by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
It’s Pretty Super, Man
Back in 2008 Mortal Kombat developer NetherRealm tried their hand at a crossover with the DC Universe, and it was, at best, incredibly underwhelming. An awkward hodgepodge of worlds that didn’t seem to really meld, gamers moved on fairly quickly to better things. It was a surprise, then, that five years later the studio jumped back in with both feet and not only took another stab at DC’s iconic characters, but made an incredibly compelling game that stood on it’s own without many ties to Sub-Zero and friends. Becoming a bit of a sensation in its own right with a surprisingly engaging story spawning an uber-successful comic run, PC players can now finally hop back into the Injustice franchise and experience the second chapter of this brutal beat-em-up.
Lots of Ways to Play
Story has traditionally never been something strongly associated with fighting games, but ever since Mortal Kombat 9 NetherRealm has been bucking the trend. That streak continues here, with Injustice 2 sporting a short, but extremely satisfying campaign continuing directly after the events of its predecessor. If you’re out of the loop, the long and short of the backstory is that Joker messed with Superman’s mind and tricked him into killing Lois Lane (who was pregnant with his child- yeah, it’s dark stuff). Superman snaps, literally punches a hole through the Joker, and the superhero world is split between Superman loyalists and the Batman-led resistance. The sequel sees Superman escape the prison he’s been held in since his defeat, a third “neutral” party enter the gray, and a bigger, meaner baddie that forces them all to consider where their loyalties should really lie. It’s not Oscar worthy stuff, but it’s top tier for a fighting game, and it’s well worth the handful of hours it’ll take you to beat not only for the story, but for the generous amount of unlockables you’ll earn as well.
The campaign isn’t all the game has to offer, though, sporting a number of game modes for both online and offline gamers. Online matches fair about how you’ expect. There’s ranked and unranked versions of standard matches or king of the hill, and they operate as smoothly as they should. Offline, though, is where I was pleasantly surprised. Towers, a NetherRealm staple, have been replaced by the Multiverse, a collection of sequential fights of varying difficulty with a variety of twists. Some require you to have a certain character leveled up to max, or to have them decked out in epic gear. Some mess with game physics, allow you to call in assists, or spawn items like bombs that fall from the sky. These multiverse events are the quickest way to earn motherboxes, and character-specific events often guarantee a piece of epic gear for that fighter. With events lasting anywhere from weeks for big movie-tie ins and other big happenings to only a few hours, there’s always something fresh to jump into. The game also supports a great tutorial custom tailored to teach you the playstyle and some basic combos for every fighter. It’s worth playing through, and beating each one earns you yet more motherboxes.
Select Your Fighter
Let’s talk roster, because in a licensed game of this magnitude, who’s in and who’s out have been the topic of many a heated forum discussion. While it hurt to lose some of my mains from this title's predecessor like Hawkgirl and Sinestro, I’d be hard pressed to say that I don’t find Injustice 2’s lineup of heroes and villains a satisfying mix of fan favorites and more obscure newcomers. Of course the big names like Batman, Superman, Wonderwoman, and Flash are here, but we've also got picks like Swamp Thing, Cheetah, and Atrocitus that haven’t really had time to shine outside of the comics. The diverse cast comes with an equally diverse stable of available play-styles, and while some are harder to use or may seem a bit underpowered, all but those playing at the most elite level should be able to find success with whatever characters they put some time into learning.
I know that in these trying times of the war against microtransactions and pulled-content DLC players may take nervous heed of the seven DLC characters up for sale (with at least four more still coming out), but this is a case in which I think additional content was handles pretty well. First, don’t count Braniac. Everyone can unlock him for free by beating the campaign, which we’ll get to shortly. The fighters beyond that, which have slowly trickled out in the six months since the game’s initial release on consoles, may seem pricy for a single character, but there’s a lot more work that’s gone into Red Hood, Black Manta, and the others that a fighting game would normally require. Not only did NetherRealm need to design and balance the character, but each character also has a pretty insane amount of customizable gear (more on that later, too) and custom voice interactions with each of the other characters on the roster. Darkseid’s the only that rubs me the wrong way, being released as a pre-order bonus at the initial release, and free for week-one buyers now, but it’s a small pill to swallow alongside a quality stable of what will eventually be nine post-launch combatants. The roster is definitely satisfying enough without any additions, and I don’t think you’ll ever feel like you’re missing an important chunk of the game without more, but if someone like the upcoming Hellboy or Ninja Turtles (yes, really) catch your eye, I think you’ll be satisfied dropping a few extra bucks, too.
Every Fight Defines You
NetherRealm surprised just about everybody when they announced that Injustice 2’s slogan, “Every Fight Defines You,” would be taken quite literally. In lieu of releasing multiple skins for all of the characters they would instead implement a gear system, with which each character would be able to unlock and put together together individual pieces and color schemes for their outfit. My confusion and concern quickly became elation as I pondered the potential for unique looks and iconic items that otherwise were unlikely to be given a whole skin. How having experienced the system in quite a bit of detail, I’m honestly not sure if I like the gear system better than skins or not. The system’s kryptonite is that the attention and look variety given to each characters is, to put it mildly, wildly uneven. Some are absolutely fantastic. Batman, Scarecrow, and Swamp Thing have, perhaps the best gear, representing a fantastic combination of looks that are down-right cool and really stand out from each other. Harley Quinn has fantastic color shaders, letting her sport just about every color of the rainbow. The treating of these characters is the amount of love I wish they would have all gotten, but mommy and daddy clearly have a few favorite children. As cool as characters like Green Lantern look, with his emblems and color schemes for all of the ring colors, there’s a Bane, who just gets a little more padding on his armor (and can’t even sport a tank top, his most definitive look), or a Gorilla Grodd, who I normally can’t even tell one armor piece from another. It makes sense that NetherRealm (or WB) would support giving the more media-popular characters a little more attention, but it’s a real bummer for those people that play Cyborg, Firestorm, or the others that seem to have gotten the shaft that they have to wallow in their uninspired costumes.
Even more surprising than the potential for cosmetic customization was the reveal that these gear pieces, earned randomly after each fight as well as in opened “motherboxes,”would have stats that alter the character’s effectiveness in in fights. Furthermore, completely separate moves or move variants could be unlocked, changing how a character plays. Understandably, this was met with concern. How can a fighting game, the genre perhaps most dependent on insane attention to balance and precision, allow one player to have a potentially sizable advantage from the outset? Well, the answer turned out to be to only let the gear changes count in casual play, with ranked modes only using gear for their look (and ignoring and new gear-equipped moves). The intention was to allow players to customize their character to their players’ strengths. Like to block and wait for an opening? Maximize health and defense. More offensively oriented? Favor points in basic or special attacks. I haven’t really found this to be how it’s worked out, though. Characters already have baseline stats, and most everyone just maximizes what the character already exceeds at. It also means that in unranked games you’re going to get your butt kicked by players that have their character to level 20 while you level up yourself (you can turn off stat boost in casual play, but both players have to agree, and both seldom do).
Given that, I’d rather the stat boosts have just be left out entirely. In competitive play I can pick the looks I like most, but in casual play I need to abandon image to maximize my stats, and that’s not super fun. There’s also the issue that gear is given out mostly randomly, meaning you might end up getting exactly what you want, but you might also be stuffed to the brim with legendary gear for a character you never play, while waiting potentially ridiculous amounts of time for a specific piece you really want. You can tell the game to give a bias in post-game rewards to the character you were playing as, but that doesn’t do anything for ther motherboxes, which is where you’ll get the majority of your gear from. I’m probably coming off here a lot more negatively towards gear and customization than I want to. It’s a cool concept, just one that isn’t quite as fleshed out as most people might have hoped for, and I do hope to see a bigger, better version with the inevitable Injustice 3.
NetherRealm doesn’t have a great history of quality PC ports, so skepticism about buying any of their titles on your computer is warranted. Luckily the extra time to get the PC release ready seems to have largely paid off. In general things seem to run well, much better than the first Injustice, though I did still have a few issues rear their ugly heads. In my time playing I had the game crash twice to desktop, and once one of the fighters loaded as a giant bundle of spaghetti-looking polygons. I took to the web for some research to see if others have been experiencing similar issues and it seems that most people have been running the game perfectly smoothly, so take my experience with a grain of salt, but note there’s potential for some annoying, though fairly rarely occurring problems.
Injustice 2 is a big, bold, expansive love letter to fans of DC comics and fighting games in general, and its sequel improves on the original in most every way. A deep roster ripe for customization and enough quality game modes worth spending time with will ensure you’ve got enough to keep you busy for quite some time. Though a few issues hold NetherRealms’ latest back from being truly exemplary, there are enough positives here to keep the whole experience feeling pretty super.
Some characters have awesome customization options, diverse roster of fighters, quality single player campaign, plenty of game modes both offline and on.
Some characters have terrible customization options, some performance issues.