ninth game in the main series, which in turn was praised for its fresh, yet familiar take on the classic. Concepts from both games were carried over to a new project, which would once again feature characters from DC Comics; this time it would also be solely focused on them. With director Ed Boon and lead designer John Edwards in the helm, and DC Comics writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti as creative consultants, NetherRealm Studios unleashed Injustice: Gods Among Us in the spring of 2013, bringing us one of the best, not to mention one of the most twisted DC Comics storylines ever, fitted into an epic one-on-one fighting game which plays out almost exactly like the latest Mortal Kombat game. So basically, it's Mortal Kombat - a Mortal Kombat in which you can use Batman to kick Superman's ass. I most definitely want in on this, despite not being much of a DC fan beyond Batman - and since I now have the PlayStation 4, I might as well use this game to get to know my new vehicle of destruction inside out. It was not a good choice for that task. But it's a good game.

A fistful of kryptonite

George Newbern : Clark Kent / Superman
Kevin Conroy : Bruce Wayne / Batman
Susan Eisenberg : Princess Diana of Themyscira / Wonder Woman
Phil LaMarr : Arthur Curry / Aquaman
Adam Baldwin : Hal Jordan / Green Lantern
Neal MacDonough : Barry Allen / The Flash
Alan Tudyk : Oliver Queen / Green Arrow
Richard Epcar : The Joker
Mark Rolston : Lex Luthor
Fred Tatasciore : Bane / Solomon Grundy

The Joker pulls off the most epic "joke" ever by tricking Superman into killing Lois Lane and his unborn son, and utterly destroying Metropolis with a nuclear explosion. Superman brutally kills the Joker right in front of Batman, whose attempts to interfere with Superman's revenge causes a rift between the two superheroes. Superman finally loses his sense of morality altogether and establishes a new world order, proclaiming himself High Councilor of the One Earth, and goes to war with Batman's rebels, who dub themselves the Insurgency. Five years later, the Insurgency discovers a parallel universe - our universe - where Justice League is still active. The group transports Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Arrow and Green Lantern to their world to help them fight Superman's regime, and at the same time, they unknowingly put an end to Joker's plans in our world by accidentally teleporting Batman and the Joker as well, just in the nick of time.

Green Lantern's quite cool after all... from time
to time.
It's hero vs. hero, hero vs. villain, villain vs. villain, man vs. himself, and woman vs. herself, big time. I wish I was a DC fan right about now. We've seen a lot of games with Marvel characters getting it on amongst themselves (and against Capcom characters), and all sorts of all-star fighting games, from Star Wars characters to even Sony's flagship characters, but Injustice: Gods Among Us actually has a story and one that even makes sense on the usual, twisted superhero comic book scale. It's epic, it's emotional, and most of all, it's batshit crazy. A few years back, I was still in the mindset that I would probably never play (or at least pay for) a one-on-one fighting game again, but then some sort of hidden instinct from days of yore came back to me, and I went on a hunt for the latest games in the three most important franchises of the genre: Tekken, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. While Tekken and Street Fighter didn't quite do the trick, Mortal Kombat went further than that. Mortal Kombat was always the weakest link in this tight bunch back in the 90's, despite its distinct, gory style - but with the 2011 reboot, the tables turned as far as I'm concerned and I went as far as to name "Mortal Kombat 9" the greatest one-on-one fighting game ever made. When I heard that they were making an all-star DC Comics game as a spiritual successor to Mortal Kombat, with a similar story mode and all, I was ecstatic. Again, I wasn't a DC Comics fan, but I was a huge Batman fan, like I am today. If I could play as Batman, if I could make Superman bleed, that would've been enough. Injustice: Gods Among Us goes way beyond that. Despite fulfilling most of my wishes, despite fulfilling every DC fan's DREAM, and even despite sharing tons of similarities with the latest Mortal Kombat installment, Injustice: Gods Among Us isn't exactly awesome. But it is very good.

Deathstroke is BACK! ...Oh, right, this game's
older than Arkham Origins. It's hard to remember
I'm still getting familiar with the PS4 and its technical capabilities, *slash* advanced features - so I don't know how good a PS4 game CAN look right now, but I can tell you one thing: much better than this. The PS4's Ultimate Edition seems like a simple remaster of the original version - it doesn't really matter which version of this game you buy, it still looks the same. The cutscenes lag, some of the facial close-ups are really ugly, and character design in general is one of the most disappointing things about Injustice; Batman and the Joker in particular are not that easy on the eyes, and Wonder Woman is far from every comic book fan's wet dream in my opinion; she's dreadful. The concept art looks so much better than the actual game as far as character design is concerned; luckily there are lots of alternate skins to go around outside the confines of the story mode, for example Arkham designs for both Batman and the Joker - free of charge at least in the Ultimate Editions of the game. In a without-further-due nutshell, I think Mortal Kombat on the PS3 looked much better and more vibrant than Injustice on the PS4.

The voice cast - most prominent in the story mode, of course - features lots of epic reprisals of classic roles, but unfortunately that's not exactly a seal of quality. Even Kevin Conroy's a bit off as Batman, but the one casting choice that really disturbs me is Richard Epcar as the Joker. First, he sucks - he doesn't even really laugh once during the course of the story, there's this one distant laughing scene which is ripped off something else and it actually sounds like Mark Hamill's trademark. He fails to catch on to the, how should I say it, "sash" (?) which you need as the Joker in general. Second, Troy Baker's in the game as Nightwing AND Sinestro, why they couldn't let him do the Joker as well and not make us wait for him to blow us away with his performance in Batman: Arkham Origins is beyond me. So, basically, I bought this game for Batman and the Joker, and neither one of them really makes the impression I expected. I am still very much capable of enjoying this game. Double irony.

Forebodings of the next Superman flick. I think
Injustice will turn out the better feature of the
two, though.
The main draw of the game is the insane story mode, which turns any mundane altercation between two or three characters into an all-out fist fight. The story is divided into several chapters, each starring a different character from both sides of the law. You even get to play as the Joker for a spell, who's prancing around dumbfounded by how disrespected he is in the underworld of the parallel universe. There are some minigames in addition to the cinematics and the actual matches, winning which gives you a big advantage in the next match. In the PS4 version, these minigames utilize the controller's touchpad, which is still quite foreign to me personally, and besides, there are these few instances which fail to give you a clear indication of what you're supposed to do. You'll get it on the second time around - if you're interested enough to replay the story. That might prove hard, 'cause it gets pretty formulaic and predictable towards the end, unlike Mortal Kombat which provided "holy shit" moments for long-time fans right up 'til the end.

The Arcade and Tower modes from Mortal Kombat are also brought over as Battle and S.T.A.R. Labs missions. Each character in the game has his or her own arcade ending, and the result of the final match which is the same for each character is very different from the story mode's ending - in my opinion, a bit better in fact. Playing Battles as every character gains you even more experience points (and with those, rewards) than playing through the story mode. I honestly think there are people who will altogether enjoy this mode a lot more, and NetherRealm did a wise thing by not unlocking everything from the beginning like they did with Mortal Kombat's later editions, this is a more exciting "complete edition" if you're really into it. The downside to it is that Superman is a much tougher bitch to handle than Shao Kahn ever was, and you have to face him on every single Battle ladder (Bladder, lol). The S.T.A.R. Labs missions are strings of different challenges for several characters, some of which require you to think outside of the game's box. For example, a mission as Superman requires you to focus on avoiding attacks rather than attacking the opponent head-on, since you've been weakened by kryptonite, and another one pits you against the parallel universe's Superman in the form of an eye-laser showdown, once again managed with the touchpad. These missions seem easy at first, but they turn out really hard really quickly. It's especially hard to ace every challenge by nailing every challenge within them, like performing a certain move a set amount of times, being able to avoid certain attacks or events altogether, stuff like that. Yeah, there's plenty of stuff to do in Injustice - no doubt about that. But, with fatalities out of the mix, not that much blood, varying degrees of ugliness in both graphics and sound, there's got to be something that makes it more than just another simple game of kick-ass, right? Right.

He will break you. Again.
OK, so Injustice has that exact meter system used in Mortal Kombat. You know the one - three meters piling up whenever you use special moves, or take damage. Filling up one meter lets you spice up your special attacks with a bit more spunk. Two meters enable you to do... hmm, stuff, which I will return to in a bit. A full triple meter lets you execute a special move, just like the X-Ray moves in Mortal Kombat. They look almost as painful, too, but they're superheroes, they can take 'em - but you gotta remember that characters like Batman and Batgirl are most definitely humans in every single DC canon; if they got their asses kicked by some of these moves, they would be torn to shreds. Oh well. There's also another meter, unique to each character and represented by their logo or icon, which fills up a lot faster and enables them to use character-specific abilities, such as special projectiles or temporary strength boosts. You can interact with any stand-out object in the background, such as statues or cars, and hurl them at your opponent, but it seems to me that definite success in these attacks is somehow tied to the power meter as well. Pretty cool, huh? Here comes the best part - you'll be fucking amazed.

So, whenever you have two meters filled up, you trap your opponent in a certain corner of the current level and are able to pull off a certain type of move, you automatically bust 'em through the wall to an extremely violent and damaging parkour through whatever comes their way in a move called Level Transition. Nothing in this game is as satisfying as sending your opponent on a freefall through the Batcave, hitting girders and other debris on the way before slamming face first to the stone floor of the lowest level, or forcing 'em into a delightful confrontation with a dozen extremely pissed, well-known Arkham inmates who didn't make it to the main roster and are taking their frustrations out on your opponent. The first time I witnessed a Level Transition was the first time I thought that Injustice might be a good game after all, and a worthy successor to Mortal Kombat, despite my initial feelings of taking a few steps back in several categories. It's funny how much a seemingly small, one fresh idea can sometimes turn the tides for a game's benefit, especially in these games that suffer from their genre's limitations themselves. Finally, there's Clash, a moderately rare gambling event in which you have a few seconds of time to gamble a few ticks off your meter to do heavy damage to your opponent, or gain a health bonus... or lose everything on your meter and watch your opponent get whatever spoils the game grants 'em.

The full Ultimate Edition roster.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is as challenging as you make it out to be, as in how far you're willing to go with it beyond the story and arcade modes. The Trophy set is not quite as unforgiving as Mortal Kombat's, but still extremely challenging, and partly extremely frustrating; for example, one of the Trophies requires you to win every single minigame during story mode. Fail one, and it's back to the beginning if you seriously want that dumbass reward.

Nutshell? Well... DC Comics just got a tad more interesting in my books, and given its roots in Mortal Kombat, Injustice is a more entertaining and rewarding fighting game than Marvel vs. Capcom could ever be. It has its limits and outright flaws, but to any REAL DC fan - and not just a Bat-freak like me - it's most definitely a must-purchase, there's never been a doubt of that. Not even in its worst moments. It has three fun game modes, of which everyone is free to choose their favourite, and its brief specialties in gameplay are sure to please. It has an insane plotline sure to please a certain target group. In turn, it's audiovisually disappointing and dry as a bone in comparison to its "predecessor", AND most definitely a disappointing first journey to the PS4's core. But that's not exactly surprising. Buy it, but save yourself some money and buy it for an older system - it's all the same. Wait for Batman: Arkham Knight to arrive, show what the PS4 is truly capable of, and present Batman in the way he's supposed to be presented.

+ An all-star cavalcade of DC Comics' finest; I'm not a fan, but I respect the roster
+ An insane plot that mirrors that of Mortal Kombat
+ Level Transition. Level Transition. Level Tran-fuckin'-sition. And interactive objects.
+ Three fun modes to get familiar with
+ Generally, all the stuff carried over from Mortal Kombat...

- ...Generally, all the stuff NOT carried over from Mortal Kombat
- Half-cooked graphics and on/off voiceover work
- The story mode plays out more and more forcibly towards the end; boring, confusing and a bit random
- Not a very impressive PS4 game from any angle

< 8.0 >

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