I’ll never forget growing up as a kid in the 90s when I would sneak over to a mate’s place to pummel skulls in Mortal Kombat 2. My parents would never let me play such violent filth so my rebel persona had to take over, and I would stealth out of homework duties like Solid Snake on Shadow Moses to get my fix of fatalities. Those were the days.
NetherRealm Studios have always had a knack for being that brutal next-level fighting developer, maintaining the same level of stylish hyperviolence that made them the ire of so many parents back in the day, but still incorporating fluid mechanics that demand many, many hours of muscle memory training. Mortal Kombat X represented some of the studio’s best work, delivering a solid fighting package, but it wasn’t without its flaws. Injustice 2 then feels like all lessons have been learned and has had everything but Bruce Wayne’s kitchen sink thrown into it; make no mistake, this is the company’s magnum opus, and if it was the last game they ever made it would be a fine departure (NR are not going anywhere though…don’t panic). Injustice 2 is the culmination of a developer’s rich history in creating forward-thinking scenarios within the genre to deliver not only one of the best fighting titles in years, but one of the most well-rounded games to grace our twitchy palms in recent memory.
The Tinder date didn’t go so well
Clash of the Titans
Injustice 2, as the title would suggest, is the sequel to 2013’s Injustice, which saw Superman go crazy because the love of his life had been murdered. While generally a fairly placid bloke, love lost turned Superman into somewhat of an angry beast. Pretty reasonable right? Well, in Injustice 2, Superman begins to transition fully into a murdering psychopath hell bent on eliminating crime by any means necessary. It’s a noble cause skewed by crazed ambition and old buddy Batman isn’t having a bar of it. This is not to mention that Superman’s nemesis Brainiac is also eating planets with a ship straight out of the nightmares you get on a bad acid trip.
For a fighting game, Injustice 2 actually delivers a pretty compelling narrative that is easily on par (if not better) than a lot of single-player focused games of recent years. This isn’t some tacked on half-arsed bullshit to add a little filler, which is all but the norm in fighting games of recent times. NetherRealm deliver a campaign that’s dark and gritty, but also bombastic fun. Story mode is also coincidentally a great primer for those new to the genre or players looking to brush up on their button mashing skills with the plethora of mechanics on offer for the varied roster of heroes, oddities and villains from the DC universe.
Those familiar with the original game will be right at home. Returning characters like Bats, Green Arrow, The Flash and Wonder Woman all flow similarly in the sequel, but with some great additions and touch-ups. New additions like Scarecrow, Cheetah and Poison Ivy feel right at home and it’s great to see such a great bunch of fresh faces to play with while keeping the same great mechanics from the original.
Speaking of mechanics, Injustice 2 is as welcoming or cut-throat as you want it to be, with a balanced difficulty system helping new players see the story without rage quitting after losing a fight 19 times in a row. Experienced players will be challenged, and I found myself getting consistently railed on harder difficulties, but once you start picking up what the game’s putting down, you’ll be able to rise to even the hardest challenges. Fighting is fast and fluid compared to the original game, which had a feeling of stiffness to its mechanics. There’s a great sense of speed and precision here; characters still feel weighty but things are much smoother this time around.
Cool chicks don’t look at explosions
Combo – Wombo
The Clash systems and special abilities make a return as expected, and each character’s unique traits feel great. I especially enjoyed Black Canary’s special, which involves screeching into an enemy’s face before knocking out five teeth with a swift kick to the jaw. Liberating. Using these abilities requires a five-tier meter that you build up either by getting hit, blocking or landing combos. You can also burn through the meter to make a long range dodge roll out of harm’s way if you get backed into a corner, or simply want to quickly escape a punishing attack. On a full meter you can once again initiate a super move, and while nowhere near as ball-shattering (literally in some instances) as Mortal Kombat’s X-ray moves, Injustice still manages to squeeze every ounce of brutality they can into these sections. Things like watching Poison Ivy unleash her little shop of horrors-esque hellspawn before it angrily chomps away on a hapless Robin are truly wonderful to behold.
Adding to the sense of your chosen fighter’s personality is the welcome addition of extensive customisation options. There are a plethora of cool cosmetics to unlock that can be earned from loot drops called Mother Boxes, which are gained through completing online and offline challenges, matches or just by levelling up. Mother Boxes come in tiers that will unlock items that vary in rarity and sexiness. The coolest addition however is the RPG systems behind these items, which, while not MMO deep, are still a pretty unheard of addition to fighting games. Various items provide stat bonuses to your character’s attributes, as well as giving little bonuses during a fight, so you can tailor your hero to your tastes. Consequently, there’s a real sense of growing power as you level up your individual combatants. It’s a risky feature to incorporate given that gear stats remove the truly level playing field in a 1v1 brawl, but impeccable balancing and clever matchmaking means you won’t be paired against fighters of vastly superior levels, and everything feels fair. For fighting purists, gear stats are switched off in Ranked modes, but aesthetic customisation is still a thing so you can still bring your cosmetic swagger to these matches.
Join the club
A special mention should go to the sound design once again is on point. Seriously NetherRealm, give the sound effects department a motherflippin’ raise. The crunching of bones, whizzing kicks and bruising punches all carry weight and a sense you are actually hitting something. Wonder Woman and Dr Fate were particular standouts for me with some gnarly metal clangs that sounded straight out of an epic medieval clash a la Game of Thrones. On the other end of the sound spectrum, the voice acting is top notch. Batman and Joker (voiced by Kevin Conroy and Richard Epcar respectively) are familiar and brilliant, but there’s also a kickass new cast to wrap your ears around. Brainiac especially is a standout with a deliciously creepy performance from Jeffrey Combs, while Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, jumps into the boots of a truly menacing version of Scarecrow. With the latest DC films seeming to be copping a beating, it’s great to see the incarnations of these famous characters not dragged down by convoluted scripting and just looking to trash talk and punch stuff. My only critique design-wise would be Joker. He’s certainly been inspired by 30 Seconds of Mars Bars’ frontman Jared Leto, and it’s a strange departure from the distorted Mark Hammill-esque look we have come to know and love. Maybe I’m being too precious here, but emo Joker simply doesn’t light my fire. For those who played the first title, Injustice 2 does have a cheeky, yet fun way of resurrecting him from the dead, which redeems the character’s portrayal somewhat.
Harambe never died. He just got a new day job
Brainiac might be a bastard, but he sure has a cool ride
Another cool features is the Guild system which allows players to band together to complete objectives in the Multiverse, an ever-expanding bunch of daily challenges that unlock Mother Boxes and cool Guild perks like icons and reputation. The Multiverse is a fantastic distraction when you need a break from the campaign or online action. Rewards feel plentiful and you will always end up with something for your trouble. Joining a guild is as simple as beating Scarecrow on easy mode, where you simply select one from the menu that has a good rep, open slots and a cool name (Out4Harambe was one of my favourites). Alternatively you can create your own and recruit buddies from your friends list, or leave it public so any swinging dick can stroll in and join the battles.
Online play is the bread and butter of any fighting game, and the online offering here is much more polished this time around and input lag less prevalent. One gripe I have always had with not just Injustice, but fighting games in general, is that finding a game with a decent connection can be quite cumbersome. It doesn’t matter how good a game is offline, if you’re connecting to servers in some godforsaken corner of the US from your flat in suburban Melbourne, you’re gonna have a bad time. Injustice 2 has been much improved, consistently giving high-quality matchups where getting your arse handed to you is not so much about input lag but because the other player is actually better than you. Ranked, Unranked and the always tense King of the Hill modes return in glorious fashion, and while there’s nothing totally new in the mode department, what’s there is solid. Of course, you can dabble in multiplayer via duo couch fights as well, which coupled with beer and pizza is sure to provide many a great Friday night with mates.
They see me lurkin’
We have the new standard for fighting games here folks. A tonne of juicy content, fluid controls and a truly epic single-player campaign elevate Injustice 2 well beyond the competition. It’s bigger, darker and bolder than its predecessor in every way, marking a culmination of the decades of experience from the clever cats at NeatherRealm. With a bunch of new DLC and tournament support on the way, Injustice 2 is poised for a strong year in both the living room and eSports scene. If you have even a passing interest in the genre, you owe it to yourself to crack into this bad boy.
Reviewed on PS4