One of the problems with fanfiction is when it just doesn’t get the characters right. It’s just such an annoyance, you know? If you’re a big enough fan of a work to want to write some new stories using a pre-existing universe and characters, you’d think you would take a moment to ask yourself whether you’ve bothered to build your characters in a believable, appropriate way.
Anyway, Injustice 2. I’m sure that point about characters won’t be relevant here, right?
Injustice 2 (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])
Released May 2017 | Developed: NetherRealm | Published: Warner Bros.
So, what about that story, huh? Whereas the first game featured a dimension-hopping story involving our well-known versions of various DC superheroes getting pulled into an alternate universe, Injustice 2 keeps us instead rooted in just one. The Injustice plot is relatively complex but in a nutshell it’s about Superman becoming a tyrant who takes over the world because that’s pretty much the only story people make with Superman. Batman and a handful of others form a ragtag Insurgency and breach the walls between dimensions in order to summon “our” versions of DC characters in order to stop Superman’s Regime. It was a brutal narrative that included some surprisingly grim moments of character death, but met with some irritation from DC diehards who weren’t too pleased with NetherRealm’s re-interpretation of certain characters.
Injustice 2 picks up a little later on. Batman has worked to restore the world after toppling Superman’s regime, while the Man of Steel is imprisoned and his former associates are on the run. However, the fragile, post-Regime peace is threatened by Brainiac, a cyborg obsessed with collecting the universe’s knowledge and a penchant for violently miniaturizing and storing cities. He’s too strong for Batman alone, and so the Caped Crusader has to reluctantly turn to his former friend for help.
Regrettably, Injustice 2 doesn’t exactly just jump in where its predecessor left off. Injustice spun off into a series of reasonably popular comic installments, as the storyline began to involve more and more of DC’s characters and the narrative in this parallel universe became increasingly complicated. Injustice 2 definitely assumes the player has at least sampled some of the graphic novels, with interactions between certain characters drawing from their time together in the comics rather than touching on any history from the previous game.
While it’s certainly followable for newcomers, the inescapable influence of the tie-in squats over the game. Things like knowing that the Green Arrow in this game is from an alternate universe, that Harley Quinn has become Batman’s sidekick since the death of the Joker, or that Damian Wayne accidentally killed Dick Grayson and shattered his relationship with his father are presented in the story as simple facts that any player should be familiar with, with no real explanation given to save those that are lost.
I mentioned earlier that some criticism was levelled at NetherRealm for the way they chose to reinterpret various characters for the Injustice-verse. I wasn’t that bothered by it in the original game but regrettably Injustice 2 left me feeling bitter and jaded.There’s only so much of it all I can take. The notion of characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman being evil is fine for a short time but the sheer hate which NetherRealm seem to have for these characters is frightening. Injustice 2, at its worst, provides a textbook example of darkness-induced audience apathy; when the story is so cynical, the endings so devoid of hope, and the characters are so committed being spiteful, unchanging caricatures of ones we know and love that it’s difficult to maintain any level of interest. I am such a huge fan of stories in fighting games that this is for me the single biggest mark against Injustice 2, and one which makes me reticent to even consider recommending it despite the level of quality on display in the rest of the game.
And what quality there is! The fighting is, at its core, basically unchanged from the previous game. The first Injustice was one of my favourite fighters of its generation thanks to the hefty and visceral combat, and the fact that despite the large roster each character genuinely felt unique. Thankfully, Injustice 2 continues and preserves this; the roster has changed up a lot but the sense of individuality remains intact. Combat is, unsurprisingly, reminiscent of later Mortal Kombat games in terms of input commands, which can lead new players to button-mash. It is, however, a reasonably simple system to start to learn, and one with a surprising amount of options that open up as you improve.
Each fighter has a unique character power ranging from simple power-ups to ways to extend their combos, and learning how best to use these is often key to unlocking a characters’ usefulness. The ability to spend power in order to “meter burn” certain attacks returns, which changes the properties of attacks (for example, causing Batman’s Batarangs to explode at will rather than simply pinging an opponent); mastery of these two mechanics will set players apart. Cinematic supermoves that deal a ton of damage are back, and all of them are new, even for returning characters; I have a small gripe here as I feel the new animations are a tad lacklustre in comparison to their Injustice counterparts. Also back is the utterly worthless Clash mechanic in which players wager clearly visible chunks of power in order to try and get a minor boost, so that’s great.
Fighters tend to be good looking games anyway, but Injustice 2 features particularly high fidelity visuals. Special attention has clearly been paid to the facial animations, which are sharp and accurate, though only occasionally go over into uncanny valley territory (a small price to pay though for visuals this good).The stages are clearly well rendered and do have some nice features to them; like the first game, there are little nods to the wider DC universe hidden amongst them for the eagle-eyed and well-clued up players to spot. Unlike the first game it does feel like there are less of these however; gone are the sights of characters brawling in the background, or fighting through museums stuffed with relics, and transitions between stages aren’t as laden with exquisitely timed comedic moments.
There is one other major potential sticking point for players with Injustice 2, and it’s a seemingly unavoidable part of gaming today. With Injustice 2, NetherRealm and Warner Bros. have opted for a particularly aggressive strategy of microtransactions and extremely expensive DLC, though with some caveats.
Injustice 2 features a Gear system, in which you can equip new pieces of Gear to a character in order to beef up their stats; along with this characters can equip colour swatches, new costumes, and new abilities for further customisation, and can even equip Premium Skins that change the character (such as Captain Cold becoming Mr. Freeze). This Gear is primarily unlocked in 2 ways – you can earn it by beating the constantly rotating Multiverse challenges, or you can open loot boxes. Loot boxes can be earned at a reasonable rate during gameplay, which is a positive, but can obviously also be bought for real money. What Gear you get is, naturally, completely random. You have the option to purchase skins for Source Crystals, a premium currency which you earn precious little through regular gameplay and are encouraged to buy more of for real money. This attempt at leeching extra cash out of player for random loot drops is as unacceptable as ever, though the ok rate at which they are earned in the game does mitigate it ever so slightly.
If you’re after extra characters, be prepared to shell out a heck of a lot of money. The fighters on offer as DLC are undoubtedly cool – Hellboy, Darkseid, Starfire, and even the Ninja Turtles join the roster (so do Raiden and Sub-Zero, continuing NetherRealm’s trend of inserting their Mortal Kombat characters instead of more appropriate ones) but the cost of getting them all is pretty much the same as the base game! While I’m old enough to remember the days of unlocking characters, I appreciate that selling them as DLC is a good way for studios to make a bit extra scratch in the days of obscene production costs. However, asking for more or less the same price again as the game is ridiculous, and not something I’m interested in supporting.
Injustice 2 is a tricky one for me to recommend. On the one hand, if you’re after an extremely mechanically satisfying fighter, with a robust online mode, and tons of single-player and multiplayer content, then frankly you owe it to yourself to at least give this game a go. However, I really struggle with the fact that the writing is so completely cynical and the game features so much emphasis on negative business practices. Neither of these might matter to you, and that’s fair enough. For me though, my time spent playing the game was overshadowed by these, and because of them I honestly feel the game is significantly worse for their inclusion.
4/7 – GOOD. Sure, maybe something doesn’t quite work but at least it has heart, or a spark of excitement that makes it worthwhile despite the faults. Definitely worth a go if you can at least find it on sale.