Back in 2013, American studio NetherRealm surprised the video game multiverse with Injustice: Gods Among Us (or as I reviewed it in the Middle East as Injustice: Mighty Among Us), combining explosive combat and an epic scenario with talent from the Justice League comic book universe. Now 4 years later, right after the success of their main and iconic fighting game franchise with Mortal Kombat X, NetherRealm gives us a new sequel based on the stories and adventures of the Justice League with Injustice 2.
The terror regime of Kal El (Superman) is no more than a tenacious memory after the event of Injustice: Gods Among Us. The tyrant Kryptonian overwhelmed by the loss of his wife Lois Lane and self-proclaimed “Judge, Juror and Executioner” is now held in place by a “red sun” powered prison. The defeat of Superman precipitated the fall of his regime of terror and almost destroyed Earth, and so from the ruins of this world, tiny hope came back thanks to Batman and his new team. The enemies of yesterday have become allies of today (like Harley Quinn) and the Justice League is split by each hero’s revenge plans or selfish motives.
This period of tranquility will be short-lived sadly, as you soon discover that a criminal organization led by Gorilla Grodd took advantage of the Justice League dismantled to revive the flames of discord and chaos, creating a new group of vilains called “The Society”, led by a new threat from the confines of the universe that will soon strike the Earth. The founding members of the Justice League will once again join forces and face the planned destruction of the world. But will this alliance resist the diametrically opposed visions of its two leaders which is Batman and Superman?
NetherRealm’s writers reiterate with Injustice 2 the features of the first Injustice: Gods Among Us which is based on rivalry, an ideological conflict and the end of the world. And if playing a fighting game for its story mode is usually something rare, Injustice 2 fuses perfectly the fist and the pen, giving us an epic narrative inspired by the some of DC Comics most appreciated story arcs. The invasion of the Earth by Brainiac as well as the Batman vs. Superman conflict will rejoice fan’s interest and enrich an adventure with multiple twists, proving that NetherRealm undoubtedly mastered the comic narration codes.
The story mode assumes its role as a tutorial and introduces perfectly the majority of the game’s roster (mostly the heroes), via 12 different chapters that could take you 5 to 6 hours to finish depending on the difficulty picked. There’s also 2 alternate endings, as well as the opportunity to play different segment during certain chapters that are based on a duo (like Blue Beetle and Firestom). In simple terms, Injustice 2’s secondary story ending is only available once you finish all different alteration of the numerous chapters, which could add 2 more hours of gameplay to your brand new game.
On the point of view of presentation, a strong point from NetherRealm Studios’ productions, it is similar to the conflict in the story. While graphics are not mind-blowing, the difference between the 2013 Injustice: Gods Among Us and Injustice 2 is undeniable, with more enhanced and fluid animations, and really great character design (big fan of Blue Beetle). The 12 battle arenas are detailed with care, filled with many interactive elements for each type of characters, resulting in an explosion of colors and pyrotechnic effects giving more kick to these heroic clashes. I’ll admire the great work done on the smooth transition between chapters, jumping from battles to cinematics without the need of loading screens.
The lore of the Justice League is dense and full of characters more or less known to everyone. While it would great to add everyone, I feel like NetherRealm picked the right fighters to prevent ruining the precarious balance between previous ones from the original game, and new ones that make sense for the story, without losing sight of the title’s competitive aspect. With this, Injustice 2 launched with 28 characters, including new heroes and villains with a unique style never been seen in the first game, starting with the story’s villain Brainiac, Firestorm (from Legends of Tomorrow), Blue Beetle (from Teen Titans), Gorilla Grodd and much more. Note that Darkseid is also available if you preordered the game or you can also give in to buying the upcoming DLCs, which will add 9 new characters this year including Starfire, Red Hood, and Sub Zero from the Mortal Kombat universe (a guest like Scorpion was in the first Injustice).
To please the fans by the number of characters is not so difficult but to make sure each of its fighters has its own charisma and class is another story. Injustice: Gods Among Us had divided the community and Injustice 2 might probably do the same, because by moving away from DC’s extended universe design and comics to develop its own “lore”, NetherRealm takes a risky bet. Comic book fans are by nature fussy and the slightest gap would trigger a wind of criticism, especially since most characters costumes and their equipment are so different from the originals or even the most modern versions. Closer to an armor than a costume for the majority of the characters, these outfits refresh the license while digging in past and present lore with more or less success. Harley Quinn, but especially the Joker, are inspired by Suicide Squad, while Wonder Woman reminds us of the old 1975 TV series, which could be fun… My only issue is that character faces lack of soul and even life experience, like Superman’s features make him a smiling boy scout and hinder the anger that should animate him.
NetherRealm Studios’ productions have always accentuated the spectacular, ranging from the X-Ray and Fatalities of Mortal Kombat to the Supers of Injustice, and its sequel Injustice 2 follows the same path. Heavy strikes and epic attacks reflect the extraordinary power of these superheroes and villains, as well as doing justice to their status as iconic figures of popular comic book culture. Injustice 2 characters thus crumble under the violence of the blows, although the lack of visual feedback on their body diminishes this feeling of power. I mean seriously? I know that Superman’s cape is made of Alien materials, but Batman’s gear surely cannot be perfectly clean after a Black Adam Super even in Comic book logic.
In any case, NetherRealm’s faith in his vision of fighting games is unfailing, and that’s the important thing after all. Easily accessible to newcomers and rich enough to keep the attention of veteran fighters (especially with the new eSports tournament series), Injustice 2 refines a gameplay proven on the 3 previous NetherRealm Studios games. You got you super gauge, grabs, abilities, combo, arena interactions and transition, super hits, special attacks… The palette of a perfect fighting game basically returns and will not surprise the fans of the first game. But Injustice 2 is not a simple copy-paste, and NetherRealm innovates with simple additions, like the addition of a dodge roll.
Injustice 2’s combos launch with ease and require only a very limited number of keys, however to fully perfect it and become a virtual martial artists, things are more in the sense of “easy to play, hard to master”. The most devout players will sharpen their combos and dissect a game system much more complex than it seems, ranging on all fronts of fighting game mechanics. The mere mastery of cancellations and parry-dodges gives a definite advantage in the arena while the Burn-Gauge option is essential to get out of a tricky and cornered situation. SImilar to the first game and Mortal Kombat X, consuming a bar of the “Super” gauge will allow a character to extend one special attack in terms of damage inflicted. In short, as you probably understood, Injustice 2 is tailored to satisfy casual gamers and eSports competitors around with a common passion for the brawl.
While most fighting games have the option of customizing its fighters, these were purely cosmetic skins having no impact on gameplay, like a new costume or different haircut… But NetherRealm has ignored the players’ fears and has fully integrated into its title an RPG component with a loot system. All Injustice 2 characters are defined by four set of stats (Strength, Ability, Defense, HP), which can then be “enhanced” with a set of equipment gained throughout the game. These can range from new skills, to more powerful armor and weapons, letting Injustice 2 roster customize themselves accordingly and benefit from improvements such as extra experience gain, more magical attack resistance and more. The only constraint some players might see from this system, is that most items require a certain character experience level to be able to equip it, therefore demanding a required a lot of playing time. In the end, it is impossible to surpass an opponent by simply equipping a bunch of new items, plus nothing beats the sensation of a complete and full armor set which can give you even more boost. Even in some instances, special skins or shaders (called Premium Skins) can alter dramatically the style of a character turning for example the Flash into its archnemesis Reverse Flash, Supergirl into Power Girl, each with its different voice lines and sometimes changes in the animations.
Fans of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and more will be delighted to let their imagination run wild with all these customization options. But unfortunately, nothing is free in the world of DC Comics and it will be necessary to dominate the Injustice 2 arena to unlock all the coveted items and loot. To do this, the Story mode is a good start, but the Multiverse mode is the end game grind, as it will allow you to collect Mother Boxes (loot boxes) which release all sorts of different currencies, items, armors, weapons and even shaders according to the rarity of the box. Of course, by using the RNG principle made popular in MOBA games, this random Loot system will force impulsive collectors to intensive gaming sessions which could end up great.
The Multiverse mode is also a well-known concept of fans and feeds the DC Comic’s worst-case scenarios for ages. The discovery of this tangle of universes opened a Pandora’s Box, which has the Justice League constantly monitoring with the help of Brother Eye, a super power computer technology invented by our billionaire Bruce Wayne. From this concept comes infinite opportunities of challenge, giving you series of matches to complete (as well as side challenges), with set modifiers, changing every couple of hours, reminding me of the Living Towers of Mortal Kombat X. For that, expect things like helping Black Adam avenge the death of his wife Isis on Earth 8143, or even help Scarecrow spread havoc on Earth 2415 and so on.
The first battles resemble a course of normal matches, with enemies posing only weak resistance but things eventually get tough. A level of difficulty and various parameters add more complexity, like a speed boost, or reduced timer… the Multiverse challenges are vicious by nature and can give the most seasoned fighters a hard time. But the mode is worth it, especially when it comes to its rewards, but also to discover a sort of “What if” a another character than Superman and Batman had saved us from Brainiac’s doom in the Battle Simulator.
Of course with a typical Player versus Player worthy of the name, a fighting game can not claim excellence so much that the solo often remains anecdotal. Aware of the trends of competitive gaming, Warner tries to impose on the eSport stage and the intentions of the editor are displayed fully in a PvP mode that can be played online or local, with dedicated Tournament mode (following rules set by the Injustice 2 Championship Series), ranked modes and King of the Hill. The matchmaking and net code – the pillar of a quality online experience – hasn’t suffered any sort of problems at launch, and it’s probably thanks to the closed beta this year, and even with my humble connection, a few seconds are enough to find an opponent and launch into a fight.
Injustice 2 was reviewed using an Xbox One retail copy of the game provided by Warner Bros. Interactive. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 via retail and online stores. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• A scenario worthy of the best narrative arcs of the DC Comics universe
• The largest cast of characters in the franchise
• Gameplay designed for both serious competitors and amateurs
• A regularly updated Multiverse mode
• A complete PvP mode
• A fully integrated RPG loot system
• Much better soundtrack than the first one
• A story mode that can be considered a bit short
• Micro-transactions can be tempting
• Some balancing issues with couple of characters
• Some character customizations are barely noticeable