There are a lot of fighting games out right now, with different styles and mentalities for all kinds of players. Whether you're looking for an excellent new(ish) fighter or a solid throwback, there are plenty of choices on the market right now, many of which are in the $20 range--meaning that new fighting games have to really be worth that $60 price tag.
No, I am not doing a Natestalgia on Justice League Task Force. Natestalgia is a warm, happy, pleasant column. Except for that one about The Bouncer.
For people who have been playing fighters for a while, the very mention of a DC Comics-based fighting game sends a cold shiver down our collective spines, dredging up awful memories of Justice League Task Force and Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. Thankfully, NetherRealm's next shot at the DCU, Injustice: Gods Among Us, is a rarity--a fighting game that satisfies hardcore duelists with a tight, competitive, and surprisingly customizable game, while at the same time giving casual fighters plenty of single-player and unlockable content.
The sheer volume of single-player content is one of the game's best points--like 2010's Mortal Kombat reboot (a.k.a. MK9), NetherRealm has included an in-depth Story Mode that will take the better part of a day to complete, a single-player Battles mode where you fight a set number of opponents under different conditions, and the S.T.A.R. Labs challenge tower. Classic Battle is like a typical "arcade" mode in other fighters, while other Battle modes make you fight with low health, deal with random buffs and debuffs, or go for the gold with insane challenges like taking out the game's entire cast with a single bar of health. S.T.A.R. Labs gives each character a mini storyarc that has you fight matches under unique conditions, and random arcade-like challenges including shooting stages, whack-a-mole mini-games, and QTE sequences. There are lots of icons, backgrounds and portraits to unlock for the customizable "Hero Card," and an Archives section that's full of concept art, music, extra costumes and new Battle modes.
The cast is a solid 24 fighters strong, featuring an even split of heroes and villains from across the DCU. Unfortunately for some fans, the roster seems to be a bit Batman-heavy--while Joker and Harley Quinn feature prominently in the plot, Bane and Catwoman serve little to no purpose in a roster that already has heavy hitters (Doomsday, Grundy) and nimble rushdown glass cannons (Hawkgirl, Flash), not to mention that six of the game's fifteen stages are Bat-related. Killer Frost is an unusual and very random addition--when Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 brought in lesser-known characters like Iron Fist and Rocket Raccoon, at least they were using characters that were getting lots of use in then-current Marvel stories.
The story plays out like the MK reboot, switching your perspective from character to character with cutscenes that are broken up by evenly spaced-out fights. Every few chapters you'll have a quick QTE segment that tends to lead into another fight, but these never really get in the way because they're so brief. The story itself covers familiar ground to anyone who knows the Justice Lords arc from the Justice League cartoon or the Crisis on Two Earths animated movie. Story Mode really does feel like a playable DC Universe Animated Movie since it has plenty of voice actors from the Justice League and Young Justice animated series, including George Newbern (sorry, no Tim Daly), Kevin Conroy, and Susan Eisenberg reprising their roles as the Big Three, and Alan Tudyk (Firefly's Wash) really standing out as Green Arrow. Aside from some hilarious and pathetic fight choreography in some of the cutscenes (Wonder Woman's in particular), it's a fun and worthwhile addition to a very complete single-player experience, something that NetherRealm excels at for fighting games.
Jennifer Hale is awesome and all, but Hawkgirl just feels off without Maria Canals Barrera's savage battlecries
As an actual fighting game, Injustice still provides a lot for all gamers. Fights are fast and flashy, and interactive environments and brutal Dead or Alive-like stage transitions keep the action fresh. Lots of little adjustments help teach the game for beginners and experts alike--pausing a match automatically gives you a list of a character's key specials, with both characters' move lists on-screen if you're playing with a friend. The action is smoother than MK9, playing out like a combination of BlazBlue with its character-specific abilities, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3's speed and combo-heavy action, just a dash of Smash Bros. for its interactive environments. Unlike the rather stiff kombat combat in MK9, Injustice's speedier gameplay has cross-ups, push blocks, and a burst move to keep the action going. Looking a little deeper, each character's individual move list shows full frame data and move properties. You can also adjust different control elements, like switching between Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter-style special inputs, allow or disallow negative edge, or turn off the interactive environments so you can have a straight-up test of skill.
Unfortunately, those environmental attacks are often unblockable, come out very fast, and lop off huge chunks of health. Some characters are just a little too good at keep-away (I'm seeing a lot of Deathstroke players online), and while there are solid rushdown characters to compensate, it's going to take a few balance tweaks before the game is as up-to-snuff as other current-gen fighters. Netcode leaves quite a bit to be desired right now--the game was laggy playing a friend in Hawaii, and makes (in my opinion) a bad choice in online priorities by keeping the game's animation smooth at the cost of input lag. This was on Xbox Live, too--normally I have no problems no matter what I pop in, even launch titles like Dead or Alive 4. Reports from PS3 and Wii U friends seem to be having a worse time of it, but NetherRealm put its whole weight behind Injustice and I don't think they're going to drop the ball on this.
Injustice: Gods Among Us gives a lot of bang for your buck, with a solid fighter that suffers from a handful of competitive and online hiccups. Plenty of unlockables and a thorough array of single-player options will keep the game spinning in your systems, and a smart front end makes training fun. Since Injustice is using NetherRealm's HotFix system, expect steady updates for the next while as it's made into a tighter, more competitive experience. Injustice is so far the best fighting game experience of the year--it's not the fighting game we asked for, but it's the fighting game we deserve.
Oh the hell with it, you know what I meant. Fighting game fans--and casuals especially--do yourself a favor and check out Injustice: Gods Among Us!
+ Fast, fierce gameplay is fun to play (and fun to watch!) for hardcore fighters and casual fans alike
+ Plenty of control and gameplay options to help you hone your skills and play the game exactly how you want to
+ Tons of single-player content and unlockables to keep players busy when they're not fighting through the online ranks
+ Story mode has great voice acting and plays out like a long JLA arc or DC Universe Animated Movie
+/- Sizable roster of heroes and villains from all across the DCU, but a little too Bat-heavy with a few questionable choices
- Weak netcode that prioritizes smooth animation over input delay
- Why the hell does Catwoman look like Kris Jenner?