NetherRealm Studios is certainly not unfamiliar with the fighting games genre. Mortal Kombat has gone down in history as one of the more memorable franchises in video games to date, acting as one of the prominent pioneers of bloody, gory, and overly exaggerated violence in video games. Debuting in 1992, gamers everywhere pitched their quarters in to spend hour after hour in arcades. Mortal Kombat’s button layout was also different in some regards. Rather than adopting a way to block attacks akin to Street Fighter – where players merely need to press away from the opponent, MK instead chose to have a dedicated button for blocking. Additionally, the notation was limb-based as opposed to Light, Medium and Heavy attacks; buttons instead were paired to left and right punches and kicks. This made for a very different style of fighter. 2009 rolled out the 9th installment in the franchise, and one that made some drastic changes to the overall speed of the gameplay, and new innovative environmental interactions and brutal X-Ray attacks that really highlighted the gruesomeness of each blow – and also begged the question as to how opponents still stood after having necks snapped or backs broken. And one of the more important albeit highly overlooked additions to any Fighting Game was their conscious effort in bringing about some sense of a coherent story, tying the characters together in a way that previous fighting games hadn’t really done as efficiently.
This minor history lesson is imperative to what eventually became the birth of the Injustice franchise. NetherRealm, still riding those highs from Mortal Kombat 9, decided to treat that formula as a foundation, and apply this idea of incorporating a fully fleshed out story, woven in the fabric of a fighting game to a richer history of character. What better way to do this than in a title that makes use of Detective Comics’ intellectual properties? Injustice debuted in 2013 with much of DC’s vocal talent from the Justice League Animated Series reprising their roles. It garnered critical praise and commercial success due to a wildly imaginative and engaging campaign with controls that, while nowhere near the level of complexity as say Street Fighter, Killer Instinct or Marvel vs. Capcom, still provides a decent level of depth. After 4 years of listening to fan input via social media inquiries and observing the fighting scene, NetherRealm returns with Injustice 2 for the Playstation 4 and Xbox One.
I feel it’s appropriate to give a crash course in the general plot of the first Injustice, before diving into the events of Injustice 2. Set in a darker take on the group as it starts with the murder of the Joker at the hands of an emotionally distraught and enraged Superman – who had just lost Lois Lane, his unborn child and witnessed the destruction of Metropolis in one fell swoop. This was the birth of his “One Earth Regime;” The Man of Steel decided the world wasn’t safe enough from criminals, and so he enforced a new form of government, which acted as a dictatorship. Wonder Woman, Cyborg and even Robin had joined this Regime, with Batman naturally against the idea and formed the Insurgency. Batman reaches out to another earth, and its versions of himself, the Joker, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Aquaman and Green Lantern in an attempt to fight Superman. Without going too much into the events of the actual story, Superman’s regime inevitably crumbled with each maniacal decision, and he was left to live out his days in a cell bathed in a Red Sun that nullifies his powers.
Injustice 2 takes place five years after Superman’s defeat; Batman and co. seek to piece the world back together, when a new group of baddies known as ‘The Society’ tries their hand at world domination. Spearheaded by Gorilla Grodd, and comprised of former collaborators or even victims of Superman’s regime, The Caped Crusader is now tasked with assembling a new squad to combat the Society. The story definitely feels more grandiose than the first one, yet it feels like they’ve played it safer than they did in the first game; to be fair, it’s definitely hard to top an intro involving the Superman committing murder, but there never was that powerful impact in Injustice 2. Regardless, the story was well done and enjoyable from start to finish; the characters were portrayed as well as one could do in this elseworld universe.
The villains in this have a depth that range from comically goofy to strangely sympathetic or borderline understandable. The big bad villain orchestrating these events has motives that naturally fit their character, and Superman’s bleak outlook on the world, his views on the leniency that seems to be given with regards to certain villains is definitely a bold angle to take for a character largely dismissed as being “boring for being too good.” I appreciate that NetherRealm offered multiple endings for repeated play and it also allows players to pick and choose a side they adhere to. One intriguing thing to note was that upon beating the campaign, I felt as though the story itself was short, and for the life of me I couldn’t understand why I had that feeling until it occurred to me that it only felt that way because the first game was padded with an abundance of unnecessary quick-time events and forced mini-games. In all actuality, both games consist of 12 chapters.
Much like the first Injustice, Injustice 2 is crammed full of fan service with a wonderfully diverse array of heroes, many of whom I had not anticipated would make a video game debut. Some entries are understandable; with the growing population of CW’s The Flash, characters like Firestorm, Gorilla Grodd, and Captain Cold seem like marketable inclusions. The same applies to characters like Black Canary to coincide with CW’s Arrow. And despite the questionable reception, Suicide Squad had made easy room for characters like Deadshot and obviously Harley Quinn. What surprised me, were characters like Atrocitus – who I previously had no idea of but was quick to adore thanks to his awesome Cat companion who also happens to possess a Red Lantern. NetherRealm definitely thought outside the box with the roster, and made room for lesser known heroes and villains like Doctor Fate, Blue Beetle, Cheetah, and my personal favourite – Swamp Thing.
I was pretty impressed with a lot of the choices made with regards to playable characters this time around, as I felt that the first Injustice played it way too safe in that most of the roster was comprised of mainly Batman Characters, with not-as-popular inclusions like Ares and Killer Frost peppered here and there. With Injustice 2, it seems there was definitely a more conscious decision in expanding their horizons and from the sounds of the recent spoils for downloadable characters like Red Hood and Starfire, NetherRealm is definitely aiming to make this cast bigger and broader than the first. One slightly gluttonous wish would be for the previous DLC characters to make their way in the roster at some point.
The combat for Injustice 2 remains largely the same, albeit tweaks in various departments. The button mapping remains intact, with your face buttons acting as light, medium, heavy and character powers, throws and environment interactions are on the bumpers and stance swaps and meter burns on the triggers. One of the better improvements on the combat system is how one utilizes their meter. It accumulates slowly with aggressive attacks and accelerates while on the defensive or are taking hits, but as your meter burns, it passes various bars that allow you to exhaust it by enhancing various inputs. You could use it to add more power to your combos and increase your damage output as normal, or, you can use it to execute an evasive roll. At the cost of one bar, players can elevate their normal dash into a farther-reaching roll that also grants hit-invincibility for the duration. What this essentially means is that it allows you to blow past keep-away or zoning strategies or even manipulate it offensively and use it to close the gap for enemies that specialize in projectiles. Another option would be to use two bars for the reward of allowing players to roll out of juggling air combo they’re caught in.
Another thing players may notice between the two Injustice games is that all characters’ walk speeds have been increased, resulting in much faster paces than before. This may not seem like much to those outside the fighting games community, but it’s an appreciated improvement for more footsies strategies.
The Clash system returns in full force. Players will remember that, like the first Injustice, you may only initiate a clash if your first health bar is depleted, and if you have been hit or are mid-combo. Once those conditions are met, the clash ensues and your meter will act as a form of currency. The combatant that initiates the clash will be rewarded with health regeneration should they win a clash, and will be damaged by an opponent if they lose. It’s a situational mechanic that will require you to contemplate on the importance of burning meter for your health, or alternatively, wasting your special on thwarting someone’s regeneration. I was never a huge fan of this in the first game, and thought it to be more of a distraction in a match and felt it broke the pace and flow of any game to a grinding halt, and my views are largely unchanged. It’s neat that they have contextual dialogue between characters like the first game, but overall, I’d almost prefer if it just weren’t included at all.
One of the most pivotal changes to Injustice 2 is the inclusion of an armour system. Borrowing from games like Overwatch and the like, players are now rewarded with prize-boxes of varying rarities that award players with armour pieces per character, shaders and skins, or banners and icons for your hero card. This is truly a way to personalize your character and make it completely unique from any other fighter you may face on or offline. Offline, each piece of equipment has stat enhancers that naturally could never transition to an online setting, but your cosmetic changes remain intact. I really dig this new gimmick for the game, and it encourages players to play endlessly to see what rewards they can get.
Outside of the main campaign, Injustice 2 also offers a plethora of side content for players to experiment with. The Multiverse is a fantastic new mode that is very much like Mortal Kombat X’s “Living Towers.” Essentially, the mode expands upon Injustice’s lore where Batman had to reach out to another world. It turns out there are more worlds than previously thought! The Multiverse has players participate in various tournament-styled challenges that reward players with packs, depending on their overall score and performance. They all have finite timeframes to them, so there will be a new and unique world that pops up, adding to Injustice 2’s fantastic replayability.
Injustice was build upon Mortal Kombat 9’s engine, so it’s only natural that Injustice 2 was made using a modified version of Mortal Kombat X’s game engine. In my [[review]] for Mortal Kombat, I praised its visual fidelity, fantastic lighting and detailed character models. It’s only been a couple of years, but Injustice 2 managed to trump it in just about every conceivable way. There’s a level of hyperrealism with the character models, despite them looking and acting like superpowered beings. A lot of attention has been given to the way their bodies move, act and react with the environment and other characters and there has also been a concurrent amount of detail given to their facial models. Characters like Harley Quinn, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Brainiac have wonderful facial expressions and oral movements. Larger characters like Gorilla Grodd have even more detail considering the hair follicles that cover his body. And this engine also takes into account the gear and equipment that personalize each character. On top of that, each level has been meticulously crafted to offer insane level of detail in the fore and backgrounds, complete of course with contextual based interactivity.
Similar to Mortal Kombat’s X-Ray moves, Injustice has ‘Super Moves’ that are done by pressing the two triggers simultaneously, when your meter is full. These unleash an exceptionally choreographed move that tends to display the best of each respective character. Some characters in the first game had their Super triggered in parries or blocks, while others had angular trajectories or just head-on. The same remains with Injustice 2, but I’m glad that some of the characters from the original had revisions done. Batman for example, used to have his trigger as a parry, requiring you to place it in good timing where you are just about to be hit by an opponent. In the sequel, Batman has switched to a head-on trigger, and dives forward toward the opponent. Unfortunately the “awesome-factor” for these moves comes in varying degrees. Some are masterfully done, like The Flash; we not only get to watch him ram his enemy into the Sphinx, only to send him back slamming into a Tyrannosaurus, he finishes this by dragging his opponent through the speed force into to moment just before this all starts, where we see the enemy spinning in circles, and we collide the enemy into its past-self, and watch as the other Flash continues his portion of this time paradox. Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern, gets to not only assemble himself into a giant mech, but pummels his enemy with each manifested limb. We go from truly impressive displays such as those, to things like Gorilla Grodd, who...yells at you, or Catwoman who instantly transports to a motorcycle and proceeds to do what I can only describe as the bicycle flip that Trinity does in the Matrix, complete with a near-identical finishing pose. It’s a small percentage of these stand out so much, but it’s only because the vast majority are done so well, that they unfortunately get more attention.
Overall, Injustice 2 is an exceptional fighting game, and natural evolution over its predecessor. As sequels go, this does everything a sequel ought to; it’s campaign is considerably more well-rounded, trimming the filler that padded the first game, the controls were largely untouched save some much-needed expansion on the core mechanics, and there is content galore to keep players engaged for quite some time.Injustice 2 was reviewed using a digital code provided by WB Interactive Entertainment. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
|Wonderfully diverse roster with great inclusions like Swamp Thing.|
|The Multiverse is a great way to keep people participating in daily/hourly challenges.|
|The story was well done, and offers multiple endings for repeated playthroughs.|
|The gear system works well, and offers unique personalization options for characters.|
|Some of the Super Moves don’t really feel as ‘super’ as others.|
|I hope they rethink the Clash system in future installments.|