Critics and fans tend to overstate the cinematic qualities of video games. We claim, probably too frequently, that “you could mistake this for the real thing.” This kind of talk is often hyperbole, often used to impress and excite, rather than to accurately describe them.
Injustice 2, the follow-up to Moral Kombat developer NetherRealm’s Justice-League-inspired fighting game, is the studio’s fourth game with a cinematic campaign, which strings together a series of one-on-one fights with extended cutscenes to create a de facto interactive movie. These campaigns, which NetherRealm introduced, in the rebooted Mortal Kombat (often referred to as MK9), fill a gap left open in most fighting games: A compelling single-player component for players who don’t necessarily have the time to keep up with the devoted competitive players who dominate online.
Injustice 2 builds on that concept, eclipsing the campaigns of its predecessors, while also adding new systems and modes that specifically target non-competitive play. The campaign offers one of the best DC stories in years, packed with meticulously designed cut scenes filled with a bevy of DC superheroes and villains. The emphasis on making the game inviting to all comes through in the loot system, which allows you to customize stats and appearance. Injustice 2 does something unique by offering a deep, enriching experience for both casual players and seasoned pros.
A DC MOVIE WORTH WATCHING
The story of Injustice 2 picks up where the original leaves off. The first Injustice, Gods Among Us, sees Superman becomes a totalitarian dictator, prompting a revolt from Batman and Justice League members from multiple versions of the DC Universe. In Injustice 2, Superman has been locked up and depleted of his powers, while Batman and his team help rebuild civilization and keep a watchful eye for the next colossal threat to Earth.
That threat is Superman’s classic foe, Brainiac. After destroying Krypton long ago, Brainiac has come for the Man of Steel, forcing the embattled factions of the former Justice League to try and put their grievances aside for the sake of the planet.
While it’s standard comic-book fare, Injustice 2’s story balances it’s many layers of personal and fantastic drama. Batman and Superman may be working on the same side, but tension lingers, created by the inevitability that Brainiac won’t be a threat forever. It’s just as grim as the original, but this time it actually uses its bleakness to pose a meaningful question: To what end is justice served?
The campaign offers one of the best DC stories in years.
It also doesn’t hurt that the story put the convoluted multiverse narrative of Injustice: Gods Among Us behind it. The story takes place in just one dimension, and though its opening moments may be jarring, you can comfortably follow Injustice 2’s cinematic heavy narrative without previous knowledge of its predecessor.
In the end, Injustice 2’s story is NetherRealm’s best effort, and arguably the best we’ve ever seen in a fighter. The near three hours worth of lovingly rendered scenes create one of the most engaging on screen DC storylines. There are moments in Injustice 2, the second DC Comics inspired fighting game from Moral Kombat developer NetherRealm Studios, that feel so innately lifelike that it’s hard not to think of the virtual characters as actors putting on a show. If you mute the game while watching one of its many cutscenes, you can follow along just by reading Batman’s and Superman’s lips. You can read the cold determination on Brainiac’s face. Injustice 2 sets a new high-water mark for character rendering, but thankfully, it’s much more than a pretty face.
CREATE YOUR OWN SUPERHERO
The meticulous detail put into the campaign stands out, but the most novel aspect of Injustice 2, the leveling and loot system, essentially turns the fighter into an RPG. Individual character stats rise as you level up, and stats and appearance can be further modified by equipping new gear. It may not be the first fighter to introduce RPG mechanics, but it is definitely the first to do so successfully.
Each fighter features their own individual progression, which increases statistics and impacts their effectiveness. As a character levels up, their four stats — strength, ability, defense, and health — rise with it. Strength dictates power of normal attacks, while ability covers the power of special attacks. Defense controls how resistant you are to opponent attacks, while health deals with how much damage your character can take before calling it quits. These stats can be further modified, along with fighters’ appearances, by equipping new gear and abilities.
You acquire loot boxes containing several pieces of character-specific gear or abilities by simply playing the game. Each piece of gear is graded as either common, rare, epic, or legendary. Common and rare gear provides boosts to a character’s four stat categories, while epic and legendary gear also feature augments, additional modifiers that provide percentage increases for landing specific attacks. In addition to gear, each character has two customizable ability slots, which allow you to modify or even replace special moves.
The gear system also allows you to customize how each fighter looks. Each piece of gear alters Each fighter also has up to 25 unlockable shaders that alter costume colors. If you’re into the idea of Batman wearing a primarily white suit, you can do that, and much more. You can have up to five load outs for each character to promote tinkering with various setups until you find your favorite.
In essence, the system allows you to build your own superhero
In essence, the system allows you to build your own superhero, focused on your best preferred play style. You can create a defensive-oriented Batman, a physical attack-focused Batman, or one with an acumen for special attacks. You can morph each character into something that looks and feels distinctive from what other players using the same character may use.
These changes can make huge impact on game balance, which is immensely important for competitive games. Injustice 2 sidesteps the potential pitfalls by allowing players to ignore gear and progression in multiplayer. Players can opt out of using custom character upgrades, but both players in the match, whether in casual or ranked play, have to agree on the parameters. Going the other way, character levels equalize by default, but players can agree to opt out of that before a match. For tournaments and fighting-game purists, there is also a “competitive mode” which completely suppresses all changes.
MULTIPLE UNIVERSES COLLIDING EFFECTIVELY
To accompany the loot-based system, NetherRealm has devised the Multiverse, a conceivably endless single-player challenge mode. In the multiverse, you can choose from a selection of time-sensitive mini campaigns, represented by different version of Earth. Each planet, which can stay active for anywhere between an hour and many days, features several series of fights, which vary in difficulty and often feature additional parameters that range from challenging, such as gradually draining health, to zany, such as a tilting stage.
Essentially, the Multiverse offers the fighting game equivalent of the loot-based pursuit in games like World of Warcraft, Diablo 3, and Destiny. Completing challenges can net you loot boxes filled with random gear. There are also specific objectives for each planet that provide unique rewards. While the basic mechanics largely resemble the challenge towers of the recent Mortal Kombat games, the overarching structure, combined with the game’s loot mechanics, comes as close to an RPG-style system that we’ve seen in a traditional fighting game.
FAST, FLUID, INTUITIVE MECHANICS
Leveling up and decking out your favorite fighter would be a chore if not for engaging fight mechanics. Injustice 2 takes subtle, but mighty steps forward from its predecessor. Everything is faster, more fluid, and refined. The speed uptick makes pulling off combos, the focal point of this superhero brawler’s gameplay, much more seamless than the original.
Like most fighting games, Injustice 2 is all about mastering combos. Besides light, medium, and heavy attack buttons, no character is exactly the same in terms of control scheme — in fact, they are usually quite different from one another. While each character is easy to pick up, switching to a new character presents new and unique challenges.
Everything is faster, more fluid, and refined.
This is not to say that developing a winning strategy with one character is particularly daunting. Each hero has simple three-button push combos, in addition to directional pad combo moves, making it both accessible and deep. Injustice 2’s combat depth comes from the widely varied fighting personas of each of its characters, and their vastly different combo inputs.
If you played the original, returning characters like Flash, Superman, and Batman ostensibly have the same move sets, but thanks to the refined combo inputs, performing sequential hits is more intuitive. You’ll recognize the moves, but how you build them together in strings has changed for the better. Additionally, if you’re familiar with Mortal Kombat X, characters like Green Arrow and Green Lantern mirror Kung Jin and Ermac, respectively.
Series veterans won’t be caught off guard with any of the game’s special game mechanics. The game’s hallmarks, including spectacular cut-scene accompanied by cutscenes, and environmental “interactions” that allow characters to throw (or jump off) objects in the background, have returned, largely in tact. The intensely meta “Clash” system, which lets you wager a portion of your super meter to regain health, remains a strong counter-point for the super moves, which can do tremendous damage. While they have rebalanced in some cases, the intricacies of Injustice remain unchanged. If you weren’t a fan of them in the original, then Injustice 2 will irk you in the same ways.
For all its similarities to the original, NetherRealm, however, did a remarkable job speeding the gameplay up to create a much more streamlined experience. Aspects of the combat, from button inputs, to connecting on punches, landing kicks, and using superhuman powers all feel more responsive, allowing for more precise control. Whether you’re going through the cinematic story, conquering the Multiverse, or waging war online in casual or ranked matches, Injustice 2’s combat loop is always a satisfying delight.