A great game with some financial caveats.
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros.
Format: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: May 16, 2017
Copy provided by publisher to freelancer
Fighting Game story modes usually feel like an afterthought in their design, or at least like they were bolted on to add value rather than being a design priority. Injustice 2 not only manages to make it’s impressively lengthy story mode feel like an important part of the game, but also handles telling a superhero crossover story centred around infighting factions in a super hero universe better than the MCU’s Age of Ultron and Civil War movies did.
Injustice 2 isn’t perfect, but it builds on its precursor to be an all round superior sequel to an already solid fighting game.
Injustice 2 takes place five years after the original game’s super hero civil war. Superman, who attempted to instill world peace through dictatorship, is still trapped in a red sun prison and Batman is slowly trying to rebuild the world to some form of normalcy. Many of the heroes who were serving Superman are seeking redemption. Others are focused on breaking Superman out to return to the plan he started prior.
The story mode in Injustice 2 is pretty lengthy for a one on one 2D perspective fighting game at seven hours long. The game is split across 12 chapters, each focusing on a couple of different playable super heroes, and it does a really good job of presenting an engaging playable comic book crossover event. It’s not needlessly convoluted, it gives each hero a narrative chance to shine, and it provides a nice tour of the playable cast that serves as a suitable tutorial for playing these characters competitively.
While much of the plot is predictable, I guessed the overall end point of the narrative within a couple of short cutscenes, this is ultimately made up for by the visual spectacle and superb voice performances on show across the board.
The only real problem with the story mode in Injustice 2 is its annoyingly common run ins with the uncanny valley. Subtle facial movements in Injustice look fantastic, honestly some of the best subtle facial movements I’ve ever seen in a video game. Acts like Harley Quinn chewing bubble gum mid conversation then pursing her lips to blow a bubble look truly stunning on a technical level.
The problem is that larger facial movements like talking often look deliberate, calculated and strained in a way that’s slightly unnerving. It’s so close to perfect, but not quite, and it creeps me out to watch.
Body movements and facial details are incredibly good when walking, smiling, and emoting to scenes happening around them, but lingering facial expressions on characters look significantly more natural than ones actively in motion. This is a common issue for games that fly too close to the graphical realism sun, but one I was willing to live with considering how otherwise stunning and highly polished the Injustice 2 story mode is.
Also of note, the contextual setups for fights in story mode, as well as the transitions from cutscene into combat scene, are beautifully handled. The smooth transitions between these two elements made it feel a lot more like a continuous and non fragmented experience than most fighting game stories which was really nice as a fan of linear narrative gaming experiences. I struggle to name another single player fighter with this high a level of presentation at launch in its story mode.
In terms of the actual combat system in Injustice 2, the only real changes introduced are a couple of new uses for your super meter. It’s still a combo heavy 2D perspective fighter, and the clash system where players can bet super meter against each other to heath small amounts or cause minor damage is still present, but you can now also expend super meter to use additional special moves, activate rolls or perform air recoveries.
Developer NetherRealm Studios have taken a very “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to the overall combat system, making minor additions in regards to a couple of meter uses players asked for following the first Injustice, and relying on the addition of a bunch of new characters to keep the game fresh.
Rather than changing the core mechanics at play, Injustice 2 gives returning playable characters slightly altered movesets which iron out a few balance issues from the first game, and throw in an additional 15 new characters at launch. The new cast all feel unique in their gameplay styles, the alterations to returning characters improve overall gameplay flow, and the new character pool alone considerably switches up the way the game is played. Even without drastically new mechanics at work, there’s gameplay justification for picking up Injustice 2 if you already played the first.
Injustice 2 features a new mode called Multiverse which cycles through battles with special modifiers placed on character choice, health drops, types of damage dealt and other similar alterations cycles out after hours or days. While at launch this seems a promising way to keep providing players with new content, looking at the mechanics being modified I’m not sure how long NetherRealm can continue to offer fresh challenges without recycling content.
When it comes to playing Injustice 2 online post launch, I put around 8 hours into the online mode and had zero issues with lag. Whatever they’re doing in terms of matchmaking and online infrastructure, it’s working very nicely.
In spite of my overall high praise for Injustice 2, I do have a couple of consumer facing complaints about the way the game’s launch is being handled. Everything you do in Injustice 2 is rewarded by either loot boxes, or in game currency with which you can purchase loot boxes. These loot boxes allow character customization, from colours to outfits, which on paper is a really awesome addition to the game.
Unfortunately, the loot box customisation is convoluted and luck driven.
Loot drops are totally random, with no way to tailor them towards characters you might want outfits for. There’s nothing to stop you receiving multiple of the same piece of gear, and the same piece of gear may have different stats each time you receive it, with no easy way to tell at a glance which version is the best.
There’s also systems in place for levelling up underleveled gear (in place of just rewarding you with level appropriate gear), systems for swapping the stats of one piece of equipment with another so you get your best stats on your favourite looking gear, and customisation options that affect your core moves and character strength which feels like a totally unnecessary addition for such a mechanically polished and well balanced fighter.
It took me a while to come to terms with the idea I should just claim my free loot boxes, take the cool looking gear, ignore the numerical stats entirely and just be glad for the cool things I got rather than worrying about full outfit sets. It’s not a great system, and seems purpose designed to try and push purchasing extra loot boxes to get that one missing piece of an outfit.
I’m also concerned that, at launch, there’s already 10 planned DLC characters for the game. Considering how vital having a full up to date roster is for competitive fighting game play, having this many additional fighters introduced as paid DLC pretty much necessitates a season pass purchase for the game, and I’m never a fan of season passes that are necessary to keep your game up to date rather than just offering optional extras. There’s a big difference between 2-3 DLC fighters over time and 10 planned at launch that need purchasing separately.
Overall, Injustice 2 takes a strong fighting game, delivers an incredibly rewarding and lengthy single player that feels like a priority rather than a tacked on afterthought, and considerably increases the scope of the game by adding in a vast number of well made additional characters to the mix. Sure it hits the uncanny valley a bit, and I’m not keen on the loot boxes or their DLc plans, but it’s hard to deny how much fun I had with the game at launch.