Injustice 2 Review
System: PS4, XBONE,
2009’s release of Mortal Kombat, the explosive 9th entry in the venerable fighting series, brought the series back to its simpler 2d roots, abandoning the array of gimmicks that had latched itself onto its back over the years like a leech. It brought NetherRealm Studios – formerly of Midway fame – back from the brink of self-parody and established them once again as a Kompetitive force to be reckoned with – see what I did there?
Following what every successful studio does, it eventually tackled a mainstream license in the form of DC Comics. While their earlier first venture with them ended in mixed results with 2008’s Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, 2013’s release of Injustice: Gods Among Us successfully delivered the over-the-top fighting game action NetherRealm was known with the dark character storytelling that made DC the household name it is. The game, like many of the studios recent efforts was benefited by a strong focus on story with their best campaign to date, while giving players a fun, if flawed fighter, that could be enjoyed by fighting game and comic book fans alike – or both.
Flash forward 4 years later and we have a studio coming off a successful – if safe – follow up to Mortal Kombat ready to see if it can do the same for its superhero brand. Fear not, not only is Injustice all sorts of awesome, it improves on the original in almost every single way possible, delivering a highly polished and carefully detailed, if simple fighting game experience that delivers the studio’s best single player offering to date.
Where to start if not the most impressive element of any NetherRealm game: its story.
Picking up after the events of the Gods Among Us in a universe where we find some of the usual good guys falling to the dark side, we find a new threat that is taking out cities, while tensions still run high between Batman and his new team of Justice and those who follow the still imprisoned Superman, who still has seemingly malicious intentions.
Over the course of its 5 plus hour runtime, we get what is arguably NetherRealm’s finest work to date, delivering a dark and intriguing tale that shows the DC brand of heroes in a fresh new take on the extended universe while never forgetting to show its fun side thanks to its colorful cast of characters – thank you Harley Quinn. While the story goes into ridiculous and outright preposterous territory, it has a playful and sometimes fourth-wall breaking quality even during it most hectic moments that can be endearing and doesn’t feel like the game’s winking derisively at you. It’s incredibly well paced, never outstaying its welcome and also sets itself up for another sequel with its solid ending/endings.
The story mode is broken up like previous games in that you will follow a certain character over a chapter spanning 4-5 fights, wrapping up a single issue-sized comic arc, while delivering on each character’s unique traits as well as their place in the universe.
While there aren’t a whole lot of new surprises if you have played the studios’ most recent work, the formula works perfectly well and it is far from getting stale. There could have been a few more unique challenges here and there and maybe some unique elements can be added in the future – for example, how cool would it be to explore Gotham in a beat-em-up styled 2d fighter? – but what we get is an impressive feat not only for fighting games, but interactive storytelling in general.
So how about that fighting? Well, if you played the original Injustice, you will pretty much know what you are getting yourself into.
Injustice 2 employs the same 4-button set-up from the previous game. You have your light, normal, and heavy attacks and then your individual character trait, which is unique to each of the 27 fighters on the roster and can be used in multiple ways.
For, example Supergirl’s Kryptonian lasers can be fired in succinct blasts with just a tap of a button, forgoing only a fraction of her character trait energy, or she can go full ham and burn the entire meter for a massive concurrent beam which will pulverize your opponent for a short amount of time. Some character traits are more offensive and others create more defensive play, but finding a balance on when and how to use them is a key element that give each of the fighters a unique feel from one another.
Each of these characters is also outfitted with a super move that can be pulled off with the shoulder buttons and they are a sight to behold, demonstrating the very godlike powers that give these heroes the moniker of Super. On top of supers, clashes also make their return, which open up once a fighter has been pushed into their second health bar. It allows you to risk your super meter against your opponent to see who will come out the winner and either reclaim health or deal damage depending on the differential. While it’s an interesting element in the overall meta-game, I never incorporated it into my play style.
What I do love is the return of the interactive objects in the background of stages, which can be used to your advantage in different ways. If you pick a quicker character, you can volley off walls or objects while picking a heavy hitter such as Superman or Supergirl will allow you to literally rip these same foundations off the wall and throw them back at your enemy. You can even knock you opponent through the walls and end up in a completely different stage. While these elements might seem blasphemous to the more hardcore crowd, they are just plain fun if only to see the carnage that ensues..
Overall it’s a simpler system than most fighting games out there – including Realm’s Mortal Kombat series – but what’s there works well in welcoming the more casual crowd alongside genre veterans – and let’s face it, there are just as many non-fighting game fans that are interested in the game due to its license.
While the fighting is faster this time around, the engine is still as stiff as it’s always been when it comes to NetherRealm’s games, which might throw certain people off. It’s by no means bad, but it’s definitely a different style of fighting game from those used to the smooth transitional movements of Tekken or the elegant cat and mouse game that Street Fighter brings. There is a certain weight to everything that makes the canned animations of attacks and movement feel inorganic and antiquated next to its contemporaries. That’s not to say it isn’t fun nor that it’s bereft of depth, it’s just it feels ironically sluggish compared to speed in which characters move on the screen. I also feel like – maybe due to the lag of its 4K graphics processing – pulling off combo strings consistently was a lot harder than in previous games. When it came to fighting the computer or another human via online, I always went to the bread and butter combos than the more elaborate ones just for the sake of ease of execution. This worked well enough against lower tiered opponents, as reading and adapting to their strategies effectively usually ended in my victory, but against battle hardened veterans who can pull off 10 hit combos and drain half a life bar consistently, not being able to punish with the same effectiveness contributed to my downfalls.
While the fighting for the most part is fun – if only to get some friends together and see your favorite characters duke it out– I never felt the desire to take the time to explore the game with any sort of serious depth outside the casual setting and this was probably due to the lack of fluidity in the move set.
Where Injustice 2 might not be the most complex or rewarding fighter on the market when it comes to pure mechanics, there are very few games that deliver the goods this well when it comes to single player content. On top of the incredible story mode, we are graced with a game changer for those who love loot-based games in the all-new Multiverse mode.
Multiverse is a set of planet-disguised hubs that house myriad challenges that revolve around ladders of opponents – akin to Mortal Kombat X – with certain themes and stipulations. Some will have you facing a barrage of spiked saws while dealing with your opponent, while others will have you and your opponent contending with a ground that wants shock you without a moment’s notice. All of them reward you with gear to customize your character with.
This gear not only alters the physical appearance of your designated fighter in subtle but cool ways, via new capes, cowls and other trinkets – new tridents for Aquaman anyone? – but it also alters the stats of your fighter as well. Yes, your characters level up – to a max of 20 – upon completing matches in the multiverse, which allows you to equip any gear up to that level. This means you will be incentivized to play as a many characters as possible because you guessed it; gear is unlocked randomly via loot boxes known as Mother Boxes. This is a great way to get you to test out characters you would never have given the time of day to or conversely hold an even greater grudge against because they are stealing the equipment drops your Supergirl should be getting!
If you are worried that micro transactions are going to take over from this point, you will be pleased to learn that such scummy practices rarely rear their ugly head in any sort of egregious way here. Almost everything you do will next you loot boxes at a consistent clip, so much so that the game never forces your hand in buying more. That being said it is always frustrating pulling an epic piece – they are coded by rarity – that also fits into a particular gear set – Diablo much? – knowing the chances of getting the other pieces in the set is a longshot, unless you’ve got hundreds of dollars to waste.
It is a little more scummy that the Re-gen currency used to reroll existing gear for higher levels – yes there are multiple types of currency – to match your character’s own level is hard to come by and therefore might tempt those to play the playing game if patience is not your strong suit. Nonetheless, the progression nature of the Multiverse mixed with the incentive of gaining new levels and better gear makes playing Injustice 2 a wholly addictive experience and one that I can see myself going back to on a regular basis to see what new challenges and gear become available – they recently had an event to obtain armor inspired by the new Wonder Woman film.
One thing that I found frustrating though is the boss fights that usually bookend a Multiverse hub. They are full of the cheap AI contrivances you have been accustomed to from the early days of fighting games, with massive health pools, flawless execution, and the impeccable ability to read your every move. It becomes even more frustrating when they are all that stands between you and that epic Supergirl chest piece you are dying to get. So frustrating that I put a nice dent in the metal undercarriage of my fight stick – an impressive feat after years of abuse.
Guilds are a great new addition to the series and add further benefits. Joining one is as simple as grabbing a group of friends or finding a willing party who will take you in. They allow your team to participate in collective goals, such as win x amount of online ranked matches, or do x amount of damage to boss characters, use x amount of supers, and reward you with additional Mother Boxes. It’s just another way the game keeps on giving and feeds its addictive loop.
The online structure for Injustice 2 is pretty standard by this point, but it is real solid. You have your typical player and ranked matches – the latter scraps gear stats – as well as a King of the Hill mode that sets up a lobby where winner goes on and losers can watch and complain to others how they were cheated out of victory. In all seriousness it’s a cool mode that works real well and it does its best to simulate the experience of lining up coins in an arcade and itching to take your glory as the top dog.
The online from my experience so far has been a flawless victory – I hope you are enjoying these Mortal Kombat puns as much as I’m hating myself for writing them – with near lag free matches on a consistent basis. I also found it incredibly quick and easy to get into any type of match with search times taking less than 20 seconds on average. If you are looking for a bountiful online experience, Injustice 2 will deliver just that.
NetherRealm Studios have had somewhat of a legacy as a company willing to go the extra mile when it comes to attention to detail, but nothing prepared me for what strides they made in the graphical fidelity department. This is hands-down the prettiest fighting game ever made. Character models are highly detailed, stages are chalk full of Easter eggs, and the silky smooth transitions from story to gameplay, serve to highlight of the experience. Injustice 2 also employs some of the best lighting I have seen this generation and it shows it proudly in all of its HDR glory.
The showstopper though has got to be the facial animations, which are some of the best, if not the best, to ever grace a video game. The eerie detail every time Harley Quinn chew her gum or wryly smiles, the intensity in Supergirl’s face as she gets ready to unleash her super, and the pained expressions in Superman’s eyes in a pivotal and emotional scene in the story, bring us one step closer to crossing the uncanny valley. At times I thought I was looking at a real human face scanned into the matrix and it blew my mind.
The audio work is fantastic to, with the sounds of punches and kicks giving weight to their respective actions. The voice work is also fantastic and will be reminiscent for those who have watched any of the animated fare WB has done for DC in the last decade or so with Kevin Conroy reprising Batman and Tara Strong doing the same for Harley Quinn. It’s disappointing we don’t get another rendition of Mark Hamill’s Joker, but overall the voices sound exactly the way you remember them. The little details such as the unique situational banter between different fighter’s is an incredibly generous touch, making sure that each interaction, every clash, every quip feels organic to the moment and its much appreciated. Music is also solid, really playing up the dark and broodingly gothic motifs that have punctuated DC Comics’ multimedia enterprises over the years.
4 out of 5
Following in the footsteps of its forebears, NetherRealm Studios chalk up another resounding victory with Injustice 2. Not since 2011’s Mortal Kombat has a fighting game graced us with not only this much single player content, but of this high quality, while still delivering a fun and flexible fighting system that anyone can pick up and have a good time with – fighting game fan or not.
It might not have depth of its contemporaries and its stiffer controls and animations might throw off the Street Fighter and Tekken crowds, but those looking for a robust and highly polished fighting game that shows all the love put into every single frame, look no further, your hero has arrived. Now let’s all just ignore those micro-transactions.