Superman and Batman meet in a dark alley, somewhere in the backstreets of Gotham City. For whatever reason they aren't getting along this evening and the two heroes decide to throw down to decide once and for all who's the baddest dude in the DC Comics universe. Who wins?
For decades that question has plagued schoolyards, comic book shops and internet forums. It's almost become a zen koan for the geek set, as there really isn't a genuinely correct answer. Despite this, NetherRealm Studios (the company behind the excellent 2011 Mortal Kombat reboot) recently teamed with DC Comics to create Injustice: Gods Among Us, a fighting game based on DC characters that is equal parts Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, comic books and epic bombast.
We'll get back to the Superman versus Batman debate in a bit as Injustice really does offer an answer for that query, but first, let's examine exactly what NetherRealm has wrought. As you'd expect, the key selling point for Injustice is that its roster includes 24 characters drawn from throughout the massive, storied DC Comics universe. NetherRealm has cast its net pretty wide in selecting fighters for Injustice, so while you have the obvious inclusions (like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman,) you also have lesser known characters like Black Adam and Hawkgirl. Given the overwhelming perennial popularity of the extended Bat-family it would have been all too easy for NetherRealm to fill the cast entirely with Bruce Wayne's closest pals (and that occurs to a small extent), but by expanding the scope of the cast, Injustice provides an intriguing look at the DC universe for those who don't own thousands of comic books. This should be seen as one of Injustice's greatest strengths: Moreso than almost any other superhero-based videogame to date, it stands a great chance of turning your average, comics-illiterate fighting game fan into the sort who makes weekly trips to the nearest comic book shop. Even Capcom's long-running, beloved Marvel vs Capcom franchise pales in comparison to the obvious affection NetherRealm has for DC's characters, and this should be seen as great news for fans of the comics.
Plot-wise, Injustice tells a story that's inarguably silly and over-the-top, yet should be instantly familiar to anyone who's spent time poring over DC's publications. Injustice takes place in an alternate reality (well, multiple alternate realities) in which Superman has been driven mad by the Joker's latest scheme. The Kryptonian loses his mind with grief over the death of a loved one and decides that the best way to prevent future bloodshed is by taking control of the planet and ruling humanity with a despotic iron fist. Batman, being the voice of reason, doesn't take too kindly to Superman's decision and joins forces with a number of heroes and villains to topple The Man of Steel's nascent regime. It's nothing too complex, nor is it as cerebral as some of DC's finest stories, but it serves as appropriate justification for characters who are normally on friendly terms to punch one another through conveniently-placed buildings.
But wait, how is it that a guy like Batman, who has no real superpowers to speak of, can go toe-to-toe with Superman, a character capable of tossing people into the sun? In truth, it's best that you don't think too hard about this. Injustice attempts to handwave this annoying bit of logic away with scant mentions of what the Joker calls "happy pills," but in the end it's best to just remember that Injustice is a collision of comic book logic and fighting game storytelling. In that light, the game presents a pretty solid tale, but don't expect the story to be as intricately planned as the works of Alan Moore.
What you can expect from the story however, is a surprising level of depth, given the game's genre. The story mode alone features four to five hours of cutscene-driven plot, periodically punctuated by one-on-one fisticuffs. Beyond that you've also got a relatively standard Arcade Mode (complete with its own character-specific plot lines), and the STAR Labs missions which, while similar to the Challenge Tower seen in 2011's Mortal Kombat, are a greatly enhanced set of 240 challenges that could very easily drain dozens of hours from your life. It's no hyperbole to say that Injustice may well have more singleplayer content than any other fighter to date, and that's a huge plus for those who eventually tire of beating on people over the interne. Fighting games should always have a focus on multiplayer combat, but once that's established, additional solo content quickly becomes the easiest way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Injustice is quite clearly wheat.