Video Game Review: Injustice 2 (PS4, 2017) continues NetherRealm’s incredible winning streak

After 25 years, Ed Boon and company still haven’t hit a drought when it comes to their inexorable flow of creative juices. Whether it was Midway or NetherRealm, Injustice or the venerable Mortal Kombat, each game is always jam-packed with gaming goodness and Injustice 2, the sequel to 2013’s Injustice: Gods Among Us, is no different.

For the uninitiated, Injustice in a nutshell is Mortal Kombat with a DC Comics skin. That sounds slightly unfair but there are MK X seeds planted everywhere here, from the menus, certain UI’s, juggling combos, and just an all round similarity once you launch a fight. This is fine. The simple fact is the two have already met so their spiritual relationship is accepted, the same way Marvel is synonymous with Street Fighter. It’s the amount of work and commitment that NetherRealm have put in to Injustice 2 that forges a significant rift between both game franchises.

The Flash vs Green Lantern

The story follows on from Gods Among Us which, along with the acclaimed comic book of the same name by Melbourne native Tom Taylor, is now its own canon. Taking place entirely within the alternate universe, Injustice 2 picks up after Superman’s defeat and incarceration where many of the hero’s loyalties are fractured. As Batman aims to repair the world, Wonder Woman and Black Adam, now joined by Supergirl, attempt to free Superman so that their regime can continue. This all takes a back seat when Braniac shows up to conquer Earth and imprison Superman and Supergirl.

Although a tad muddled — as alternate dimension narratives often are — Injustice 2’s solo campaign is a solid romp, imbued with all the campy lore and dialogue you’d expect. The team of writers here have found an (mostly) organic way to get everyone involved and it’s just plain fun seeing our favourite heroes and villains duking it out.
Injustice 2’s biggest problem however is that its two intersecting plot lines just cant get out of the way of each other. Braniac’s invasion and the Batman/Superman feud are constantly elbowing and nudging each other in an effort to be noticed. The idea of course is that the two should elegantly intertwine but that notion is never as neat and well executed as I would have liked.

Batman & Supergirl in Injustice 2’s Story Mode

Voice acting and dialogue is where the story is at its most fickle. Some of the one liners and delivery are woeful. If I have to hear another Oliver Queen quip, I may just sink into a pool of cringe. (And no I don’t blame Alan Tudyk for that). When it’s good though, it’s great. Kevin Conroy shows why he is arguably the definitive Batman; The female answer to Troy Baker, Laura Bailey is terrific as Supergirl; George Newbern is a fantastic Superman again after playing ‘The Man of Steel’ in the Justice League cartoon; The Walking Dead’s Khary Payton channels his Teen Titan’s Go! version of Cyborg again; Freddy Kreuger himself Robert Englund plays Scarecrow; Richard Epcar is a worthy substitute for Mark Hamill’s Joker and Susan Eisenberg and Tara Strong reprise their roles as Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn, respectively.

It’s a who’s who of brilliant voice actors who have played their characters in various incarnations before or breathe new life into them. Sometimes they falter, but for the most part, it’s a joy to hear all of these wonderful talents hone their roles.

There is a tonne of content on offer though so if the story isn’t your bag, the fighting should almost definitely justify your purchase. Things remain largely similar at first glance. The mechanics of the game are untouched, echoing MK X and Gods Among Us but ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.  Even though I love them, I’m not exactly a pro in this genre, yet even I can string together some cool combos. The best thing about Injustice 2 is that while it requires a seemingly infinite amount of time to master, it’s easy to pick up and play and the in-match move list is really extensive. Throw in some training and programmable practice modes and suddenly it doesn’t seem so overwhelming.

The Flash on Jokers Funhouse

It’s the little touches that set it apart from it’s predecessor though. There are more environmental additions including some insane stage transitions and improved blocking and evasive techniques. My favourite little inclusion is that depending on which two characters are pitted against each other, each pairing has different dialogue that they exchange before they fight. It’s just a cool little feature that helps in making this particular universe feel like it has a history and its characters are familiar to one another, rather than merely being picked at a character selection screen.

The super moves (Injustice’s answer to MK’s Fatalities or X-Ray moves) have just completely gotten out of hand. And I mean that in the best way possible. In fact it has easily become (much like Fatalities) my main attraction to the game, to the point where I didn’t want any ruined before release. I mentioned at the top of this review how creative NetherRealm continue to be and Injustice 2 verifies it. What’s the point in having super heroes with special powers if you’re not going for broke? So I EXPECT The Flash to grab his opponent, speed through time and smack his foes into an unsuspecting T-Rex as the poor beast tries to eat his lunch. I WANT The Joker to sit his enemies in an electric chair and wail on them with a crowbar.
I NEED…I’ll stop right there. Some things deserve to be seen for themselves. Although it ignores common sense and forgets that some of these characters are human and couldn’t possibly survive a trip to space, or a bite from a massive sea creature, it is the absolute ridiculousness that keeps you building that burn meter.

Green Lantern’s Super Move

The biggest change in Injustice 2 is its venture into RPG territory, allowing you to level up your favourite fighters and unlock gear on a rarity system. Simply playing the game will earn you gear or mother boxes (which can also be bought with in game currency) which contain multiple items. Each piece of gear can be applied to their respective character which will improves stats, with more rare pieces equipped with added bonuses. I personally love this. It was a gamble, an implementation that could have been ignored or have been too shallow but NetherRealm have made it such a fundamental part of the game that it is impossible not to be invested in it. I do appreciate how each item is reflected in game too no matter how nodescript, so if you change something such as Aquaman’s trident or Jokers knife, it will be visible. This means that gear can act as skins too, completely changing the look of a character.

The roster is a mixed bag. Popular characters such as General Zod, Martian Manhunter and Lex Luthor have been omitted while lesser known characters have made the cut like Cheetah, Dr. Fate and Atrocitus. It seems as though the current state of DC Televsion & Film has influenced choices too. Black Canary, Captain Cold and Firestorm from DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and Arrowverse are present as are Deadshot, Supergirl and a more Jared Leto looking Joker. Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing is probably the strangest newbie but it is a delectable assortment of DC’s linchpins and fascinating newcomers. A whopping nine characters have also been announced for future release too so in time, everyone will have their favourites.

Injustice 2’s current roster

Visually, Injustice 2 is a stand out. Its cut scenes are movie-like, displaying huge battles with great camera work; its levels are wonderfully detailed from Joker’s colourful fun house to a drab backwater swamp and a spooky, barren Arkham Asylum. Super moves are nothing short of stunning, showcasing impressive lighting and camera angles. It’s the motion capture and facial animation that really excels. The faces of each DC character are incredibly lifelike to the point of eeriness.

Harley Quinn’s amazing facial animations

Aside from the single player campaign, there are plenty of ways to get your kicks…and punches. AI fights are a given but jumping online with your fancy gear is where it’s at. My favourite, the other major everlasting mode is called The Multiverse (essentially this is equivalent to MK’s Living Towers). The premise here is that Batman is monitoring an infinite amount of planets in parallel dimensions. These planets harbour alternate versions of Injustice 2’s characters and it’s your job to stop/help them. A planet may have three lots of fights, each with their own ranking, modifiers and rewards and some may last weeks, days or even minutes before they reset. Once the story is done, you may not have any interest in doing it again, so The Multiverse is an especially crafty way of giving you a reason to fight.

As a Marvel groupie, it sucks playing this game. This is everything a DC fan could want out of a fighting title. It has a wealth of diverse characters, jaw dropping, fluent fight sequences and it looks great to boot. For a first time feature, the gear system is deep and alluring and has the ability to extend the life of Injustice 2 long after its fan service littered story has run its course.

Score: 9.0 out of 10
Highlights: Super moves are amazing; Motion capture is some of the best I’ve seen; Gear System;
Lowlights: Occasionally the dialogue and voice acting is awful; Story is a bit muddled
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release date: Out now
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Reviewed on PlayStation 4.

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