Injustice 2 Review (Xbox One)
For as long as comic books have been a part of pop culture, fans have been wondering which of their favorite heroes would truly win in a fight. Comics themselves have tried to answer that question numerous times, but those battles have largely been out of the readers' hands. That's where video games come into play. There have been a number of fantastic fighting games featuring comic heroes and villains over the years, but few have been as addictive, fun, and well-made as NetherRealm Studios' latest dip into the DC Comics pool, Injustice 2.
The previous entry in the series, Injustice: Gods Among Us, presented an alternate DC Universe in which Superman and a select group of heroes ruled the world as the Regime. Batman and a group of heroes plucked from the "proper" DC Universe banded together to take Superman down, and with great effort, the Regime crumbled. Injustice 2 picks up not long after Superman's been imprisoned in a cell that robs him of his powers, with Batman and his bunch trying to rectify all the damage done under the Regime's rule. Of course, Superman's vacating of the proverbial throne left a power vacuum which some villains are all too happy to fill.
Where most fighting games are content to leave the narrative as loose threads that barely connect each fight (if they have a story at all), Injustice 2's greatest asset is the attention paid to the single-player story. Don't get us wrong, the fighting is top notch; however, NetherRealm's choice to develop not only an engaging storyline that furthers the Injustice Universe, but one that is delivered with such a fantastic presentation truly sets Injustice 2 apart from the fighting game crowd. While the central conceit driving the Injustice Universe has drawn its fair share of criticism, this sequel is focused more on the rift between Batman and Superman over the right way to protect the people of Earth... and saving the planet, of course.
The acting and motion capture are all ridiculously impressive, with the cinematics between fights being some of the best rendered sequences we've seen in a third-party title. Being brought along this journey with the likes of Supergirl and the Flash or Green Lantern and Wonder Woman is especially satisfying particularly because these interlaced moments are so strong. It certainly helps to have a general knowledge about these characters and how they act in the original comics, but NetherRealm has done the diligence to craft just enough personality and characterization into its five-hour long campaign to make you empathize with nearly everyone.
Surely though it's the characters like Batman, Superman, Supergirl and Harley Quinn that get the most attention, and thus are the most enjoyable characters in the whole game. At least from a story standpoint. Each of them also happens to play very differently, and very well, so that's a nice bonus to spending so much time with them during the course of the single-player. There are some choose-your-own-adventure moments scattered throughout, but the only one that makes any difference is the final choice between Batman and Superman on how to ultimate deal with Brainiac, the big bad at the center of Injustice 2.
Where the story also comes in handy is teaching you the ropes of more than a dozen of the playable characters on Injustice 2's roster. With nearly three dozen different characters included at the start, there are a lot of different fighters to learn your way around. Over the course of the story you'll swap in and out of characters, often for a few fights at a time. While it can be overwhelming at first to have to re-learn the combat commands for so many different characters on the fly, many rely on the same core button combinations, and you'll find yourself settling in nicely after an hour or so. Checking the move list is as easy as hitting the pause button, so you're never far from having a list of potential commands at your fingers. Still, by the time you get a few chapters into the game, you'll find yourself easily acclimating to NetherRealm's input style.
Fortunately for players of all skill levels, the super moves aren't nearly as complicated as the finishing moves in NetherRealm's Mortal Kombat series. With Injustice 2, you just need to hold down two buttons when your super meter is full to unleash a stunning cinematic attack that makes these powers come alive in ways you could only imagine from the comics. While it's true you have to be in a certain range for every different attack, and that these attacks can just be straight-up blocked, it doesn't make them any less impressive or simple to pull off. That they're also beautiful to watch even when you're on the business end doesn't hurt either.
Though there are a lot of characters that you won't get to use in the story, but NetherRealm has a handful of solo modes for you to attempt before trying out your skills online. In addition to Training, you'll also be able to take part in the Multiverse. These challenges take place across a number of worlds in the DC Multiverse, with computer characters having new looks, slightly altered abilities, or requirements to defeat. There are constantly rotating worlds of varying difficulty, which will allow you to learn the ins and outs of whatever characters you find suit your mood, along with leveling them up and earning more and more gear.
The Multiverse is a fun and smart way to keep you engaged on a daily basis without pushing you to battle outside your comfort zone. The online playing field is challenging to say the least, but with Multiverse (and the Guild Multiverse), you can spend as much time on your own simply enjoying all that Injustice 2 has to offer without any fear of being inadequate. Plus, the rewards you'll get make dropping in for an hour or more every day certainly make the extra effort that much more worthwhile.
Yes, Injustice 2 has a loot system. It's a bit over-complicated on the currency front, but the basics are fairly rudimentary. As you play the various game modes, you'll earn credits, gear, source crystals, regen tokens, guild tokens, and several different types of Mother Boxes. These Mother Boxes offer you more character gear to customize each playable fighter, as well as more in-game currency. When playing online, the gear, which includes various capes, sleeves, symbols, headgear, and so on, is merely cosmetic. When you are visiting the Multiverse however, character gear dramatically alters your characters stats. You may find a cape for Supergirl that gives her a buff on defense, or a cowl for Batman that adds more health to his overall meter.
Certain gear also belongs to a complete set, which will give you even more statistical bonuses when completely assembled. You'll be able to tell as all of the gear has funky names, some of which call back to the comic books, some of which make references to family lines, and some of which is just fun comic book gibberish. There are some shaders, which give you different colorways for your characters, but more importantly, give the likes of Green Lantern, Flash and Cheetah completely new character builds as John Stewart, Reverse Flash and Vixen respectively. These can be bought with more of that currency, and aren't the same as downloadable characters, but they are nice additions. NetherRealm really dove in deep crafting all the various common, rare and epic goods, and the constant rewards being doled out make Injustice 2 a game that's hard to put down when you get into a groove.
NetherRealm Studios has been working with the DC Comics characters for a few games now, but Injustice 2 truly shows just how well the developer understands how to best translate comics to a fighting game. Just having the likes of Gorilla Grodd and Aquaman in a fighting game would have been enough for most fans, but including as much depth in the story, loot system, online options, and customization takes Injustice 2 above and beyond. It's not all that rare for NetherRealm to have success in the fighting genre, but to accomplish this level of excellence for players of all skill levels is a fantastic achievement.
This review was completed with a digital copy of Injustice 2 provided by the publisher for Xbox One.