Release Date: May 16, 2017Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PCDeveloper: NetherRealm StudiosPublisher: Warner Bros. Interactive EntertainmentGenre: Fighting
Over the past several years, NetherRealm Studios has been churning out great fighting games. Back when Midway was making Mortal Kombat entries, they were known for being style over substance…until Mortal Kombat: Armageddon went for simply volume over everything. Their last hurrah, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, wasn’t the success the company hopes, but at least you could tell that they were trying to improve the formula. If anything, they at least came up with a fantastic story mode.
Then with Mortal Kombat 9, NetherRealm actually succeeded in making a genuinely good fighter that all gamers could enjoy (unless you were young and had strict parents). A couple years after that, they released Injustice: Gods Among Us, a sister game that took some of the same concepts, but with enough alterations to make it its own thing. Then they bounced back to Mortal Kombat X, where their ideas continued to progress.
Now we have Injustice 2, which is essentially Injustice: Gods Among Us with Mortal Kombat X’s bells and whistles, all while finding new ways to evolve. NetherRealms even brought in the match-specific pre-fight dialogue where every pairing has several possible three-line intros! I love that stuff!
Like its predecessor, Injustice 2 takes place in an alternate reality where Superman ruled the world as a despot, surrounded by the likes of Justice League members who had lost their way and a collection of supervillains pushed into doing his bidding. Eventually, he was taken down by Superman and the Justice League from the “mainstream” DC Universe and was taken into custody. Now Batman’s trying to rebuild from the ashes and put the world back the way it was, but not only does he have Superman’s allies plotting to spring their leader from prison, but Gorilla Grodd has a villain team doing villain stuff and Brainiac’s on his way to pick apart the planet.
The core game mechanics are almost exactly the same as the last game. Instead of rounds, it’s just two health bars. Each character has a trait that offers him or her a special ability that usually needs to be charged, including damage buffs, style shifts, and extra attacks. There are cinematic attacks in the form of supers and stage transitions, like where one combatant is knocked through a wall, goes through a sequence where he or she endures a ton of damage, and continues into another background. Then there’s the Clash Wager system where fighters bet part of their meter to determine whether a defensive character loses a bunch of health or regains a good chunk.
So yeah, same engine as last time. The only real additions are a forward roll and the ability to break out of a combo in mid-air at the cost of part of your meter. There’s also the fact that now damage is point-based and everyone’s health is worth a different amount of points (kind of like how Phoenix took excessive damage in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 to offset her strength). In the end, it’s nothing that anyone is going to rant and rave about in terms of selling point.
What is new and exciting is the Gear System. As you play through Injustice 2, you’re randomly rewarded costume pieces for various fighters and can earn different means to summon random costume pieces. These costume pieces not only cosmetically change the fighters in different ways, but they tend to alter their abilities. A new Bane mask could make him move faster or Robin’s pants can make him more durable. In the spirit of fairness, players online may very well turn off the Gear System for the sake of competitive play.
Still, you’re going to need that RPG dress-up gimmick when you play through Multiverse, which is a slightly-more-elaborate version of Mortal Kombat X’s Living Towers. Various “alternate realities” appear that you can play through where the gameplay is affected by various factors. Maybe health refills keep randomly showing up or maybe your opponent builds meter too fast and his supers are one-hit kills. These realities are only temporary and can last as long as a week, a day, or even an hour.
You can also gain gear loot by joining a guild, which is an evolution of Mortal Kombat X’s Faction Warfare. Only here you have more factions and there’s a member cap at 50 to prevent everything from being lopsided. By working with a guild, players can complete Multiverse missions and share the acquired gear and points with their comrades.
Multiverse also has Battle Simulator, which is basically just Arcade Mode. If you want to go old school and see ending cutscenes, there you are.
With a new story comes a pretty big overhaul of the roster. Big names like Lex Luthor, Shazam, Doomsday, Lobo, and Deathstroke are gone, replaced with other well-known characters like Supergirl and Poison Ivy as well as the more obscure Blue Beetle and Atrocitus. For the most part, the new characters are very welcome, especially the surprisingly great inclusion of Scarecrow. Not only is he a complete blast to use, but he’s voiced by Robert Englund. Seriously, whoever came up with having Freddy Krueger play Scarecrow has earned a day off.
Similarly, the big bad Brainiac is a revelation. After years of Capcom putting off having Doctor Octopus in any of their games, NetherRealm eats their lunch by getting it done in their own way. He’s also voiced by the Re-Animator himself, Jeffrey Combs, and he voices the hell out of the villain. It’s also worth noting that despite being an unlockable character, Brainiac is a different beast as a final boss and is enhanced with some additional cheap-ass attacks. Though not cheap enough to put him in SNK Boss territory.
Returning characters like Wonder Woman and Black Adam get a bit of a makeover. While it’s no Guilty Gear Xrd, the animation is noticeably less stiff and the heroes and villains feel more unique and faithful to their comic counterparts.
NetherRealm has always been pretty fly in the Story Mode department, but the studio really outdid itself this time around. Like the other Mortal Kombat and/or DC Universe games, the story is played out in chapters in which each character has four fights surrounded by lots of cutscenes. Several chapters are shared by two fighters (e.g. Black Canary and Green Arrow, Aquaman and Black Adam). Each fight allows the player to choose who to go with, thereby leading to different scenes. There are two different endings you can get, but to see the second choice, you have to complete every single possible fight.
Funny thing is, NetherRealm’s always gotten flack for the way their characters’ faces look (especially women), and there was a ton of criticism aimed at the early trailers. Not only did they clean up the faces in time for release, but the facial animations in Story Mode are amazing at times. Whether it’s Black Canary playfully emoting, teenaged Supergirl having a nervous breakdown, Superman trying to hold back his rage, or a truly disturbing depiction of a couple of heroes being mind-controlled, the cutscenes are a blast to watch. Granted, Story Mode refuses both stage transitions and altered outfits, but that’s to be expected.
There is one thing that kind of annoys me, and I am fully aware that this is in no way a big deal, but I have to get it off my chest. I’m a big fan of the Injustice prequel comic that came out before the first game and was such a hit that they never stopped releasing new issues. The game’s story has an odd relationship with the comic in that it leans hard on its events while needlessly retconning stuff. The first chapter, for example, rewrites the incident where Robin defects from Batman and throws a wrench in continuity.
Normally, that’s all well and good because it’s only a comic tie-in, but then there are all these references to things that happened in the prequel comics. Most importantly, they use the comic’s explanation for why Green Arrow is around despite never really explaining it in-game. That’s going to leave a lot of people scratching their heads and wondering why he’s not still dead. Then again, it’s just nice to have a storyline that’s about this rad alternate universe where the characters can hold their own and not, “Wait, let me call the REAL heroes to bail us out of this mess.”
Injustice 2 is a solid fighter with a ton of content to keep you busy for…well, I’d say a long time, but Tekken 7’s out in a couple weeks. Anyway, despite the fact that NetherRealm didn’t change much this time around, Injustice 2 still improves on an already fun experience with an awesome package and builds on the studio’s unforeseen momentum.
Gavin Jasper thinks the Injustice theme doesn’t get enough love. Where are the YouTube metal covers, damn it?! Follow Gavin on Twitter.