It’s been five years since The Justice League – and the world – was torn asunder. Perpetual good guy and beacon of hope and justice, Superman succumbed to his rage, becoming a megalomaniacal despot. Torn apart by grief over the loss of Lois Lane and his unborn son, Superman learns to kill, enslaving the people of earth. In his maligned, misguided quest for justice, he ruled with a super-powered iron fist – and caused a superhero civil war that’s left the planet ravaged. It was up to Batman and a cabal of heroes and an unlikely alliance of former villains to bring that reign of terror to an end.
And it’s up to Batman and friends to attempt to deliver something resembling normalcy. With the killer Kryptonian now imprisoned in a Red Sun cage, Superman’s cohorts and allies – save a small band of die-hards – are either doing their best to atone for their transgressions or free him from imprisonment. Wonder Woman and Black Adam, two of Superman’s stalwarts, have a new secret weapon: Supergirl. She’s introduced in the game’s cinematic opening, showing how Krypton was destroyed at the hands of Brainiac and his armies.
Now, Brainiac is coming for earth – and this new threat forges an uneasy alliance that sees former friends and enemies working together for a common cause. As with the first game, the story will see you flit between areas and characters, playing as very nearly every of the 20-odd heroes and villains in Injustice 2’s roster. It’s a campaign that is grand and cinematic, breaking up brawls with cut-scenes as it switches between characters, forcing you to learn the basics of each character before moving to the next.
It’s an engaging story for sure. It may use a few too many obvious tropes and clichés, but none of them matter or detract from what is one of the best single player campaigns in any fighting game. The house of Mortal Kombat, NetherRealm, pioneered this sort of fighting game storytelling, and with Injustice 2 it feels like they’ve a mastered it. Where the first game’s story felt like an excuse to stitch fights together, this feels like a labour of love. It looks like it too; there’s so much rich detail that’s sure to get comic book nerds frothing, and the production values are very nearly incomparable. I never thought I’d say this about anything from NetherRealm, whose animation, in general, is always stiff, but Injustice 2’s cinematics are superlative. The campaign features some of the most lifelike animation I’ve seen in a game – and it’s bolstered by near flawless voice acting from the people who usually voice these beloved characters. Kevin Conroy is Batman, Tara Strong is perfect as Harley Quinn – and the rest of the stellar voice cast does an exemplary job of bringing the characters to life.
Fighting games aren’t about stories though. They live and die based on their mechanics and how fun they are to play. Injustice 2 doesn’t completely overhaul the first game’s systems, though it does refine them. There’s still no block button, using a Street Fighter-like blocking where holding back is sufficient. There are no separate buttons for different strength kicks and punches, with the game employing something closer to Marvel vs. Capcom’s layout; low, medium and high attacks, appended with another button for character specific super traits and another to use the super-meter that builds up during fights. On top of that, there are throws, as well as a refined version of the first game’s bounce cancels – which now allow for escaping out combos and air juggles at the expense of built-up meter.
Most attacks can be augmented by using a segment of built-up meter. Called “meter burn,” these more powerful attacks extend combos by adding an extra hit, or doing extra damage. Of course, there are still devastating super moves that require a fully charged super meter – grand, powerful cinematic beatdowns. Clashes return too, letting players engage in wager-based fight interruption. Once a match, players can halt the fight, placing a hidden bet using a portion of their super meters. The highest bidder wins, rewarding health for successful wagers, or taking chunks of it away in the case of a loss. It all comes together to offer a fighting system that’s deep and rewarding, but also accessible to newcomers. It feels fast and fluid, less clunky than NetherRealm games past. With less reliance on dial-a-combos, most actions and attacks feel more deliberate.
The single-player campaign takes about 6 hours to play through, though a few branching paths mean you’ll likely play through at least some of it twice. There’s also much more for solo players to do after they’ve worked through the campaign. The frankly exceptional multiverse mode – analogous, I suppose, to Mortal Kombat’s Living Towers – is perpetually updated with mini campaigns that only stick around for hours, days, or weeks. It means there’s always a reason to keep logging in to see if there’s something else to play through. Often they have modifiers on them; electrified floors, health-pickups et al to make them a little more challenging, or add a bit of flair.
On top of that, there’s the gear system. Injustice 2 includes an RPG-lite mechanic where you’re able to customise your fighter with stat-enhancing and cosmetic gear. It seems an odd inclusion for a genre that relies on perfect balance, as logic dictates that boosting stats threatens to render balancing tweaks pointless. It doesn’t though – the changes, beyond the aesthetic, are subtle enough that a higher skilled opponent with no stat boosts will always beat a lower skilled one with the best gear sets. In multiplayer modes, the gear is wholly optional too, able to be toggled on and off between bouts.
Earning that gear can be fun, depending on you as a player. Much of it comes via tiered, blind loot boxes. Just about everything you do in the game earns loot boxes, which you decode to get gear. Unfortunately, you have no idea what you’ll be getting – making it all a bit of a lucky packet. It can become frustrating when you’re just looking for one specific item for a character, only to get new armour for somebody you never play as. There is a microtransaction and in-game currency system where source crystals are required for premium skins and shaders. You can earn them in the game organically, or whip out your credit card – but it’s optional.
Multiplayer works as you expect in South Africa. In my time playing, ranked games are a bust, purely because of our geographic location. As it’s a fighting game that uses peer-to-peer (dedicated servers wouldn’t work for this sort of game), playing with people far away means that matches are often unplayable. It does seem to root out players with a suitable ping, so I hope with the game’s release the ranked match situation improves for those of us on the southern tip of Africa. Matches with friends are perfect.
There’s a lot to like about Injustice 2, which is a remarkable fighting game. It’s easy to be disappointed with fighting games, which are usually barebones experiences with little to do outside of multiplayer. This is as complete an experience as you’re likely to get. A high-octane, enjoyable cinematic campaign bolstered by a wealth of other single player content, and a multiplayer mode that’s stuffed with features. It’s a joy for fans of DC and fighting games.
Last Updated: May 19, 2017