Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Reviewed On: Xbox One
Publisher: Warner Bros.
Review copy supplied free of charge by the publisher.
It has done my heart good to see Netherealm return from the brink of self-annihilation. The creators of Mortal Kombat were a huge part of my childhood as I spent many happy hours trying to master Sub-zero. But along the way the studio got off-track and Mortal Kombat plunged into the depths, and many thought it would never be seen again. Seemingly against the odds, though, Netherealm returned to form with a new Mortal Kombat that was brilliant, then proceeded to follow it up with Injustice: Gods Among Us, a DC-themed fighting game that was basically Mortal Kombat under the hood but without the gore. The release of Mortal Kombat X saw the studio improve on the formula again, and now here we are with Injustice 2. Spoiler alert: Netherealm have done it again.
The story picks up not long after the events of the first game where the Joker caused Superman to mistakenly kill Lois and his unborn child. Mad with grief Superman punched through the Joker’s chest, killing him outright before then deciding that he is done simply catching criminals to be locked up. Instead, he embarks on a mission to rid the world of evil, creating a tyrannical regime through a slippery slope of good intentions that eventually gets defeated. Injustice 2 sees the Man of Steel himself now locked up in a Red Sun cell capable of dampening his powers. Things are never easy, though, as Brainiac threatens the world and Batman must decide if Superman must be unleashed again in order to save Earth.
As one would expect of a fighting game it’s largely an excuse for the sizable roster to beat the crap out of each other while creating reasons why someone like Harley Quinn is capable of going toe-to-toe with Superman. Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was, then, when the storyline actually turned out be pretty damn good, spinning an entertaining yarn across five hours or so hours that while not likely to win any awards for its dialogue still manages to tell a far better Batman v Superman tale than the movie did. Strong voice acting and facial animations help, too, with Batman getting voiced by the legendary Kevin Conroy while Tara Strong once again fills the boots of Harley Quinn. Speaking of which, the game delivers what I’m going to boldly declare the best on-screen Harley Quinn since the animated Batman TV show. Also, hats off to Alan Tudyk who was clearly having fun as the wise-cracking Green Arrow.
We also get to see some new characters pop up such as Supergirl who plays a pretty large role in the story. Even Grodd the Gorilla is heavily featured. Indeed, between the Gorilla and a guy called Brainiac it’s fair to say that anyone unfamiliar with the comics is probably going to think the story is a bit nuts. They would not be wrong. These new characters join a raft of others including Wonder Woman, Black Adam, Cyborg, Robin, Mr. Cold, Scarecrow, Swamp Thing, Black Canary, Atrocitus and much more. Hell, the writers even awkwardly cram in a scene designed purely to justify having the Joker as a playable character, albeit with a strange redesign that looks like like it tried to take inspiration from Jared Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad.
The story is hardly flawless thanks to a few contrived situations designed purely to wedge a character into the plot or some clumsy dialogue, but it’s beautifully presented thanks to good scene direction and impressive facial animations, as well as surprisingly well-written in places, including a few touching moments surrounding the lost friendship of Batman and Superman. Netherealm show a lot of respect for the DC property, staying true to the characters while putting their own spin on things that gets presented in strong cinematic style where cutscenes blend nearly seamlessly into fights. This might just be the best story in a fighting game ever. I mean, that’s not saying much, but seriously, it’s a lot of fun and completely worth playing through.
At its core this is standard fighter stuff with light, medium and heavy attacks forming basic combos that can they be augmented with each character’s selection of special moves. Learning the ins and outs in regards to what moves can be can combined with what combos is vital when it comes to heading online where the skill level is unsurprisingly very high, but it’s worth noting that while there is a lot of depth to Injustice 2, something we’ll be chatting about, it’s also a very accessible game. I remember when I first jumped into Street Fighter getting up to speed was a real headache due to the tight timing, but here the timing is usually quite generous and you’ll find yourself throwing out the basic combos with relative ease.
The burn meter is what underpins most of Injustice 2’s new mechanics. Spending all four bars of the meter lets you unleash a character’s unique super move, a spectacular attack that sees Supergirl punching people into space before blasting them through some asteroids and has The Flash literally run back through time so he can slam his opponent into a miffed T-rex. This moves are impressive and can deal huge damage, but failing to connect with them can leave you open.
A single bar of the meter can also be spent to power up a special move, which mostly comes down to providing an opportunity to launch into a bigger, harder-hitting combo or just sneak in a bit of extra damage. As you play the game more and more you’ll quite likely find yourself spending the meter less on super moves and more on powering up your regular ones.
It’s the defensive options which left me the most impressed, though. By burning two chunks of the meter you can perform an air cancel, letting you escape being juggled. This is especially handy as most of the deadliest combos in the game involve juggling an opponent in the air, so the option to get out of it is invaluable. There’s also roll escape at the cost of a single bar, too. It’s handy for closing the gap to a ranged character whose busy spamming attacks from the other side of the screen. Plus there’s also a block cancel that pushes away the opponent provided you manage to block a hit in their combo, handy for getting some breathing room.
Back on the offensive front there’s also a bounce cancel at the cost of two bars. This can be inserted into most combos and let’s you bounce an opponent of the edge of the screen into the perfect position to be juggled for even more damage.
In other words for a fighting game there’s a hell of a lot of meter management going on. If you simply want to jump in and have some fun while mostly ignoring the meter you can, but the meter system and the many defensive and offensive options built atop it create some thrilling matches at higher levels, levels that I can personally probably never reach. It feels like the game is always trying to give you an out, a way to power out of the pressure an opponent is putting on you and potentially get back into the fight, and I’m interested to see just how well it will all play out as people spend more time it.
With that said I’m far from an expert at fighting games, having rarely ever ventured into the terrifying stat screens in Injustice 2 that display things like frame times and more. That means I’m not qualified to talk about the balance or the many intricacies that draw the hardcore players in. I could spend countless hours trying to hone my skills and still be nowhere near the level needed to discuss such things. All that I can say is that it’s bloody good fun, every match setting a frenetic, brutal pace but still requiring skill over button-mashing to come out on top. It makes the first Injustice look weak by comparison.
Making the first Injustice look weak is also very much true in terms of graphics. No longer limited to a previous generation Netherealm have upped their game and created something very pretty to look at here. We’ve already touched upon the great facial animations, but everything else looks just as good. There’s a lot of detail on the character models and the environments, with the only gripe being that Netherealm still isn’t great when it comes to the fight animations. It was also a nice touch for the studio to record several lines of intro dialogue for every possible character pairing.
Throughout everything you do you’ll be leveling up each character and earning new loot to equip in what I view as the headline improvement over the first Injustice. New gear is gained via boxes that spew forth random items for the entire roster that vary in rarity, from common all the way to epic. There’s a lot to play with, from new masks to legs, arms, weapons and much more, changing the visual style of the characters immensely so that when you head online or even just into the multiverse you’re constantly seeing different variations and styles. This gear also alters character’s stats, though, increasing things like attack, defense and their abilities, with epic items providing huge boosts. There’s also augmentations to consider such as dealing more damage to Kryptonian enemies in multiverse mode or increased XP acquisition, which is important as gear can only be equipped if the character is of a high enough level. Finall there are sets of gear with big bonuses if you wear all the matching items.
Of course, the system will likely annoy as many people as it manages to please since random loot means lots of time spent getting bits and pieces for characters you don’t play as. I love playing as Batman and rarely ever touch Grodd, so when I get a shiny new thing for the hulking gorilla but nothing for the Caped Crusader it can be a bit annoying.
With that said the game lets you sell off unwanted gear in return for credits which you can use to buy more boxes. Better yet it’s also possible to upgrade gear or spend the credits to transfer the aesthetic looks of one item to another item. In other words, you can keep the look of your level 2 chest piece, but also have the stats of the level 20 one, helping keep gear you’ve picked up along the way relevant.
The system would seem ripe for microtransactions, so I was pleased to find that there isn’t anything that lets you get gear for cash, and that the game hands out new gear quickly, constantly tossing the player stuff like it’s afraid you’ll get bored and leave.
With that said the game is not entirely free of the microtransactions scourge. Source Crystals can be bought with real cash and can be used to purchase “premier” skins, to boost a character up to level 20 in order to equip gear and to use the transform option. You can pick these Crystals up through regular play, but they don’t get dolled out very fast. It’s a shame to see yet another full-priced triple-A title getting microtransactions shoved into it, but at least you can’t buy anything that actually provides an edge.
Smartly, when you battle against other people in ranked online matches any stat boosts are disabled, while in unranked players can opt to enable or disable gear. It’s a good choice as it means online can be a level playing field while multiverse provides a way to make use of all those lovely pieces of equipment you’ve been hoarding.
And speaking of the online there’s also tournaments to take part in, and the connection rarely seemed to be a problem. For the most part I was able to enjoy the smooth combat without a hitch. But by far the most enjoyable online mode is King of the Hill, where six other players hang out in a lobby watching two others fighters battling it out, with the winner staying on. It brings back nostalgic feelings of playing in the arcade or clustered around a console without actually having to have your friends live close by. Meanwhile Netherealm attempt to foster more player interaction through the guild system
Meanwhile Netherealm attempt to foster more player interaction through the guild system where players can band together to form groups, with new benefits being added for every member. There’s a guild multiverse to tackle together, and using the currency you earn guild-specific loot boxes can be bought.
Or you could just get a friend round and play some local multiplayer. Glad to see it’s included here.
Once you’ve ripped through story mode and maybe had a few online bouts there’s a black-hole in the form of the multiverse, a mode designed for people who want to keep fighting but who don’t want to get involved with other human beings who, let’s be honest, can be a bit of a pain in the arse. In the multiverse you can find an ever-changing series of alternate worlds that offer up several series of fights along with some basic flavor text that sets out a basic story. Some of these events force you into playing as specific characters while others introduce modifiers such as poison missiles falling from the sky or health regen tokens. It’s a nice touch to help fights feel fresh and interesting, and I’m very curious to see where Netherealm go with the multiverse. There’s a lot of room for cool stuff in the form of events. But the biggest draw of the multiverse is all the shiny gear, especially as there’s often a planet that award gear for a specific character rather than just handing you boxes full of random loot. Quite simply I’m addicted to this mode at the moment, especially since I don’t have a lot of friends who are into the fighting genre.
I’ve heaped a lot of praise onto the game thus far, so let’s see if there’s anything to find fault with, shall we? Well, since each character only has one super move watching the animation over and over can become a chore. In fact, I would love to have seen Netherealm introduce new super move animations as gear unlocks for variety. Likewise watching the scene transitions can be boring after the first couple of viewings. I’d also have to say that a few of the characters, such as Atrocitus and Swamp Thing, don’t lend themselves to the gear systems as well, since spiky red armor and moss can only be done in so many ways.
I believe Injustice 2 to be Netherealms best game to date, vastly surpassing the original Injustice while also punching aside Mortal kombat X. The small revisions to the combat system have provided a deeper experience for dedicated fans to sink their teeth into without losing the sense of fun and accessibility for more relaxed players. But by far the biggest and most interesting change is the gear system which brings a strong sense of ownership over characters and of progression as you battle through the multiverse. The icing on the cake is a great story mode and wonderful multiplayer.
If there’s one way to best describe Injustice 2 it’s a scene in the story where Batman and Superman stare each other down. “I miss the people we used to be,” Says Batman.
“me too,” Says Superman with clear sincerity on his face. A touching moment between two men who were once friends.
And then Superman punches him.
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