Injustice 2 is finally upon us after what feels like an eternity since its announcement. The team over at NetherRealm Studios have tirelessly worked on it, but have they managed to raise the bar from their last entry? Or should this title be sent straight to the Phantom Zone?
The game takes place a few years after the events of the first game, with Superman in prison following his defeat at the hands of Batman, the regime toppled and its supporters scattered. Bruce Wayne (now publicly known to be Batman) attempts to heal the damage done by Superman until the villainous Brainiac comes to Earth looking for the tyrannical Kryptonian.
Story-wise, Injustice 2 is fairly gripping. The characters and plot easy enough for both comic veterans and casual audiences to grasp. That isn’t to say that the story is always on point, however; in several instances across the roughly 4-6 hour story mode characters appear and disappear without much explanation, reason or care.
Characters like Deadshot appear for a handful of scenes yet, despite the circumstances of his involvement in the story he’s never seen or heard from again. Often, Injustice 2 attempts to provide players with a reason for the strange use of glorified cameo appearances. However, I found this to be both incredibly frustrating when really it felt like a lazy attempt to include as many characters from the roster as possible.
In spite of this, the overall plot is very well put together and the central narrative does flow rather well. Admittedly, though it sometimes misses opportunities to involve characters together. Characters like Batman and Robin who have direct relationships with each other tend to be on opposite sides of the board. Whilst it would certainly have been nice to see the dynamic duo engage more, it would have also been interesting to see further explorations of the minor characters’ storylines throughout the arching narrative.
In terms of replay value, the story mode does offer some branching paths. However, these paths amount to little more than small dialogue exchanges before a fight. A second playthrough covering the paths you missed the first time through, though, will allow you to play an alternative ending for the game. The replayability may be largely artificial, but the option to play a completely different final chapter is indeed a motivating prospect – and one that gives the single-player aspects of the game further longevity.
The replayability may be largely artificial, but the option to play a completely different final chapter is indeed a motivating prospect
Thankfully the combat is very rewarding and entertaining. Characters’ personalities shine through in the way that they move around the beautifully realised locales. NetherRealm have kept the same mechanics from the original game with ‘The Clash’, allowing you to wager super meter to break out of combos. But what’s interesting is that they have now also introduced the option to use it to roll across the stage and break out of air juggles. They are small tweaks but allow you to alleviate some of the annoyances of playing against someone who can keep you at a distance or keep you in the air with extended juggles.
Each character in the game has unique combo strings, special moves and character powers. In the case of Superman, for instance, his power can allow him to buff his damage – for Black Canary, it gives the player access to her signature Canary Cry. They are all for the most part well-thought out abilities, with only a couple of them feeling slightly cliché and standard for the genre. The majority fit well with their respective characters. Overall, this makes the game both enjoyable and tactical as it becomes of paramount importance to take these signature moves into account.
The cast is well-rounded, with plenty of the DC heavyweights like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Flash mixing with some of the more niche characters like Swamp Thing, Cheetah and Atrocitus. Obviously, plenty of characters that have had the recent big screen treatment show up here and there, and there is certainly one character you will be cursing every time he pops up: Deadshot.
Deadshot personifies exactly what is wrong with balance in Injustice 2. He has so many projectiles from several different angles that he becomes a chore to fight, especially when you throw in enhanced ammo that can create damage over time or knock down on hit. I bring this up because the first Injustice title suffered a lot from the same and it feels disheartening that NetherRealm have apparently learned nothing from past mistakes by designing Deadshot to fit every negative aspect of the original Injustice’s online play. They have engineered a character that currently dominates the competitive aspects of the game precisely because he is easy to play and manipulate against much of the remaining cast. Frustrating, to say the least.
It feels disheartening that NetherRealm have apparently learned nothing from past mistakes by designing Deadshot to fit every negative aspect of the original Injustice’s online play
Playing as The Flash was one of the biggest joys I had with my considerable time playing Injustice 2, not just for how he controls and moves but also how much personality the team at NetherRealm have managed to pack into his moves and combos. They have placed a lot of emphasis on making the characters feel like their comic personalities, and I was a fan in particular of their work on individual skins. The Flash’s premium ‘Reverse Flash’ skin (which normally costs to unlock, but is included in the premium editions of the game for free), for instance, includes completely different voice lines and character interactions. Not only does he appear different, he also acts differently in his introductions and cinematics with the opponent fighters. This I really admired as it meant that the premium skins had a lot more to offer players in their experiences in the game than just a different, fancier costume.
What really enhances the roster in Injustice 2 is the new Gear System, which turns the title into a full-blown RPG. With stat buffs, cosmetic changes and more, Gear changes the way a character can be used. The way in which you earn gear is simple enough; play matches, open mother boxes and complete challenges. Gear adds plenty of reason to play the expansive Multiverse mode which collects together daily challenges and rewards you for completing them, but received much scepticism for its practicalities in other aspects of the game such as the competitive online element.
Gear adds plenty of reason to play the expansive Multiverse mode which collects together daily challenges and rewards you for completing them
That being said, it is a poor replacement for the much more rounded and balanced Variation System in Mortal Kombat X. Where the Gear System falls completely short is in its randomisation. This may appeal to some casual players but as Gear alters stats like strength, defence and health, for the dedicated player it is frustrating to be repeatedly awarded gear that is not for a character you want to play, or is of too high a level to be useable. While the characters’ variables are never altered in ranked matches (thank god), the Gear System also changes some abilities which gives characters powers that they do not normally have – which adds a whole new level of frustration and ambiguity to the game.
These changes are almost like a customisable Variation System but one that never achieves the distinct style and feel of the system featured in Mortal Kombat X. My biggest concern with the system is that even with four separate currencies there is no way to buy Gear outright, instead you must earn gear at complete random via Motherboxes or through random matches. The issue here is that Motherboxes are rather ominously like the loot boxes and supply drops from titles like Overwatch and Call of Duty – although they are not earned through real world cash (yet). It therefore makes little sense for the gear to not be selectively bought with the earned currencies, as it removes all possibility of dedicated personal customisation.
The system however does have its perks in that it can and will make every character look unique in appearance as each piece of gear you equip will alter the base design of your character. The change in abilities outside of the competitive scene can be both entertaining and rewarding. Characters in player matches and in the Multiverse Mode will have crazy buffs which can add a degree of excitement in the unknown. Sadly however, this will often largely boil down to frustrating matches with variables you didn’t expect or see coming. In the Ranked Match playlist, all gear variables are removed, and so the small alterations to special moves and character powers are made redundant as you are left with the base unaltered character model – both a blessing and a curse, depending on who you ask.
Characters in player matches and in the Multiverse Mode will have crazy buffs which can add a degree of excitement in the unknown
In terms of online play, Injustice 2 has the typical Ranked Match, Player Match and Room set-up with Rooms allowing for players to meet up and chat before heading into battle. Fan favourite King of The Hill mode has also seen a return, in which players cast votes for the best players as they compete in a classic winner stays on format. Thankfully the online play is very stable and I only encountered few matches containing any noticeable lag. I have to applaud NetherRealm here, in the past some of their titles have suffered from poor netcode. So, to have this fixed out of the box is a feat that deserves commendation and redeems the game as a highly playable competitive title.
One aspect of NetherRealm fighting games that has continued to disappoint me since the original Injustice, though, is the sound design and unfortunately it is barely better here. Voice acting and hit sound effects are great with brilliantly acted one-liners and bone shattering impact sounds. However, the quality does drop in the background music and the announcer. I understand the announcer is meant to be a computer however it lacks any of the excitement found in rival games. The background audio is fairly flat with only one or two music queues standing out amidst a sea of uninspiring and dull orchestral tracks.
Voice acting and hit sound effects are great with brilliantly acted one-liners and bone shattering impact sounds
That being said, as disappointing as the sound department is the graphics more than make up for it. Injustice 2 is jaw dropping. Character costumes look fantastic and stages are brilliantly detailed and bathed in atmospheric lighting. The graphics are not just impressive for a fighting game but for games in general. Never have I seen such realistic facial animations in a game. The graphics department is where the gear system truly shines as each piece of Gear is brilliantly detailed and defined.
Injustice 2 is an all-round package delivering some stellar single player content with regularly updated challenges in Multiverse Mode, a gripping cinematic story mode and plenty of gear to unlock alongside a strong and stable online multiplayer mode. It has its faults with balance and a poorly implemented gear system but with a patch to address balance this game could be a serious contender for one of the best titles of the year.
This copy of Injustice 2 was purchased for PlayStation 4. Jack Gash has spent around 20 hours attempting to collect enough gear to personally crown himself A God Among Us.