Injustice 2 Review: Doing Justice to the Long History of the DC Universe

Injustice 2 Review: Doing Justice to the Long History of the DC Universe

NetherRealm tackles its darker version of the DC Universe again, with interesting results.

I wasn't a huge fan of the first Injustice. That may be because of the DNA; I've always leaned on the Street Fighter side of the classic fighting game divide between that franchise and Mortal Kombat. Perhaps it was the fact that I wasn't completely into NetherRealm's dark and brooding version of the DC Universe. I played Injustice and noted its quality in my review, but it wasn't a game that stuck with me. I was unsure how to feel about Injustice 2.

Color me surprised to find out that I enjoy it more than its predecessor.

There's something to be said for the core that NetherRealm has built here. Three attack buttons in Light, Medium, and Heavy varieties. The Street Fighter-style blocking frees up a button over Mortal Kombat, which is good, because the game has dedicated buttons or button combinations for throws, background interactions, and even super moves. NetherRealm has crafted a game that's easy to pick up and feel like you're doing something awesome. The barrier to entry is much lower than some other fighting games.

One shall stand, one shall fall.

That helps because the systems on top of that core add some additional depth. The super meter is used to pull off super moves, but it has other uses. You can tap the right trigger—I was playing on PlayStation 4—to meter burn, consuming one or more segments of the four-section meter. Use it after a special move to give that move an added kick. Hit the trigger after a double tap of the directional pad and you'll perform a bounce cancel, allowing you to string together bigger combos at the cost of two segments of meter. Two sections of super meter is also required for teching out of air juggles, pushing away an enemy after a block, or closing the gap with an semi-invincible roll. Most will just save meter to do Supers, but proper meter management in Injustice 2 saves you from taking too much damage.

Then there's the character-specific mechanics, activated by the dedicated power button. Green Arrow has a limitless quiver of arrows, but he can also switch to his trick arrows, shocking foes. Harley Quinn can throw meat for a long-range attack from her hyenas, which is great for setting up combos. Blue Beetle's armor grows spikes, increasing his range and damage for a period of time. Wonder Woman has Hippolyta's Light, which gives her a random power buff from a set of five.

Understanding and utilizing a hero's specific power is key to mastering Injustice 2. With a roster of 25+ you'll spend quite a while learning each character, with DC mainstays like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Harley Quinn, fighting alongside or against smaller characters like Captain Cold, Swamp Thing, and Deadshot.

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There's also another major pillar in the form of a robust progression system. Anytime you use a character in single-player or multiplayer modes, you gain experience. This experience is on a per character basis, but also feeds into your overall player level. The former matters because NetherRealm has added a massive gear system to Injustice 2. Certain activities give you Mother Boxes. Like Overwatch's loot boxes, opening a box nets you a random assortment of gear.

This gear can be armor or weapons and each piece of gear has a different look, generally a callback to another era of the character. They all have a rarity level, and rare gear is more powerful, offering you higher numbers of the Injustice 2's stats: Strength, Ability, Defense and Health. Gear also has set bonuses and Augments, which change certain abilities. Mother Boxes have five categories—Bronze, Silver, Gold, Diamond, and Platinum—with higher levels offering better gear.

Gear is level-gated, so even if you have a sweet level 10 cowl for Batman, you can't equip it until your Batman is level 10. Further, the level pool of the random gear inside of a loot box is determined by the level you are when you acquired it. That means there's no reason to hold onto Mother Boxes. As you get them, use them.

You'll eventually amass a huge amount of gear per character, which you can either improve, sell, or transform into another piece of loot. The point is to allow players to build their own versions of their favorite heroes, and that's cool. What's not cool is waiting for that one bit of armor to round out a collection, because again, the Mother Boxes drop random loot in five slots for every character in the game. If you're unlucky, you'll have a ton of gear for a character you don't even play.

Another issue I have with the loot system is that it carries over to online play. Injustice 2 will give you a win percentage by tabulating your gear against your opponent's. You can choose to turn off stat bonuses and augments, but both players have to select that option, so generally, I found most of my matches to be all gear, all the time. The game's netcode is decent. I ran into some lag here and there, but for the most part, my online experience wasn't horrible in that department.

In my Street Fighter V review, I dinged the game for being tournament-ready and not much else. Injustice 2 is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. NetherRealm packed the game full of content. On the single-player side, there's the full story campaign, which picks up five years after the events of the first game. Superman's Regime has been toppled and Batman keeps with the world safe with his Brother Eye computer.

Into the mix comes Supergirl and Brainiac, the alien being that destroyed Krypton. In the face of Brainiac's world conquering power, the divided heroes have to come together once again. The overall story retains the darker tone of the previous game, but it's far more hopeful in the way it plays out. Supergirl acts as a strong anchor for everything; having just come to Earth, she only sees the potential of the heroes to help, while everyone else is still dealing with the fallout of the first game.

What's really impressive is how the story is told. NetherRealm has cooked up some amazing cutscenes with character animation tht's just perfect. You really get a feel for the entire cast over the course of the story, with the detailed and subtle facial animations backed up by great voice work. For a story in a fighting game, Injustice 2 goes above and beyond. This is a genre where we usually get an opening and ending cutscene, with maybe some 2D art in-between. Injustice 2 is a full cinematic experience, and one that's delivered better than its live-action counterparts.

The attention to detail extends to everything in Injustice 2. There's a huge amount of spoken dialog between each character, acknowledging their assorted histories. There are unique fight intros and character select screen interactions that are just a joy to behold. NetherRealm also used the costume system to offer up other versions of each character, with DC Comics characters like John Stewart and Power Girl being alternate costumes—with their own voice acting—for Hal Jordan and Supergirl respectively. There's just a feeling of love for the DC Universe that's spread out across the entirety of Injustice 2.

On the multiplayer side, there's the traditional online modes, but there's also the Multiverse. The Multiverse offers online challenges for players to complete across a number of DC Universe Earths. The mode relies on the loot system to provide different looks for each Earth's hero or villian and there's even voice acting acknowledging the differences between Earths. Winning matches and completing objectives gives you more Mother Boxes than any other mode. Each Earth is only visible for a specific amount of time though, be it hours or days. The enhanced loot drops and the timer encourages players to check in on the Multiverse each day, which means they're playing Injustice 2. Sneaky.

Injustice 2 is a brilliant fighting game. I have my quibbles with things like the loot system factoring into online play, but overall, this is what a fighting game release should be like. Tons of characters, a real love for the source material, accessibility while still offering depth for masters, and a host of single-player and multiplayer modes. I may have fallen off of the Injustice wagon the first time, but Injustice 2 is such an achievement that I think I'll be playing for some time to come.

Lasting appeal
The loot treadmill and Multiverse mode guarantee that players will be enjoying Injustice 2 for some time to come.

Visuals
This is just a great-looking fighting game. You may have issues with the specific art style, but otherwise, it's visually impeccable.

The first Injustice was a well-done fighting game, but it's completely outclassed by its sequel. NetherRealm Studios offers up a love letter to the DC Universe and fighting game fans. An accessible combat system underpins a game with a great roster, tons of character customization, and several robust gameplay modes. The story mode alone is worth witnessing. As a complete package, Injustice 2 sets the bar for fighting games.

4.5/5

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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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