Injustice 2 Review: Of Gods and Kings

NetherRealm Studios, WB Games, DC Comics
NetherRealm Studios, WB Games, DC Comics /

Four years after their first venture into the DC Universe, NetherRealm Studios have managed to carve out another unique experience with Injustice 2.

Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: WB Games
Platform: PlayStation 4 (Version reviewed), Xbox One
Release Date: May 16, 2017

Much can change in a decade, especially in pop culture.

Formerly the butt of jokes and sacred to nerd-dom, comic book heroes and villains are now engrossed in pretty much every medium. Whether it be the books themselves, full-on cinematic universes and now ventures into the video game medium, it’s pretty difficult to get away from anything not based on Marvel or DC properties. 

Injustice 2, which released on May 16, does just about everything the first does and then some; adding layers of content and expands upon the DC character universe in a package that casual and competitive players alike can appreciate.

Gameplay is where the sequel feels the most like the original, which isn’t a bad thing. Most of the primary game mechanics are back, including clashes (which can help you gain or take away a chunk of opponents’ health), environmental attacks and new air escape and meter burn roll abilities that add more to the game without being overpowered. The returning cast of characters from the first gameplay very much like they did then, with a few tweaks here and there; while the new guard, featuring the likes of Robin (Damien Wayne), Black Canary and Scarecrow all add unique styles and fit right in.

Injustice 2 screenshot
NetherRealm Studios, WB Games, DC Comics /

That being said, the launch version of the game very much favors zoning characters that take up many spots on the roster, such as Doctor Fate and Deadshot, which makes it really hard to approach. Knowing NetherRealm’s history, it’s likely that we won’t have to wait long for a change to that. The original Injustice was solid, and this version adds more to the formula without completely changing it.

The original Injustice was solid, and this verison adds more to the formula without completely changing it.

The game’s Gear system initially got met with some controversy, especially from those who thought it would wind up being a “pay to win” kind of game. Instead, Gear is obtained by simply playing the game. Whether it’s random drops after fights or in the form of Mother Boxes (yes, the loot box craze has hit here, too), everything is earnable through playing and completing objectives in the variety of modes. Playing through the story mode, for example, gave away tons of epic gear, color shaders and Mother Boxes galore.

In exchange, Gear can completely change the look of your character and their stats in modes that allow it. Much like the first game, player level makes a return, but now individual characters themselves can also be upgraded up to a cap of 20. This is especially important in the Multiverse mode, which has challenges that either do or don’t have a level recommendation. Or you could just bumrush into a battle with a Level 20 Joker with your Level 4 Batman and hope you survive to tell the tale.

NetherRealm Studios, WB Games, DC Comics
NetherRealm Studios, WB Games, DC Comics /

Don’t like the gear you got? You can sell it for in-game credits to build up for more boxes. Gear is also focused on the level of your character, so you can actually upgrade it later through Regen tokens, which can be also be earned by completing objectives in the Multiverse mode.

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Color shaders, premiere skins and extra abilities are also intertwined in this system to add even more layers of customization, but the former pair can be bought by either earning or purchasing Source Crystals with real money. The premiere skins are of particular interest, as they give characters all new appearances and voice lines for ones such as Green Lantern John Stewart and Supergirl’s skin based on Power Girl.

Source Crystals can also be used to change the appearance of a piece gear to look like another without affecting stats. It’s a nice addition that doesn’t feel necessary since they’re merely cosmetic changes, and it cuts out the possibility of clone characters. Through all of these options, you can end up making a Silver Age-style Batman with tons of armor, which looked pretty good, if I do say so myself.

NetherRealm Studios, WB Games, DC Comics
NetherRealm Studios, WB Games, DC Comics /

Injustice 2 sports easily some of the best motion and facial capture work to date.

In fact, Injustice 2 just flat-out looks good. Damn good. The change from the first game to the next is quite stunning at first, and not just because of the shift to the current generation of hardware. Instead of a gray filter-looking effect on everything, now colors are extremely vibrant, and the world pops off your television or monitor. From the reflective skyscrapers of Metropolis to the ancient architecture of Kahndaq and even the darker, more atmospheric venues of Slaughter Swamp and the new Batcave stage; the game looks well enough to make you feel immersed in the universe as you bash your opponents’ heads in.

That’s not even where the game shines in this department, either. Injustice 2 sports easily some of the best motion and facial capture work to date. Characters move around almost too naturally, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s almost like playing out a battle sequence of a CGI film with a huge budget, and it’s overtly satisfying when your character throws a smart quip at your opponent, and you feel like they’re just as human as you are. But then you remember it’s just a video game, and this sort of thing shows how far we’ve really come in that department and what this generation of consoles can really do. It’s almost scary when you think about it.

Injustice 2
NetherRealm Studios, WB Games, DC Comics /

Injustice 2’s sound design also deserves some praise. The game’s music doesn’t deviate much from the orchestral riffs of the last game, but it’s satisfying enough to get the job done in the background. That said, it’s awesome how everything ramps up to a crescendo during a dramatic moment in the story or during a clash during a fight; it just makes everything that much more immersive.

Then there’s the voice acting, which may have one of the best casts and directions I’ve heard in any game to date. Returning favorites like Kevin Conroy (Batman), George Newbern (Superman) and Tara Strong (Harley Quinn) give strong performances along with new additions like longtime veteran Steve Blum (Green Lantern/Hal Jordan) as well as the combo of Alan Tudyk (Green Arrow) and Vanessa Marshall (Black Canary). Whether it was seriously overdramatic conversations or quick quirks at one another, all of the voice lines are delivered with such a tact that, again, make you feel like you’re watching a film play out.

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And that leads us into where all of the presentation bits come together; Injustice 2’s cinematic campaign. The story picks up not long after the events of the first game, in which Batman seeks out Justice League counterparts to stop a Superman gone rogue and his Regime. Here, the Man of Steel is locked up in a prison that leaves him powerless as Brainiac attacks. Batman’s forced with the choice of letting out Superman to stop the invasion and the consequences of what may follow.

What follows is a plot that’s just as dramatic as it is engaging over its five to six hours of play, thanks to the stellar voice work paired with the facial animations. There are also segments in which a pair of characters team up and you choose to play as one or the other; such as when Green Arrow and Black Canary infiltrate Gorilla Grodd’s sanctum. This scene is particularly entertaining and downright funny thanks to the quick quips of Arrow and Canary, to the point where it’s a nice break from the overbearing tone and stakes of the overall plot.

Thankfully, the story mode isn’t the only single-player experience the game has to offer. In a world where some fighting games launch half-finished and charge full-price, Injustice 2 seems like an anomaly. For starters, there’s your tutorial that teaches basic and advanced mechanics along with modes for every character. The latter is really helpful in getting started with any of the 28 characters available (29 counting preorder bonus/DLC Darkseid) by learning their special moves, character powers and basic combos. There’s also single player fights against the AI as well as a customizable practice mode that is pretty much par for the course in the genre. 

Injustice 2
NetherRealm Studios, WB Games, DC Comics /

Then there’s The Multiverse, which is essentially is Injustice 2’s take on Living Towers from Mortal Kombat X. Basically, they’re timed events that can last anywhere from hours to days, and can unlock special rewards and experience. Some challenges even contain special modifiers or obstacles to spice things up, and Level 20 characters can essentially act as bosses that ramp up the difficulty if you’re not prepared.

Since the mode is based on multiple universes, it only makes sense that it takes advantage of the game’s gear and shader system to give each character a unique look each time you face them. Multiverse is a strong time sink, whether you’re trying to learn a character or earn some epic rewards for one of your favorites. It’s by far one of the best aspects of Injustice 2 and is a standard by which other modern fighters should follow.

Of course, what would a fighter be without multiplayer? The game has everything covered there, too. Local multiplayer modes are par for the course, as expected, with some welcome options added in such as a stat-nullifying Competitive Mode and disable arena transitions and interactive environments as well right from the menu. Keep in mind that in local and online unranked matches that settings need to be unanimous in order to go into effect.

Speaking of online, things were smooth for the most part while playing some ranked and unranked matches, with the occasional server hiccup happening either in menus or even during unranked matches. Guilds are also a neat addition, as players can now team up in groups of up to 50 to take on their own set of Multiverse challenges and bosses that can be tackled together. The only complaint is that there are only 50 slots in each, which could be a nightmare for streamers who have way more than 50 people wanting to join at once. Still, it’s just another layer in the Injustice 2 experience that made me want to come back for more.

NetherRealm Studios, WB Games. . Injustice 2. 9. And that’s what it really boils down to, layers. Injustice 2 is one hell of a time and has plenty of things to do within it, even if you’re playing by yourself. With stunning visuals, an engaging single-player story, a unique, but not overbearing Gear system and the refreshing, ever-changing Multiverse to keep coming back for; it really is a nearly perfect package. Outside of frustrating zoning characters at the time of release and a few business practice decisions, such as unveiling three DLC characters before the game’s release, Injustice 2 demonstrates how fighting games should be done in this console generation. And it’s damn fun to boot.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.