Spare me this mockery of Justice.
- Available: Out Now
- Format: PS4, Xbox One
- Developer: Nether Realm Studios
- Publisher: Warner Brothers
Amongst its many achievements – and there are far more than a 1-on-1 fighting game should really be able to lay claim to – Injustice 2 succeeded in doing something very few licensed DC Comics properties have ever been able to do: It made me give a damn about this cast of Superheroes and villains.
That it can stand proud alongside Wonder Woman, the Batman: Arkham series, and the CW’s The Flash TV series in making me feel something for most of the rogues gallery that Nether Realm has assembled is impressive, and a testament to the storytelling skills of the developer. It’s a great example of what can be done when a studio is given a pretty free reign to conjure up a storyline with fan-favourite characters: you get things that will surprise you. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given that the original Injustice opened with Superman – under the influence of the Joker – killing Lois Lane and turning somewhat murderous. Now intergalactic mastermind Braniac is on the way, and Batman and Superman must put aside their ethical differences to stop him. Or just fight each other until the world is destroyed, whatever. The story certainly goes places, told over a course of 50+ battles bookended by lavishly directed cut scenes, and even has two different endings to unlock.
The game is just as generous with its other single player offerings, which include a myriad of training modes and game types. The most robust is the Multiverse, a series of timed challenges that rotate in and out every few hours / days / weeks. Many are themed battles with special conditions and modifiers, and most unlock themed loot and loot boxes as well.
Wait. Loot? In a fighting game?
Well, yes. For better or worse (mostly better), Injustice 2 has taken a leaf from the RPG book, and introduced an experience and gear system for its characters. As you battle with each character you level them up (to a cap of 20), improving their base stats, and can then equip them with gear that not only changes their appearance, but also their attributes. A level 5 logo for Superman might increase his Strength, for example, or a different pair of boots might improve Captain Cold’s Health. Juggling these stats, and matching your gear loadout to your opponent (some gear might have a Kryptonite augment, increasing its damage against Superman and Supergirl, for instance) becomes crucial the more you progress in the single player modes, and even impacts multiplayer matches as well (although both players can opt to turn off the stat effects to make a more even playing field). It’s a novel idea, and it mostly works, especially for the single player modes, where it adds an additional level of depth and a welcome degree of character customisation.
Stripped of the RPG-lite trappings and cinematic story mode, Injustice 2 is a beat-em-up very much in the vein of other Nether Realm fighters. You have three main attack buttons – Light, Medium, and Heavy, as well as a dedicated button for character-specific moves. The effects of the character button vary pretty drastically, and can be anything from Black Canary using her banshee wail to Wonder Woman calling for a blessing from the gods. You also have a super meter which can be used in various ways; you can hold a shoulder button to perform ‘Meter burn’ moves – think EX versions of special attacks that deal more damage – and to escape from combos. You can also stockpile it up to use for a Super attack, accompanied by an over-the-top cutscene and delivering massive damage. You can also use your meter to gamble in Clashes, where each player commits in secret) an amount of super power and the winner gets either a portion of their health restored or deals a chunk of damage.
The movesets for the characters are varied, and there’s considerable nuance to some characters, especially around the way their unique abilities work, and the roster comprises of a good mix of popular and less well-known heroes and villains from across the DC universe. That said, it’s easy to get by using similar attack patterns for most of the characters – I found a cross-up, followed by a Light-Light-Medium-Heavy combo was enough to get me through most of the battles against AI opponents on Medium difficulty, though clearly that was never going to work against other players. The adherence to the Mortal Kombat fighting style occasionally works to the games detriment as well; fights can often feel fragmented and interrupted; its hard to build up a good flow of battle as you’d find in the likes of Street Fighter, Virtua Fighter, or even Guilty Gear.
The game deserves considerable praise for its visuals – built in Unreal Engine 4, Injustice 2 hits a rock-solid 60fps on PS4 and Xbox One, and looks simply spectacular, with gorgeous lighting and environmental effects. Loading times are maybe a touch longer than you’d like, and the soundtrack is disposable orchestral fair, but the voice cast, which features the talents of Kevin Conroy, Alan Tudyk, Jeffrey Coombs and Laura Bailey, delivers consistently even during the heavier story moments.
Injustice 2 might not be the most finely tuned or expertly balanced fighter around, but it’s fun and approachable to play, with well-paced tutorials to make it easy for newcomers. The sheer volume of single player content is difficult to argue with, and the climactic story mode is a real standout for the genre. It’s probably not going to have the dedicated online community that the likes of Street Fighter V attracts, so if you’re looking for a purely competitive fighter you might be better off elsewhere, but for any casual fighting game fan, or DC comics aficionado, you can’t go wrong.