It's been said many times, but I don't think it can be overstated just how bizarre culture has become in 2017. Thirty years ago, a movie based on the Justice League seemed like a madman's pipe dream, but 2017 turns that lunacy into a sad inevitability. Produced under duress and thrown haphazardly to an audience inundated with everything from Ant-Man to Big Hero 6, the Justice League's first trip to the silver screen will likely be remembered as forgettable when all is said and done. Thankfully, fans of the Distinguished Competition still have Injustice 2 to satisfy their appetite. NetherRealm has delivered where Hollywood has failed, bringing comic book fans a bombastic tale of caped crusaders that shouldn't be missed.
Coming to consoles earlier this year and PC just recently, Injustice 2 is the fourth narrative heavy fighting game from the Mortal Kombat studio. Focusing on the alternate reality DC Universe established in the original Injustice, this sequel sees the threat of Brainiac forcing Batman to expand his circle of trust and reestablish a Justice League shattered by Superman's killing ways. The story unfolds over a six-hour campaign that keeps a good pace between high impact fights and cinematic cutscenes. Heroes and villains are represented well throughout, along with some obscure cameos that will surely please long time readers.
Outside of the campaign, there is plenty to do. Solo players can charge into Multiverse mode and climb various arcade ladders complete with modifiers straight out of Mortal Kombat 9's Test Your Luck. When you're tired of playing alone, you can send your customized fighters against opposing teams in the AI Battle Simulator or battle friends in local play and offline tournaments. Once you head online, you can get into a lobby to request fights or go at it in ranked matchmaking. The bouts I had online were smooth, with no hitching or latency issues that I could detect. I didn't win any of them, but at least I couldn't blame the cable company for my poor gameplay.
Speaking of, Injustice 2 continues in NetherRealm's tradition of excellent and accessible fighting games. Anyone familiar with the first game will be able to jump into the fray without much fuss, and the varied roster splits the difference between returning favorites and new challengers. Many repeat characters have had their ultimate moves and character traits tweaked, but basic movesets are pretty consistent. The flashy environmental interactions return, although they're not all as unblockable as they once were. The gameplay additions are all iterative refinements on what worked before, and that's just fine. Like with most games of this ilk, it's hard to truly feel the jump forward without going back and playing some of the original.
The most notable change comes in the form of the Gear system. Injustice 2 brings a full-on loot hunt to its fighting engine, rewarding you with costume parts and shaders after most fights. These can also be found in loot crates that are purchaseable with real money and awarded for in-game tasks. Despite this possible annoyance, interacting with the AI Battle Simulator and joining a guild will ensure that you have a constant stream of new doodads coming in, and I never felt even a hint of compulsion to put down my cash.
Sadly, the loot isn't just cosmetic. The Wonder Woman heads and Brainiac tendrils you acquire do affect your fighter's stats, and you can even collect tweaked special moves to use during fights a-la Smash Bros. While this could raise some red flags, all the items here feel like minor boosts that supplement the leveling system rather than overtake it. A big spender might have a small advantage, but they really won't get very far online without the skill that comes from hours and hours of play. If you're opposed to even that, there are several options to play with stat boosts turned off, transforming the match back into a one on one test of skill. I know loot has become a dirty word recently, but I feel like Injustice 2 does this type of system as fairly as possible.
With every character's appearance being completely absorbed into the loot box system, this does mean that the more traditional full costume sets are missing from the experience, and that's a shame. The only exception is the "Premier Skins" that give you bonus playable characters with a familiar playstyle and new voicework. Captain Cold turns into Mr. Freeze, Flash shifts to Reverse-Flash, and so on. Barring any DLC purchases, these are all locked behind Source Crystals, the paid currency that you gain in-game very occasionally. Of course, you can also use this currency for extra loot box purchases should you desire them.
Other than these premium options, you have to rely on random chance to change up your look, and you won't be able to choose from famous costumes of comics past. There are some interesting choices in this system, and I did very much enjoy giving Joker a magician's top hat. Still, if you are going for the most well-rounded characters, you'll have to sacrifice your personal tastes. There are ways to control the visuals of the loot you're receiving, but that also involves paid currency. The hunt for loot became an enjoyable diversion, but the overcomplicated menus and inventories required to truly dive into that system pushed me away in the long run.
Even if the gameplay does have you playing the same fights with minor tweaks, Injustice 2 brings it when it comes to presentation. This is a gorgeous game with character models that reach the edges of the uncanny valley without tumbling into it. Stage transitions and environmental damage is bombastic, and it truly feels like you're a bull in the china shop that is Gotham City. The seamless transitions between cutscenes and fighting seen in the campaign are well-worn territory at this point, but they're still impressive, especially considering that it's now possible to choose between multiple characters in certain scenarios.
The sound is more up and down. Voice acting is spot-on, especially when characters trade vocal barbs before each fight. These quips are filled with obscure DC references and really speak to the dedicated fans of these characters. However, I sometimes wish I could reliably hear them. Despite the game having multiple audio sliders, I never felt comfortable with the mix of background music and dialogue. Everything felt quiet at maximum settings, and I had to adjust my computer's volume sliders to an uncomfortable level just to take in that dialogue. It's really telling that there isn't a "Monitor" option in the audio settings, but there is one for "TV Speakers".
Of course, I am playing on the Steam version, which is a new port of the console release from earlier this year. From a technical perspective, the game runs pretty smoothly, and its system requirements are low enough that even those with older machines should run the game with little trouble. However, there is some unfortunate chugging in certain spots. Character models loading in and out took longer than expected, especially during character customization. This also affects loading into each round, as each fighter's attire has to be pieced together from the dozens of combinations made possible by the Gear system. In addition, even with a machine that far outpaces the recommended specs, I experienced multiple crashes in my time with the game. Memory usage seems to be the culprit here, as the issue occurred frequently when I was running other programs in the background.
As I said before, Injustice 2 is the fourth game in a series that started with Mortal Kombat's 2011 reimagining. Some might even say that 2008's Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was the true start, giving us close to a decade of solid work from the NetherRealm team. These games are consistently great, but there's something to be said for franchise fatigue. I'd love to see Ed Boon's team tackle a new universe or make something as off the wall as Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks once again. Until then, you pretty much know what you're getting with one of these games, and that includes Injustice 2.
Injustice 2 is a solid game with beautiful characters and interesting fighting mechanics. The hunt for loot is real, and some may be put off by the microtransactions, but it's clear that NetherRealm hasn't lost a step.
- Flawless Presentation
- Complex Gameplay
- Satisfying Campaign
- Technical Hiccups
- Franchise Fatigue