Injustice 2 is impressive. In a world dominated by fighting games that treat the story mode as an afterthought, NetherRealm put it front-and-centre. The result is a game dripping with presentation that trickles down from the campaign, into the moment-to-moment action. That same attention to detail is also realised in the character customisation, which turns some of DC’s most iconic fighters into something all your own.
The game builds on the story of the first title; Superman is imprisoned because he’s a bad dude, and Batman is scrambling to restore the society that DC’s golden boy shattered. That plan is turned on its head when the alien Brainiac invades, and forces Batman to ally with the Man of Steel. The plotline is a predictable block-buster affair, but the presentation surrounding it is still head-and-shoulders above every fighting game on the market.
In your time with the singleplayer you’ll organically swap between multiple heroes and villains as the plot dictates, with the action seamlessly blending from cutscene to combat. Occasionally you’ll have the choice of whom to fight as, which provides some minor branches in the story content you’ll see – namely, the pre-fight banter.
But what elevates NetherRealm’s storytelling – of which they’ve already proven themselves masters of with Mortal Kombat X – comes down to a technical level. The facial animations are incredible; they wrinkle and contort with micro-expressions, adding a level of nuance and depth previously not found. Characters like Harley Quinn become more than a grating voice in a jester outfit. They become actors. The occasional clay-face can be distracting (I’m looking at you, win-pose Catwoman), but never a total nuisance.
But if fighting games are your bread-and-butter, you’re probably here for a more mechanical break-down of what Injustice 2 offers.
Combat builds on the fundamentals seen in the first game. Players can bust out combos with a mix of light, medium, heavy strikes, and Character Powers. These generally have a lengthy cool-down, and are useful for stretching out your combo strings. Added depth is presented with Clashes, which lets you wager chunks of your super meter to break out of an enemy’s attack. If you wager more, you regain some health; lose however, and your opponent will deal extra damage. The system is a nice encapsulation of what makes fighting games fascinating; it isn’t frame data or tier lists. It’s the mind-games.
Mix all these elements with stage interactables and a sizeable roster of characters, and the result is a fighting game that’s easy to pick-up, but hard to master. But more than that, fights just feel right – and that comes down to the sound design. The crunchy thuds of punches and kicks gives combos a violent staccato rhythm, and your mastery over them turns you into a musician.
But Injustice 2 isn’t just about refinements to the formula. In a rarity for the genre, developer NetherRealm have introduced character progression – in the form of level-ups, stats, and gear. Different pieces of equipment – which can be earned from fights, or through challenge modes – provide different buffs, altering things like damage output or defence. The system can add a fun layer of unpredictability to your standard match-ups, especially as some unlocks give characters completely new abilities.
If balance is your biggest concern however, you can switch these numbers off in ranked play – turning your armour and capes into a strictly cosmetic affair. I spent an insane amount of time choosing the perfect jacket and colour scheme for my Black Canary, and I’m still searching for the right pair of boots to match. Playing dress-up with some of your favourite characters instils a sense of ownership, and seeing other creations out there when you jump into an online match inspires you to build them up more.
It is disappointing though to open loot boxes, only to find pieces of gear for characters that you don’t main. Gear is also gated by a level requirement – meaning if you want to equip that sick looking hat purely for cosmetic purposes, you’ll have to put in a lot of hours. It can however provide a nice impetus to branch out and try different characters.
While the competitive future of Injustice 2 is currently unclear, one thing is certain: NetherRealm have created a highly polished fighter. With a campaign mode that blows the competition out of the water, fights that pop, and an extensive customisation system, the Chicago-based studio has done right by the DC license.
Keith received a physical copy of Injustice 2 from Warner Bros. for review.