"Injustice: Gods Among Us" — Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
ESRB Rating: T, for Teen
Grade: 3 stars (out of 5)
The last decade has not been kind to the DC Universe, unless your name is Batman. Marvel continues to pump out blockbuster content, be it in movies or video games, and in fighting games this was abundantly clear. "Marvel vs. Capcom" has long been a staple fighting franchise, while the "Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe" game was a fine experience, but certainly lent considerably more weight to the MK characters than their DC counterparts.
Along with 2011's "DC Universe Online," members of the Justice League of America and many more get a moment to play on a stage all their own in "Injustice." The game plays well and throws a ton of characters from the DC Universe into the fray, yet the punches, kicks and special moves sometimes miss the mark.
The awkwardness starts with feeble instruction. Fighting games are notoriously complex, and without a solid demo introducing you to all the button combos and so on, you will quickly find yourself frustrated and whipped upon even by mediocre artificial-intelligence characters. The tutorials only scratch the surface and don't provide enough in-game scenarios to show how to execute the complex moves.
Another quirk shows up in the fights themselves, which can cause frustration if you're a hard-core fan of the genre and "Mortal Kombat" and "Street Fighter" franchises are constants in your gaming life. I tried three different controllers, and all of them experienced a slight lag when pressing buttons and seeing the results on-screen. Sure, it's a minor note but an important one considering how a well-executed combo can instantly turn a match's outcome, especially in online matches.
Many playable characters await, so it shouldn't be hard to find a few to latch onto. Staples like Superman, Wonder Woman and The Flash are fan favorites, but those who venture outside the standard JLA realm will find gems like Doomsday, Deathstroke and Solomon Grundy (OK, maybe I'm just saying that playing as villains makes the game a tad more fun).
Outside of the standard one-on-one fights you can initiate, a few other modes of play exist. I'd recommend playing the story mode first, mainly because it introduces you to numerous characters and provides better in-game training than the tutorial so you can see various fight styles. Just beware that the story takes on serious tones -- for example, Superman declares himself a demigod and ruler of Earth after being tricked into killing Lois Lane and his unborn child -- but the delivery comes off as campy. Instead of feeling that humanity lies in the balance of each fight, quippy one-liners stop you from taking things too seriously. For a plot-driven experience, that doesn't make sense.
You can play in online matches, but custom options are limited. STAR Labs missions provide character-specific matches (fight a perfect fight, execute a certain number of moves, etc.), and those provide some focused fun if you find yourself in need of a diversion from the standard fights.
Dealing damage either with your fists, a few weapons or maybe some elements like a bus or statue gives you the feeling of being one of those beloved superheroes. It's far from a perfect offering, but at least DC characters can have the spotlight to themselves. For fans, that is a welcome addition to the fighting-game library.
(Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @campbler or email him at email@example.com.)