DEVELOPERS: NetherRealm Studios
PUBLISHERS: Warner Bros Entertainment
DIRECTOR: Ed Boon
PRODUCER: Adman Urbano
INITIAL RELEASE: May 16, 2017
Hey, how ‘bout that DC, huh? They sure have churned out some reeeeeeally bad movies (fingers crossed for Wonder Woman to not be a train-wreck). But even in spite of that, DC has been doing far better in other areas, including both TV and vidya gaemz. Chief among those achievements in not being terrible was NetherRealm Studios’ excellent DC-themed fighting game Injustice: Gods Among Us. And for NetherRealm as a studio, they seem to just keep going from strength to strength with each new title. But has Ed Boon and his glorious caterpillar eyebrows bought us another winner with Injustice 2, or have he and NetherRealm Snyderised another DC franchise?
The core gameplay has by and large remained unchanged from the previous Injustice, and this isn’t really a huge problem for the most part- I always found the first Injustice’s control scheme to be fairly straightforward and intuitive anyway. I still have my misgivings with NetherRealm’s use of “dial-in” mechanics for its combo inputs though, by which I mean that a combo only executes on the complete input of buttons required for it in sequence, as opposed to on an individual button basis. For me at least, this feels incredibly counter-intuitive to the natural flow of button input during a fight- it forces you to think about each combo as a complete sequence while you’re trying to individually input each part of it, and I find that aspect to profoundly cognitively jarring. Whether this is as much of an issue for other players I have no clue, but it can prove to be a point of frustration for me. Still, this is a minor point overall, and for the most part fighting with any character becomes an intensely satisfying experience once you get the hang of them. Skill level is not too much of an issue either: combos are generally fairly straightforward, and there are usually a handful of reliable combos for each character that are easy enough to pick up and use intuitively.
And speaking of characters specifically, Injustice 2 has followed up its predecessor with a pleasingly fresh and robust roster, which is no small feat given the strength of the previous game’s roster. While its missing some of the bigger characters and household names that populated the first game’s roster, it makes up for it by throwing out some previously neglected fan favourites and more obscure characters, like Superman, and Batman, and Harley Quinn, and Green Lantern, and…I’m kidding, obviously, but it is nice to see some weirder choices in the mix like Swamp Thing, as opposed to some safer albeit overly familiar choices. With that said, Injustice 2’s roster does suffer from the same problems of ratio that the original’s did, namely in that close to a third of the roster is once again populated by Batman characters. I get that Batman has a pretty fantastic, if not the best, rogue’s gallery in all of comics, but c’mon guys, there are other characters that could just easily fill some of the slots taken up by Batman characters who, at least in story terms, have no real reason to be there (*cough* Joker *cough*).
And hey, what a great way to transition seamlessly to talking about Injustice 2’s Story Mode! The Story Mode, oftentimes an afterthought or distraction in so many other fighting games, has actually become a genuine highlight when it comes to NetherRealm’s recent titles, and Injustice 2 is no exception. Great-looking cut-scenes support a surprisingly robust story that directly follows on from the events of the first game: with Super-Fash defeated and locked up and his regime ended, Batman and friends are trying to rebuild in the wake of the devastation caused by the conflict…until a new group called The Society appears, lead by Gorilla Grodd, who himself is only a proxy for Brainiac, looking to harvest Earth the same way he did Krypton. I really can’t stress enough how impressed I am by Injustice 2’s Story Mode on just a technical level alone: I wasn’t kidding when I said those cut scenes looked great. Hell, they’re probably some of the best I’ve seen in a game this year, and it’s accompanied by some truly top-notch voice performances as well from the likes of Kevin Conroy, Laura Bailey, Tara Strong, and Steve Blum, to name just a few. Even screen horror legend Robert Englund (aka the original Freddy Kruger) gets in on the fun as the voice of Scarecrow.
That said, the actual gameplay of the Story Mode itself isn’t really all that different from the previous Injustice, with each chapter playing out in a series of fights wherein you control one particular character. There’s a bit of a monkey wrench thrown in by certain chapters letting you choose between two different characters instead of having to play as just one, a mechanic which comes up in a very satisfying way by the story’s end. But really, the actual fights themselves often quickly become something of a tedious distraction that just feels like deliberate delaying actions to get in the way of the story itself, which is a pleasingly compelling tale that somehow succeeds in making Superman really fascinating. Turns out the trick is turning him into a straight-up authoritarian arsehole as opposed to a low contrast sad man in washed out colors…who’d have thought, huh? Its obviously not perfect in many ways: far too many of the fights are set up in ways that feel really unmotivated or whose internal logic doesn’t really make any sense, and NetherRealm also continues their weird love affair with end-game bosses who have bullshit powers and abilities or absolutely no reason other than blatant artificial difficulty, but its strengths balance out these weaknesses by a fairly wide margin.
New to the Injustice franchise is The Multiverse, a single player mode that replaces that often highly hit-or-miss STAR Labs mode from the original. The Multiverse comprises a rotating set of alternate Earths that each hold a set of challenges, often with unique modifiers or conditions, for players to burn through to earn experience to level up their characters, and phat, phat loot. The various challenge sets rotate regularly, but with a fairly generous time limit, and are by and large a whole lot of fun to blast through. Of course, the Multiverse hasn’t rid itself of all of STAR Labs’ flaws, and there can be some truly brutal challenges that oftentimes border on the absurd or unfair, but these tend to be fairly rare overall. I should also point out that Arcade Mode now lives in Multiverse too…as “Battle Simulator”. It seemed like a strange choice to me for NetherRealm to bury the Arcade Mode somewhat obscurely in the Multiverse for no apparent reason, but at least it’s still there.
Injustice 2 also improves on its predecessor by introducing a slew of customisation options to its roster, giving players a range of gear options that add stats and modifiers to make your character of choice all the better in a fight. The gear itself is rather nifty visually as well, with many of the roster’s characters getting some really great and diverse looks from the gear you can pick up. Each character also comes with a number of load out slots, so you can tweak various gear sets to get a variety of different styles out of one character. In addition to this, characters also level up RPG-style to a maximum of 20, with each level bringing the promise of better gear, and even new abilities and access to more advanced Multiverse challenges. The depth of customisation on offer in Injustice 2 feels a cut above what most fighting games provide and does a great deal to make your characters feel more unique to you, and there’s a certain satisfaction that comes with levelling up characters and watching them grow stronger which other fighting games don’t really offer.
With that said, I have some quibbles with how gear is acquired, which via Mother Boxes unlocked by just generally playing through the game. Now, you might already be thinking this is a Overwatch Loot Box situation, although that’s not strictly true- the payouts from Mother Boxes tend to be far more generous. Rather, its more of a quality-of-life complaint- for some insane reason, you can only open these things one at a time, which would be fine…except that you often get a shit-load of these things at a time, leading to an often laborious process of opening a dozen boxes one at a time, and that gets pretty tedious, pretty quick.
Injustice 2 also has a bevy of online features for any players looking to mix it up with each other, including multiple different game modes like King of the Hill or Hot Seat. Injustice 2 also provides multiplayer rooms that allow players to gather together and organise matches, which is supremely useful if you happen to live in a country with terrible internet and want to find people whose internet is equally terrible (‘Straya maaaaaaaate!). Injustice 2 also provides players with the ability to form Guilds as well, which provide a number of benefits and possibilities for players looking to form the ultimate fighting team to get endlessly stomped by somebody who exclusively plays whoever is OP this month. Joking aside, the online suite of features is by and large pretty impressive, and though its not exactly usually on my list of priorities for most games, it feels like NetherRealm’s done a lot to make the Injustice 2 online experience varied and intuitive for everyone.
Injustice 2 is precisely that kind of sequel I love- it takes everything that worked in the original and successfully builds on those features without going too far overboard in doing so. Sure, its still got its foibles, but they’re foibles that are easily overlooked in face of its overwhelmingly charming personality, player-friendliness, and abundance of depth and nuance. I would also argue that Injustice 2’s Story Mode is the best DC movie DC hasn’t made yet. In short, if you’re a fighting game fan, a DC fan, one or the other, or a bit of both, there’s a lot to like in Injustice 2.