When Netherrealm Studios and Warner Brothers released Injustice: Gods Among Us back in 2013, it was everything we could have wanted. The developers combined their years of experience constructing the Mortal Kombat franchise with the powerful roster provided by the DC Universe, and boy did they nail it. The story was spot on; combining characters and lore as if they had been ripped right out of a comic book and onto our screens. Each character’s unique abilities were inspired by their years of popular service, with every individual fighter being treated with the upmost respect and care. Many of the gameplay features introduced even went on to become the foundation of the hugely successful Mortal Kombat X; released straight to the top of the video games charts in 2015 and for very good reasons. Needless to say, the prospect of a second Injustice game has excited both myself and fans for quite some time.
The story in the first Injustice followed that Superman, everyone’s favourite yellow sun-powered Kryptonian, had been tricked by the notorious Joker into killing his lover, Lois Lane. Fuelled by rage, Superman killed the Clown Prince of Crime and decided that the only way to truly protect humanity would be to save them from themselves. The Justice League became divided, with some of its members following the now-tyrannical Superman and forming The Regime, whilst others stood beside the Dark Knight, hell bent on ending Superman’s new order.
Before Injustice 2 can pick up this storyline, the game takes us back to Krypton. Kara Zor-El, Superman’s cousin and eventually Earth’s Supergirl, is running from the invading forces of Brainiac. The game’s main antagonist is attacking Krypton is order to “collect” it; making its cities and its people a part of his neural network in order to study the powerful race of beings. In his attack on the planet, Brainiac disrupts Krypton’s core, making the planet dangerously unstable. This is a new spin on the destruction of Krypton, but in the context of the game it is well executed and shows the audience the magnitude of the threat Brainiac poses. As in previous renditions, Superman and Supergirl escape the exploding planet and eventually find themselves on Earth. Supergirl, however, is knocked off course, making her appearance in Injustice 2 even more significant.
The second part of the opening scene seeing Superman culling the inmates of Arkham Asylum that he feels are beyond hope of redemption. Batman and Robin are in hot pursuit, but Superman’s allies stand fast to defend him. One of these allies is Damien Wayne, Batman’s son, which implies a deep, family-fuelled sub-plot for the story ahead. Sadly, this doesn’t materialise to any great extent in the later game. The opening scene ends with Batman capturing Superman and trapping him inside a red sun prison, which is designed to dull his powers. Soon, however, Brainiac arrives at Earth to complete his Kryptonian “collection”.
There is one element that Injustice 2’s story invokes perfectly, and that is its character development. From the clear tension between Batman and Superman in the face of impending doom to the retribution of Regime members and former villains, Injustice 2 barely fails to miss a beat. Even the majority of the new characters who players may not know so well are introduced naturally and effectively. A couple, such as Joker and Swamp Thing, are a little shoehorned, but not to an extent whereby this is unforgivable; they do still fit into the flow of the plot. Two characters in particular have some fantastic story arcs in Injustice 2 though; the previously mentioned arrival of Supergirl, and the redemption of Harley Quinn.
Supergirl was tasked with protecting her baby cousin when they departed Krypton, but her eventual arrival on Earth sees her appear much later in the day. Former allies of Superman have coaxed Kara into helping to free him, but the figure she comes to know is much darker than she had been led to believe, leading Kara to stand alongside Batman’s cause instead. Harley on the other hand has been freed from the darkness of the Joker, and now works alongside Batman instead. Although she keeps her off-the-wall personality and behaviour, she is bound by Batman’s rules and acts as a protector of his allies rather than his opponent. Her story is very prominent and significant in Injustice 2, and this new spin on the fan-favourite character is, in some ways, even more fun than the traditional one.
As the storyline of the game develops, it becomes increasingly compelling as well. Numerous twists and an ongoing sense of discord amongst reluctantly allied heroes keeps the proceedings on a knife edge. It coaxes you into that “just one more fight” mentality that results in you staying awake until 3am just to know what happens next. Even beyond Brainiac’s inevitable defeat, players know that the ongoing feud between Batman and Superman must be resolved. When it comes down to it, no matter which of the two endings you choose to follow, this is executed remarkably well. This is what Batman vs Superman should have been!
Throughout the story and in the game beyond, one of the highlights of Injustice 2 is its significantly updated roster of fighters. Fan favourite’s return, such as Green Arrow, The Flash, Aquaman, Black Adam, Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn, The Joker, Green Lantern and of course Superman and Batman. There are also numerous new names on the list though, which include Scarecrow, Captain Cold, Swamp Thing, Black Canary, Firestorm, Blue Beetle and new antagonist Brainiac. The lineup is solid, but there is certainly room for plenty more fighters in the future. The variety on offer however has something to suit everyone, with Netherrealm once again proving their knowledge of the source material and each fighter’s unique styles and abilities. The only downside is that some gamers who are not big fans of the comic books might feel alienated by the more obscure names on the list. That being said, the story does a good job of helping these people to catch up.
Another new element in Injustice 2’s character line-up is the ability the customise them. This is entirely new to Netherrealm’s fighting games, moving away from the traditional system of skins and instead allowing the player to tailor their own perfect combatants. Personally, I am not a fan. I feel that the slog of opening cases for individual parts of a character’s outfit, with only a random chance of getting what you want for who you want, takes away from the pleasure of unlocking new skins substantially. I much prefer the traditional system, which offered well-styled options and a clear goal-based reward with instant gratification. The fact that the costume elements provide combat bonuses to characters as well brings the game dangerously close to an imbalance between players. I for one am grateful that you can opt to play without these bonuses in effect.
Finally, that brings us onto gameplay. The actual combat of the game is largely unchanged from its predecessor. This is a very good thing, because the original title felt damn near perfect to play. Balance is good, and the maps are well designed too, although perhaps not quite as well as the original’s. You can choose to play online against other players in both ranked and casual fights, participate in daily and weekly challenges in the Multiverse, which introduces new mutators into the state of play, and most importantly fight in a local multiplayer showdown directly from your sofa. Essentially, Injustice 2 offers every form of play you could want from it, and continues to play well when you reach the field of combat too. Surely, there is little more you can ask from a fighting game than that.
My final verdict on Injustice 2 is that it is a very strong title, but perhaps not perfect as its predecessor felt at the time. There is still time ahead for additional content to be released, which will help improve elements like the roster, but some aspects such as the customisation of characters do not gel so well with me. That being said, the story was at least equally as compelling as the first, and I truly feel that this is the highlight of these games. For comic book fans, the writing and concepts will certainly impress, and video game fans too will appreciate the flow and character dynamics. Outside of this, the other game modes from the Multiverse challenges to your classic couch battle do the game great justice as well, giving it a huge amount of replayability and an ongoing entertainment factor for players. Fans of Injustice should pick this game up now. Fans of fighters should also seriously consider it, but be aware of its few minor flaws.