This review was originally written for GeeksAndGamers.com.
In 2013, the acclaimed minds behind the fabled fighting game series Mortal Kombat took a step outside of the ongoing battle between the forces of Earthrealm and Outworld to leap into the expansive world of the DC Comics Universe.
Crafting a new and unique fighting game series around the likes of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, 2013’s Injustice: Gods Among Us proved to be a critical and commercial hit on multiple fronts: it told perhaps one of the single best stories ever featured in a fighting game, consisted of solid and sufficiently deep gameplay mechanics to satisfy even the most hardcore fighting game enthusiast, and featured game modes and characters that helped make the game feel like a true, authentic extension of the DC Comics Universe.
After releasing another acclaimed chapter in the Mortal Kombat series in 2015, this year NetherRealm has returned to their twisted reflection of the DC Universe with Injustice 2. Bigger in almost every way when compared to its predecessor, the second game considerably ups the ante on the capabilities of the player to get lost in both the game’s mechanics and its ever-expanding lore, while also telling a new, wholly original story and adding a brand-new dynamic to a fighting game that, before, had only ever usually been reserved for role-playing games and first-person shooters.
So, does the returning Injustice series leap into the sky faster than a speeding bullet, or does it get its wings clipped only to fall face-first into the gutters of a Gotham City alley? Thankfully, there’s far more soaring than stumbling for this fighting game sequel.
Design and Story
Drawing off of the advanced rendering system featured in Mortal Kombat X, Injustice 2 most definitely looks as if it comes from a new generation when directly compared with the look of its predecessor. Model detail is extraordinary, with facial animations, skin textures, hair effects, advanced lighting and sheer, jaw-dropping visuals all adding to the experience of making Injustice 2 something to truly behold. With gameplay running at a solid 60fps, the only dips into 30 are during cutscenes and the now-trademark bombastic stage transitions.
Like the first game, Injustice 2 seeks to tell a different kind of story with DC’s characters that definitely feels like a somewhat darker reflection of several of their icons. Unlike the first game, though, the story of the second game features no anchor whatsoever to the “traditional” characterizations of the heroes that make up the Justice League. While the first game told the story of how an alternate world’s Superman endured a heavy loss before becoming the world’s sole ruler, it ended that story with a rewarding face-off between the so-called “Regime Superman” and a far more recognizable, heroic counterpart. The entire story was character-driven and intriguing, all the way up to the minute that “our” Superman looks into his dark reflection’s eyes, and is appalled and frightened by what he sees.
Injustice 2, on the other hand, takes things in a slightly different direction by taking place solely on the “alternate” Earth that saw Superman take control of the planet. A few years after he’s incarcerated by Batman and the help of the “prime” universe’s heroes, the world is still trying to rebuild from the ashes of Superman’s regime. Several Superman sympathizers have joined him in prison, while other former Regime members are hiding out in Black Adam’s home nation of Kahndaq as they try to figure out how to free the maniacal Man of Steel from his captivity. Interestingly enough, the emotional anchor of the story is actually Superman’s cousin, Kara Zor-El, otherwise known as Supergirl. In this universe, she arrives on Earth after Superman’s incarceration, never having met her adult cousin as she lives in Kahndaq under the guidance of Wonder Woman and Black Adam.
Everything changes, though, when the cold, Coluan A.I. Brainiac arrives on Earth seeking the last surviving Kryptonians, since he believed he had successfully eradicated both the species and their planet just before Kara and Kal-El escaped. With the arrival of Brainiac completely overwhelming Earth’s remaining heroes, and with an insurgent “Society” of supervillains led by Gorilla Grodd colluding with Brainiac, Batman has no choice but to work with his former Justice League allies that turned to the Regime – including his most dangerous friend-turned-enemy Superman – to try and put a stop to Brainiac, and make sure that Earth does not meet the same grim fate as Krypton.
While the story is certainly an engaging one, it may prove ultimately disappointing for those who really enjoyed the story of the first game, and to those who count themselves as bigger fans of the “real” versions of the characters as opposed to the somewhat twisted reflections we spend time with here. Of course, the heroes who fight alongside Batman are largely true to who they are in the comics, but one of the things that made the original game so compelling was the fact that its climax pitted Regime Superman against his true, heroic counterpart from the “prime” DC Universe.
Keeping Superman — the original superhero, and DC’s biggest superheroic icon — as a villainous presence in the story (even though he temporarily puts aside his megalomaniacal goals to help Batman stop Brainiac) is, for lack of a better term, disconcerting. In terms of supply vs. demand, we have an overabundance of fictional protagonists who believe that power is what equals real, inner strength, and that criminals need to be killed in order to be effectively dispatched. Hearing Superman spout these kinds of beliefs off to justify his descent into despotism is disappointing, and though the stories seem to play with the idea that the real Superman is still in there somewhere, the end of the story — well, both of them since you get to choose between two branching options — seems to dictate otherwise.
Overall, the story presented in Injustice 2 isn’t as much of a home run as the original game’s story was. While it was phenomenal seeing a truthful, terrifying vision of Brainiac outside of the comics and voiced by the incomparable Jeffrey Combs, it’s definitely entertaining. However, without Superman serving as a light at the end of a very dark tunnel, it doesn’t quite reach the heights that the first outing did as a representative and engaging story featuring many of DC’s most enduring icons.
Gear, the Multiverse, and Joining a Guild
Though the story may not have reached the highs of the original, that’s really only a small fraction of the full experience on display here. In addition to the basic and expanded fighting mechanics (which we’ll get to in the next section), there are two new additions that will likely help to determine the majority of your time with the game going forward.
The first is the new “Gear” system, which is — as far as we can determine — an innovation that Injustice 2 brings to the fighting game genre. Unlike most other fighting games that give the characters inconsequential appearances that don’t affect how you play, Injustice 2 features a system of customizable items that affect both how your character looks, as well as offering different stat bonuses. Regular play in all of the game’s modes offer new opportunities to earn random sets of gear for different characters, and because the roster of Injustice 2 is relatively expansive, it can be a bit of a grind to get enough decent gear for the character that you primarily use.
That being said, though the acquisition of gear may be a little too random in places, the idea is a well-executed one. Before launch, the idea seemed like it had the potential to add an unwelcome layer of complication onto a fighting game, but the way you can choose to augment both your appearance, stats and bonuses also adds a whole new layer of tactical planning that nicely enriches the experience of playing the game. If you’re a diehard DC Comics fan you may find it frustrating that it’s a little complicated to engineer “definitive” looks for your characters of choice, but the trade-off is a new layer of customization that gives you the ability to truly make your character…well, your character.
The next new introduction is the game’s new single player ladder system, the “Multiverse.” Named after the infinitely spanning earths present in DC Comics’ history, the Multiverse offers a constantly refreshed series of ladders that you can fight your way through along with a series of different gameplay modifiers. By labelling it as a “Multiverse,” the game generates hundreds of different scenarios that give you a small bit of story that explains why a particular Earth is different, along with what you need to do to win the day. Multiverse events also feature hugely buffed boss characters, putting your zoning and damage output skills to the ultimate test if you want to have any hope of taking them down.
Injustice 2 also ads a PvE element to the experience by allowing you and up to 50 other players to join a guild. In your guild, you can take on a specific Multiverse as a full team, unlocking a group of collective perks for everyone in the process. Guilds also feature Multiverse boss battles that you and up to two fellow members can take on at once. While one player actively fights, the other two observe while sending the current competing player health packs, meter refreshes, and sends some well-timed offensive weapons to help take the boss down. If all three players are knocked out by the boss, it’s game over. Teamwork is essential, and is a hell of a lot of fun.
On its head, the overall fighting mechanics of Injustice 2 aren’t significantly modified when compared to the first game. A lot of returning characters have had their respective movesets tweaked in both minor and major areas, with returning characters in particular feeling generally more balanced. As with a lot of recent NetherRealm-developed games, though, a couple of new characters may cause players to call shenanigans on the abilities of some fighters. Much like Deathstroke’s emphasis on distance-based gunplay caused issues in the early going of the first game, Suicide Squad mainstay Deadshot’s similar emphasis has already caused a lot of players to cry foul. Like the last time, though, NetherRealm will likely prove to be quickly reactive to any perceived balance issues.
The biggest tweaks to the basic experience of fighting is in a few specific characters. NetherRealm has just slightly increased the walking speed of all the fighters, as well as adding the ability to use a meter burn to make use of tactical dodges and rolls that weren’t possible the last time around. Air recovery is also possible when using a meter burn, which has the potential to disrupt some of the juggling that can be so important to a fighter’s damage output. This is definitely a welcome addition for this player, since juggle evasion isn’t exactly my personal strong suit when employing my Man of Steel.
There’s also the new ability to block environmental attacks, something which wasn’t possible when the first game introduced the interactable environments in the first place. All in all, the changes largely feel like they’ve tightened up the gameplay, as well as making the entire experience a generally more competitive one. Because of that, it’s easy to call the basic refinements to the mechanics of the core fighting experience a very solid improvement over the original game. And, of course, the super moves you can unleash are all-new, implementing recognizable visuals from recent DC movies and comics with the bombastically hard-hitting, over-the-top animations to make for some jaw-dropping moments that will likely be rewarding to both general fighting game fans, and hardcore DC Comics fans.
Injustice 2 is undoubtedly a very positive step forward for this relatively young fighting game series, and brings a welcome level of evolution to the proceedings in the forms of the refined fighting mechanics, tighter controls, gear implementation and the ever-expansive Multiverse mode. While the story doesn’t quite manage to reach the heights of the original game’s offering, it’s a comparatively minor component when actually examining where you’re likely to spend the majority of your time while playing the game.
While Injustice 2 brings back the somewhat problematic implementation of microtransactions that dogged Mortal Kombat X’s otherwise very solid stature, you need not fork over additional cash unless you’re particularly anxious to modify your character’s appearance as much as possible in the forms of shaders for the gear you’ve acquired. Still, NetherRealm creative director Ed Boon has hinted at the possibility of further in-game purchases becoming available, which is already a little disconcerting given the fact that there are already different “deluxe” editions of the game that have the potential to balloon the price even further.
Still, be that as it may, it’s impossible to look at what Injustice 2 is and not be impressed by it. It’s a very clear and welcome evolution of a beloved game, and all of the new, unique additions to the core experience definitely make this game soar. If you’re a fighting game fan, it’s well worth your time. If you’re a DC Comics fan, it’s definitely a take on the characters that needs to be seen to be believed. If you’re a fighting game and DC Comics fan, this is a no-brainer: pick your character.