Injustice 2 Review
A great fighting game that uses its superhero setting effectively
In some ways, Injustice 2 feels like the game NetherRealm Studios was always destined to make, especially after the Midway Games team were brought under the Warner Bros umbrella in 2010. The studio’s first attempt at a fighting game made up exclusively from the roster of DC comic book characters, Injustice: Gods Among Us, was an interesting game that further established NetherRealm as a serious developer in the world of fighting games after the successful Mortal Kombat reboot as their debut. But Injustice 2 feels like another step forward for the studio, director Ed Boon, and the Injustice franchise. I think this might be NetherRealm’s finest work - including their catalogue from the days of Midway.
Injustice 2 contains a wonderful cast of core characters and continues to blend the studio’s over-the-top gonzo fighting style with a superhero setting that seems almost too perfect a fit. It would be one thing if Injustice 2 was a nice mix of IP and studio, but it’s more than that. The game specializes in creating personal and intimate battles with stakes that feel significant and combat that feels weighty and powerful. Special moves will likely leave you covering your open mouth in awe, juggling an opponent through a series of uppercuts, environmental attacks, and quick hits feels rewarding - and beneath all of it runs a strategic challenge that forces players to decide when to gamble with their most powerful moves and when to hold back. Whether you love super heroes, fighting games, or just the adrenaline of competition - this is a game you should play.
I always feel like the character roster is the most important part of a fighting game and Injustice 2’s is varied and expansive. There are 28 characters immediately available and they’re an excellent blend of style and skill. In fact, the way these character square up against each other is the first element of strategy the game employs. As someone who likes to hang back and then strike with a flurry of combos, I tended to rely on smaller and faster characters. Thus Black Adam constantly gave me fits with his decent range and heavy damage. To beat him more consistently I had to adjust my strategy and get him into close-quarters combat, nullifying his ranged attacks. Good players would then have to combat my strategy with one of their own, backing away and using the environment to create that range again.
Injustice 2 boasts the DC staples like Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Flash, Cyborg, and Green Lantern, but there are some deeper cuts as well. Firestorm and Blue Beetle have their own story chapters, and villains like Cheetah and Captain Cold are in the mix. It’s one thing to have characters to pad out a roster, but what’s impressive is the level of detail that goes into each fighter. Those details don’t stop with the costumes, which blend the cinematic interpretations with more traditional garb - it’s how NetherRealm uses the characters' unique abilities to intertwine with the gameplay. Wonder Woman throws her shield and sword around the stage with deadly precision, Robin acrobatically leaps around his adversaries, and Black Canary fires off sound waves that leave opponents momentarily deaf.
The reason each character can feel so varied is that there are multiple unique facets to each of their abilities. This manifests itself in obvious ways like the character’s basic attacks and combos, but each fighter also a special ability they can use. These specials are usually the calling card of the heroes - the Flash can cause time to slow down as he gets in some cheap hits, Supergirl shoots her heat vision at enemies, and Green Arrow fires his signature arrows. Using these special abilities can take away from your special meter, which is built up both through the damage you take and deal. This meter largely helps the balance of a match. If someone is delivering cheap shots through their special abilities, your meter will likely fill up quickly and you can use your Super Moves, powerful attacks that delivered through cutscenes, to even the playing field.
The Super Move attacks are where NetherRealm are at their best. Each one is as ridiculous as they were in the studio’s previous effort, Mortal Kombat X, but because Injustice 2 is aiming for a more gentle “T” rating, they are forced to think more creatively than just breaking bones and spilling blood. This leads to some of the most fun you’ll likely have all year, watching pre-rendered cutscenes of Supergirl throwing an enemy into a meteor and exploding it with her heat vision. Or having Aquaman summon a giant shark-like sea-creature to devour his opponent. Or my personal favorite, having Flash time-travel so quickly that he creates a split in the space-time continuum and - you know what, that’s something you’ll just have to see for yourself.
However, you might want to be careful about when you use your Super Moves because occasionally someone can break a combo causing a Clash. During a Clash both heroes wrestle in a stalemate while players bet sections of their special meter. Whoever bets more wins the Clash and knocks their enemy down, taking a large chunk of their health, or restoring their own. Again, this adds a whole new level of strategy as you have to guess how much your opponent is going to wager or be aware of how little of their meter is filled, and take advantage.
The bread and butter of the combat is still combos and juggling enemies. Stringing together a series of hits that leave your enemy vulnerable can take away large chunks of life in a matter of seconds. It also helps keep matches tense throughout. Even if someone is far ahead, the tables can be turned if the enemy executes a series of powerful combinations. There are more ways to escape combos, like jumping away from combos being done in the air, or using combo breaks to escape. But if you ever find yourself on the receiving end of an uppercut in the corner of a map, you’re in a whole lot of trouble.
In dire scenarios, the environment can help you out. Just like in previous NetherRealm games, the stages can be used to escape tight spots or take advantage of an unsuspecting attacker. Again, the way you can use the environment is specific to certain characters. Bigger characters will toss large chunks of debris, while smaller characters can use certain objects to leap into the air and corner an enemy. Of course, the most fun is when you deliver a powerful uppercut in the corner of the screen and knock the enemy out of the arena. As in previous games, this triggers a painful cutscene as the ill-fated player is battered by the environment, losing large chunks of health until they finally land in a new arena.
My biggest complaint with Injustice 2 would be the stage themselves. Many of the arenas look similar to those in Gods Among Us (the Gotham stage being the biggest offender), and even the new ones aren’t all that creative. I could tell that I was disinterested in the locales because whenever I had to choose one, I would just randomize the selection as I didn’t care about any of them; they all just felt so milquetoast.
While the stages might look familiar, the plot is all new, and it’s not bad. For those of you who skipped the first game, after Lois Lane was killed by the Joker, Superman in turn kills the Joker and turns himself into a global dictator to ensure no murders ever occur again. Batman and a crew of heroes stopped him, so now he’s imprisoned with a group of loyalists trying to figure out how to break him out. Enter Gorilla Grodd, who has gathered some of the coolest Batman villains - and some others you likely haven’t heard of - and is planning to take over the world with the assistance of long-time Superman nemesis, Brainiac. This new foe forces Superman and Batman to confront their differences in the interest of saving Earth.
The whole thing largely works. The plot has to keep contriving ways to get heroes into one-on-one fights, which is a little funny - but it isn’t the weak point of the game. What’s really impressive in the story mode is the facial animations. NetherRealm have put a lot of work into these animations and they are probably the best looking cutscenes since Uncharted 4 - minus the weird Supergirl hair.
After you’ve completed the story mode, which clocks in at the 7-sih hour mark, there’s a few other modes for you to play with. First, there’s the Multiverse, which boasts a constantly-changing series of challenges. After you select a multiverse challenge, you’ll have to complete a series of ladder matches and usually a boss. There’s also usually some sort of modifier to the fights as well. Sometimes health will randomly drop or you might have an enemy who has a damage modifier that changes how much your attacks hurt them. Each challenge will let you know what level you or your characters should be before starting.
That’s right, Injustice 2 doesn’t only have an overall player level, but each character now has their own level, based on how often you’ve used them and how well you’ve done. It’s an interesting idea, even though I have some qualms with it. This leveling system exists so that while you acquire loot from completing story missions, Multiverse challenges, and multiplayer fights (more on those shortly), you are limited in what you can equip based on the level you have. So say you get an epic loot drop for Aquaman that is level 20, you won’t be able to add it to the character until you’ve leveled Aquaman up that far. The loot (NetherRealm calls it Gear) is really cool and adds a wonderful sense of personality outside of combat. There are stats assigned to the Gear that can give you a small edge in battle, but the best part is seeing how the character design morphs with each added piece of Gear. Equipping and customizing characters becomes all that much more fun as you play around with the little pieces you acquire.
The downside to the leveling system for each character is that it keeps players from exploring the roster in multiplayer. Sure enough, during my time with multiplayer I probably fought the same six characters for 12 hours. It’s kind of a shame. So much work went into fighters like Deadshot or the Joker, but since you don’t play them in the campaign, they start with lower levels while Superman and Batman (who feature prominently in the story) are about level 9 by the time you’re done, making players focus on them since they’re so close to using the best Gear.
The multiplayer itself works pretty well. There’s not a ton of variety, just Ranked or Player Matches (which include Versus or King of the Hill matches). Ranked and Player Versus are relatively the same, except that you can request a rematch in Player Versus, but Ranked makes you find a new player. I’m sure that Ranked is designed to keep better track of your stats and Wins/Losses, matching you up in more even fights - but any sort of system isn’t overtly obvious. In both modes, I found about a third of the time I would actually get matched up with someone in my skill bracket, other times I would get splattered by someone far superior to my abilities, and the other third I would do the splattering. It makes for an uneven multiplayer experience, but it does make sure that there’s always a game for you to jump into. Before the match the game lets you know the wins/losses of the opponent they found and give you chance they think you have to win the match. If it’s really low, you can decline the fight and wait for the game to queue you up with someone else.
Lastly, King of Hill has become something of staple for NetherRealm and allows players to queue to fight the titular King. Whoever wins, stays, and the loser is bumped to the end of the line. I never really understood the fascination with this mode as it usually means you’re going to be sitting around for about fifteen minutes until it’s your turn - but to each their own.
The multiplayer experience also involves joining a Guild. Guilds allow you to play Injustice 2 as part of a team and earn extra rewards as your Guild completes certain challenges and shares the spoils. You can also participate in group fights with your Guild against other Guilds. All of this contributes toward your Guild Leaderboard which ranks your Guild against others in the world.
In addition to everything else, Injustice 2 is a pretty smooth experience. Loading never takes that long, even in multiplayer, and while I had a few online fights with lag, they were rare. When getting matched up, you can also see the strength of your opponent’s internet connection, letting you know if you might be getting into an unstable match. But when fighting against others with a solid connection, I ran into almost no issues. It’s a pretty impressive technical package.
I’m hoping by now you’re sold on Injustice 2, because it really is a great experience. Not only is it fun, but it holds a lot of gameplay opportunities for different kinds of players. If you’re hungry for tough and unforgiving multiplayer, there’s an experience to be had. If you’re in love with fighting games, there’s all sorts of ways to test your skill. If you just love DC comics, the story mode is well worth playing and the love the game has for the universe is pretty obvious. Injustice 2 is a rock-solid game and something I think all fighting fans should check out. It might make you wonder why DC is having such a hard time getting the movies to be this good.