This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Injustice: Gods Among Us.
Have you ever realized five minutes into a twenty minute presentation that your idea isn't going to fill the whole time slot, ended up rambling disconnectedly on and around the subject for a bit too long until everyone realizes that you're just stalling for time until you can think about something else? That's what I'm reminded of by the people who make Mortal Kombat who are currently called NetherRealm Studios but these things can be a bit liquid.
Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe seemed to fill NetherRealm's entire road map. "Hey, for our next project, let's make a new Mortal Kombat! Um, duh, now let's make DC Universe Kombat!" Written yourselves into a corner now though, haven't you, lads? Unless your next game is Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe vs Mr Men.
Still, with Injustice, I really think that NetherRealms have found their calling. I remember complaining that every single character in MK9 had exactly the same body type and all the women's outfits were designed by hormonal teenage boys with scissors for hands, and while most forms of media were considering these to be negative qualities, in superhero comics, they're the fucking bread and butter! And that's not even mentioning the writing in MK9, and I know that some superhero comics are really well written, so let's not generalize and say that MK9 was written about as well as a superhero comic that was written about as well as the plot in Injustice: Gods Among Us, if you're still with me.
Basically, Injustice is about Superman being evil, again. It takes me back to those terrible silver age comics that always try to come up with some shocking twist to put on the front cover, and all they could ever come up with was "Superman is now evil," or "Superman is now fat," because Superman is an utterly bland character with only two qualities: A) good and righteous and just, etc.; and B) built like the after picture on a Charles Atlas advert.
Lois Lane, Superman's pet woman with no life or ambition of her own or even physical presence in this game, died. So Superman got really cross and became Space Hitler. Also Lex Luthor becomes good, and looks exactly like Bruce Willis for some reason. The rest of the Justice League find all this out after being transported to the parallel universe where that is the case. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention it's a parallel universe because of course it is! Who wants to be Arkham City and have characters undergoing significant growth that carries actual weight and interest because it can't immediately inconveniently be reversed at a moment's notice? No, nice comfortable boring status quo, please! The Justice League we're familiar with show up and go, "Everything is different here and therefore wrong, commence beatings!" You can't extend your jurisdiction to all the infinite universes, you dozy twats; there aren't enough hours in the day!
Anyway, this is the story mode which is very similar to MK9's story mode in that you go from character to character and spend the first round of each chapter getting worked over like the squeezy lemon on Pancake Day because all your special moves have changed. Your character runs into a place where two enemy characters are standing around, yells "Stop being such dicks," they say "Shan't", you beat one up then the other. This applies to every chapter. Well, I know the one-on-one fighter doesn't have much to work with and has to use a lot of talky cutscenes to tell a story but where's the sense in having characters fight in cutscenes? The one thing your gameplay does and you take it away! It's like casting James Earl Jones as someone who can't speak!
Mind you, what makes even less sense is a cutscene with characters fighting in the middle of a fight which is what the super moves are. I'm not saying it wasn't impressive the first time Superman punched Batman into orbit then smashed him back down again with the MIR Space Station(in that it was impressive that he wasn't reduced to precipitation by the time he hit the ground), but when these lengthy and overblown things are happening at least once a fight, then after a while you might as well call them the "super cigarette breaks".
It's worth remembering that in Mortal Kombat 1, all Sub-Zero did was pull a guy's head off so the spine dangled forlornly from it like the last string of sausages that nobody wanted, but because it was really hard to do, it was basically my generation's moon landing. Injustice also has needlessly long pain sequences when you kick someone off the stage, but those actually take a bit of work to pull off. You've got to lure them over the wall with promises of cakes and fizzy drinks and then do the big wind-up punch that could be interrupted by a nearby sneezing microbe, so they're actually kind of satisifying. It's not just mashing the trigger buttons and then breaking for lunch.
The actual fighting (and this being a fighting game, that means pretty much everything) kind of has too much going on, like a madman with a welding torch broke into the bell and whistle factory. There's your three standard attacks, your special attacks, your super move in case you need to pop into the kitchen and check on the roast in the oven, and the Circle button is a unique superpower thing which for some characters is obvious - it makes Green Arrow fire a green arrow, for example - but in other cases, I don't have a clue what it does. Some characters just make a kind of grunty noise and then continue with a coloured haze around them like just farted powder paints.
The tutorial wouldn't let me leave 'til I demonstrated I could do something it called a "bounce cancel" which was like pulling a three point turn in the Death Star trench and never came up again. Also there's clashing. And let's give NetherRealm a round of applause for figuring out how to work quick-time events into one-on-one gameplay. You press a button, your opponent presses a button, the one who pressed the best button wins. The gameplay boiled down to its simplest possible form perhaps, but I can't help but feel like we're losing a sense of agency.
I still think one-on-one fighters are a bit out of place in AAA, probably because it's a very arcade-y genre in a market geared more these days for online play and pissing on its own shoes. The usual splatter of disconnected gameplay modes always feels a bit scrappy, but Injustice is so desperately trying to fit in to bombastic AAA style over substance with its super moves and quick-time events, it's like James Earl Jones punching himself in the balls to fulfill his dream of singing soprano.
So people who like fighting games might be turned off by all the faffing about and the too many characters who might as well be all the same dude wearing different pajamas, and people who like superhero comics may find the depictions of their beloved characters stayed at best. Compare the Catwoman in Arkham City to the Catwoman briefly depicted in this game's story campaign as Batman's lovesick stalker who's only there so he can push her away and show how drearily fucking above it all he is.
Personally, I don't like fighting games or superhero comics so I'm not even sure why I'm talking. Might as well clap like a circus seal. (weakly claps hands seven times) Wonk!
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