(…but still kinda fun.)
The new fighting game Injustice: Gods Among Us is the answer to the question, “What if a Mortal Kombat video game starred Superman and Batman?” That is, of course, if you found the first answer, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, to make too much basic sense and also not have hideous costume designs.
It’s fun and pretty easy to play, as Mortal Kombat games tend to be, and the ability to interact with the backgrounds leads to some surprising and often hilarious injuries (seriously, watch out for jet engines, guys). And the two-trigger super-move means you get to enjoy a fatality-style animated finishing sequence without having to memorize a complicated code.
There are a few hinky issues in the battle gameplay – mostly that you don’t automatically win just because you’ve selected Batman, which to me is a glaring and confusing flaw, but I suppose that might be more my problem than the game’s.
But clearly the game makers didn’t have a perfect handle on how best to illustrate each hero’s super-abilities, which is why Aquaman is portrayed as a dude whose power is to stab you with a trident, and why the Flash’s moves are so slow to activate that the fastest man alive in this game is the alarmingly over-powered Joker.
But unlike Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe, which had an in-story game that wasn’t a whole lot more complicated than, “The two universes accidentally mush up against each other, and then people fight and team up,” the makers of Injustice have decided it’s going to be Edgy And Dark.
Which is to say, “Stupid and busy.”
So in addition to overcomplicating everyone’s costumes to a point that their current awful redesigns in the New 52 line of comics look sensible in comparison, there’s also a story involving an evil totalitarian Superman, insurgency-style Batman, destroyed remnants of recognizable landmarks like Wayne Manor, and guys who looked like this…
Now looking like this:
Otherwise, I think I’ll just go down the list of dumbness, so you know what to expect going in.
ITEM 1: First, the setup, which is alluded to in the game but really, you have to read the prequel comic to get a sense of just what happened (note: do not read the prequel comic, it is pretty bad). What happened was, as briefly as I can: Joker shoots Jimmy Olsen in the eyeball, then kidnaps Lois Lane, who’s pregnant with Superman’s baby, then lures Superman onto his submarine (!), doses him with a fear-gas/kryptonite concoction that makes him think he’s fighting Doomsday but what’s ACTUALLY happening is he just punched his wife and unborn baby into space. Then when they die, they trigger a dead man’s switch that activates a nuclear bomb that destroys Metropolis. So Superman, technically responsible for the deaths of millions of people, goes off the deep end and takes over the world, using various heroes and coerced villains as ministers in his “One World Government.”
ITEM 2: This is a DC Superheroes fighting game released a month before the new Superman movie comes out that does not feature the brand-recognizable, trademarked phrases “DC Superheroes,” “Justice League,” or “Superman” in the title, and is set in an alternate-reality where Superman is a megalomaniacal trauma victim. Warner Bros., once again not having a great grasp on the concept of synergy.
ITEM 3: You can tell Good Superman from Evil Superman because Evil Superman has bags under his eyes. Just like in Superman III!
ITEM 4: Oh hey, there, casual misogyny. Earth2 Wonder Woman is introduced walking around the Fortress of Solitude in an evil-ish negligee, as Evil Superman’s rebound/fuck-buddy, assuring Evil Superman that she’s not taking dead Lois’s place while he proceeds to ignore that she’s in the room. At which point Green Yellow Lantern shows up to make some gross comment about liking Diana’s “new look,” and then later finishing off a female opponent with the quip, “Guess I won’t be getting any more lip out of her.” (Catwoman’s motivation, meanwhile, boils down to “I joined Superman’s side to protect you, Batman. What do you mean you don’t want to run away with me? BASTARD!” because laydayyys, amIright?)
I’d like to think one of the game developers was sitting around thinking, “I wonder if there’s a way to get Jeff Holland to hate Hal Jordan even more…oh! Douchey sexist comments. And hey, maybe we should get mouthy libertarian actor Adam Baldwin to voice him, that should do the trick.”
ITEM 5: There is a comically unnecessary in-game answer to a question you may have had, somewhere along the lines of “Wait, how is it that Green Arrow can survive being punched by Doomsday?” and you are not satisfied by the answer, “Because it’s a fighting game.” That answer: Kryptonian nano-somethings. Makes bodies stronger. Seriously, they devote storytelling time to this.
ITEM 6: Actually, the game seems a little confused as to what constitutes “super” vs. “mortal,” such as a moment early on where all the flying heroes take care of a situation before Green Arrow and Flash arrive on the scene. Flash says something about not having anything left to do and Green Arrow equates the other heroes as “Gods among us, not like you and me.” You know, mortal hero The Flash. Just a regular bro who can break the sound barrier.
ITEM 7: There is a point in the plot where Evil Superman, in a fit of pique that Earth2 Batman has brought over our world’s Justice League to sort things out, decides he’s going to teach them a
lesson, by executing Earth2 Batman. Flash and Captain Marvel Shazam, who had been loyal lieutenants at this point because apparently Evil Superman made a persuasive argument that ruling over the world was the safest choice for everyone, finally grow uneasy enough to voice complaints.
It should be noted that one of Evil Superman’s first acts was to kill Green Arrow for speaking out against him.
Earth2 Flash and Captain Marvel Shazam are either morons, or just could not give a shit about Green Arrow.
ITEM 8: Though really, characterization is something you should just get out of your head right here and now, because there’s a mini-game where, as Superman – the GOOD Superman, mind you! – you are just blowing up cars full of people. The first time I read about this, I was sure the reviewer had misinterpreted something, but no. To fend off Superman, Black Adam starts grabbing moving cars from off the road and chucking them at Superman. So, cars with drivers, hurtling through the air at Superman. And as the Man of Steel, your job is to press the proper button in order to blow them up with his heat vision. Someone, somewhere in the development of the game HAD to have said, “What if he just catches the cars and sets them down gently?” And that person was voted down.
ITEM 9: Like most fighting games, when you beat the boss level character (Evil Superman), there’s some concluding narration about what happens to your fighting character next. But for some reason, these endings don’t line up with the narrative ending of the in-story game. And sometimes they’re just a line of gibberish.
For instance, in Aquaman’s ending, he becomes a popular world leader and people start urging him to start his own one-world government. But the Aquaman they show considering this is OUR WORLD’S Aquaman, not the Earth2 guy, so…did our Aquaman stay behind? Or, did Earth2 Aquaman shave his chinstrap beard, cut his hair, and proceed to learn no lessons from Superman’s stab at one-world government?
OK, that one’s a bit of a nitpick. But here’s Hawkgirl’s: Now free of Superman’s mind-control (something that is never mentioned in the game narrative), she goes and takes vengeance on everyone in Superman’s regime involved in killing Hawkman (also never mentioned in the game: Hawkman got killed). Then she gets covered in pure Nth metal. The end. What a satisfying resolution?
THEN, there is Hal Jordan’s, which actively contradicts the game’s own ending – wherein he gives up his Yellow Lantern ring and goes with Sinestro to face the GL Corps’ justice. Here, though, he either a) just picks up a GL ring again without incident, or b) we’re now watching OUR world’s Hal Jordan, either way it makes no sense, because he comes across the downed craft of Abin Sur (the GL who gave Hal his ring before dying, in Hal’s origin story). But THIS Abin Sur doesn’t know anything about that, calls Hal by some weird galactic title, and Hal goes off to investigate. The end? No, it’ll probably get followed up on in a sequel? But that shit…that shit is out of fucking nowhere. This is a game that confuses “tantalizing teaser” with “Wait, what the fuck did they just say?”
ITEM 10: You know who kicks an alarming bit of ass? Fucking Killer Frost.
That Should Not Be.
Truly, this is a fallen alternate Earth without hope.
Still, when you play as Batman your supermove is to run your opponent over with the Batmobile, so it’s not all bad.