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Injustice 2

Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 2; 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Fighting/ Online


Graphics & Sound:

Injustice 2 brings the current sorry state of the DC Extended Universe into painfully sharp relief, but rather than lament the treatment currently being inflicted upon our favorite comic book characters, letís celebrate the single best thing to come out of DC since arguably Batman: Arkham City. NetherRealm Studiosí latest fighting game represents what the DCEU should be: a world of colorful, engaging, character-driven superhero drama. Yes, Injustice 2 is not only better than Injustice: Gods Among Us, itís also quite possibly the best fighting game NetherRealm Studios has ever made. Itís got the best Story Mode in any fighter to date and some of the most nuanced but simple mechanics of any fighter to date. But whatís really astonishing about this game is how feature-rich it is. Injustice 2 is an absolute monster of a package, and anyone with an interest in this property would do well to check it out.

While Mortal Kombat X arrived relatively early on the scene as far as the current generation of consoles goes, Injustice 2 took its time, and it shows. NetherRealmís mastery over the technology is readily apparent to anyone who watches so much as ten frames of this game. Cutscenes and Supermoves are marvels in and of themselves; the facial animations are a bold, lengthy stride away from the dreaded uncanny valley territory weíve seen in otherwise astonishing-looking games such as Horizon: Zero Dawn. Not that any of the on-screen action is particularly grounded; far from it, in fact. This is a gleefully over-the-top fighting game that takes to the limit what we expect from our favorite DC characters. And it is glorious. Itís a stunning marriage of the best technology and the best art that results in one of the best-looking games of the current generation, and easily the best-looking fighting game ever made as of this writing.

Bearing a more inclusive "T" rating, Injustice 2 seeks a wider audience than NetherRealmís ultra-violent flagship, but that doesnít mean that it isnít brutal in its own right. The sound design proves that above all else. Combat is impactful and weighty, and even though you get the sense that these heroes can take the punishment, you also definitely get the sense that it hurts like hell nevertheless.

Thereís a certain something that most dark superhero dramas often convey through their soundtracks, and Injustice 2 manages to capture it. Christopher Drakeís history with DC properties is put to good use here; the music always fits the stage youíre fighting in, and when it must adapt (primarily when Supermoves are unleashed), it does just that.

Injustice 2ís voice cast not only fully sells the ridiculous melodrama unfolding on the screen, but it makes it work by not taking it very seriously. One might be tempted to call B.S. on this, as the plot involves a supervillain who intends to destroy the world and enslave its denizens in the form of knowledge. But humor is one of the most powerful coping mechanisms we have, and while Injustice 2 isnít as grim as, say, the Arkham trilogy, it still features a handful of implicitly brutal moments. So yes, Iím all for the cast (both the good guys and the bad) trying to one-up each other as far as the snark goes.


Gameplay:

Injustice 2 picks up after the events of Injustice: Gods Among Us. Superman is still absolutely out of his mind, and his warped sense of justice has finally caught up with him. But at what cost? The Justice League, that famous cadre of human and metahuman crimefighters, is effectively no more. But you know, as they say, divided we fall. When Brainiac arrives on Earth to take possession in the way that only he can, he draws a line that ultimately puts our heroes back on the same side. Trust may have been broken in the past, but they must come together again if they want to save the planet from total annihilation.

Injustice 2ís plot isnít particularly interesting; its villainsí ambitions of global domination/ destruction are impossible to relate to or even find the slightest bit interesting. No, what really works in Injustice 2 is the way in which these beloved characters interact with each other. In five minutes of this game, you see more humanity, character, and good humor than you do in Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad combined. Maybe thatís not saying much, but Iíll put it this way: if every cutscene from Injustice 2ís Story Mode was put together in sequence, it would make a seriously watchable movie. Double your pleasure for going into several chapters with the ability to choose between two heroes who have been paired up for obvious as well as not-so-obvious reasons, and youíve got the best Story Mode in any fighting game to date.

I personally donít believe that a fighting game is only as good as its roster, but that being said, Injustice 2ís is a thing of beauty. If youíre a DC fan, you are going to lose your mind over this game. Of course, youíve got your classic stand-bys, like Batman, Superman, The Flash, and Wonder Woman. And naturally, youíve got a Rogues Gallery thatís unrivaled and surprisingly teeming with dark horses; the blood-vomiting Red Lantern known as Atrocitus and the telekinetic Gorilla Grodd are two particularly incredible surprises that I didnít expect. And of course, this is Injustice, so characters once thought good have been corrupted by Supermanís influence, while some of the DC Universeís biggest bad guys have seen the Dark Knightís wisdom.

The Injustice 2 experience only begins from there. From the off, thereís a treasure trove worth of excellent content waiting for you. If you think it should exist in a fighting game, it exists in Injustice 2. It features a slew of both elementary and innovative offerings on both solo and competitive play (local and online alike), several of which weíve come to know as classic staples of NetherRealm fighters.

Climbing towers is classic NetherRealm, but Injustice 2 takes this formula to a whole new level with the Multiverse, a fascinating, unbelievably addictive arcade suite that is the culmination of everything the storied developer has achieved in the past. Provided youíve got an Internet connection, you can launch headlong into one of several ready-made campaigns, each with their own fight sequences and modifiers. The challenges and rewards feel practically endless.

If online is your thing, NetherRealm has you covered. The unmistakable fostering of classic competition is on full display in Injustice 2. Thereís nothing like hopping into a room and firing up some Versus, King of The Hill, Team Battle, or my new favorite, Multiverse Battle Ė which operates exactly as youíd expect, and as it should. Mortal Kombat Xís Factions return in the form of Guilds, which can be created and managed at will. Itís just another example of this gameís incredible sense of completeness.

I really only have one complaint with Injustice 2, and itís how shamelessly it pimps its microtransactions. At almost every turn, itís begging you to spend your money to purchase Darkseid. If you donít, certain parts of the interface (including the character select screen) will be grayed out. It just comes across as scuzzy and gross, two descriptors that I would otherwise never use on Injustice 2.


Difficulty:

The best fighting games are easy to pick up and difficult to master. And if I havenít made it abundantly clear yet, Injustice 2 should count itself among them. On the surface, itís less complex than several of its forebears, but once you really start digging around and discovering those complexities, you can use them to your advantage. Thereís an ebb and flow to the combat, and while figuring out how to fight with and against each character on the roster is a learning process, itís not an unpleasant one at all. Compound that with Injustice 2ís robust training options, and youíve got a patient, thorough teacher built into the experience.

All this being said, Injustice 2 will leave no shred of ambiguity in terms of the kind of challenge itís about to give you at any particular time. While the final fight against Brainiac occasionally veers into cheap territory, it never fully hearkens back to that awful Shao Kahn fight at the end of the Mortal Kombat reboot.

Something that must be kept in mind throughout the entirety of your time with Injustice 2 is its use of character statistics. Earning gear will invariably increase each respective characterís statistics, and that is directly reflected in each fight. You will see them take less damage, deal more damage, and so forth. Itís modest, to be sure, but itís still noticeable and important.


Game Mechanics:

Injustice 2 plays like most other two-dimensional fighters on the market, most specifically its predecessor. But instead of crowding its button map with tons of attacks of varying intensity, it keeps it refreshingly simple. Each character has one light attack, one medium attack, and one heavy attack. Directional inputs and situational context determines the style of attack. Given that this is a NetherRealm game, combos are king. Whatever you can do to keep your opponent vulnerable and on the receiving end of a barrage of attacks, the game will go out of its way to accommodate that. However, a good defense is the only way you can actually make it to a good offense. Blocking is handled in a markedly different way from most fighters. Injustice 2 doesnít feature a dedicated block button. Holding (Away) blocks high and mid attacks, while ducking automatically defends against low attacks. It takes some getting used to, but it becomes second nature after a while. Finally, each character has a Power Meter, which is mapped to the remaining face button; these often go beyond simple melee attacks and are character-specific.

Every fighting game has to have a Super Meter. Injustice 2ís is segmented into four pieces and fills whether youíre dealing damage or taking it. The Super Meter can be used in a number of different ways. It can be "burned" to assist with special scenarios; it can be used to escape combos and it can be incorporated into special attacks (resulting in more damage). But if you save your Meter until all four bars are filled, you can execute a Supermove, a devastating, incredibly fun-to-watch special attack that often results in the halving of the receiverís health bar.

The Clash mechanic returns from Injustice: Gods Among Us, and itís still a smartly-designed tool intended to help keep matches interesting. If youíve lost your first health bar and end up on the receiving end of a combo, a specific input will trigger a special phase in which both combatants must wager a portion of their Super Meter. Whoever wagers more will either deal damage to their foe or regenerate a portion of their health bar. The amount of damage inflicted or health regained depends on the difference between the two wagers. This adds a layer of strategy to the proceedings that is most welcome.

Who would have thought a fighting game would have benefited from a loot system? Certainly not me. NetherRealm has proven me wrong on this count, however. Injustice 2ís loot system enriches the experience for fans both casual and hardcore. Though it opens the door for more microtransaction hawking, the gameís overall design shows a surprising level of restraint in that regard. Loot boxes are certainly more plentiful in this game than they are in games like Overwatch, but whatís amazing is that unlike in those games, the gear has tangible effects on Injustice 2ís gameplay. Itís a strong incentive to keep playing, and never mind the fact that the game is just insanely fun in the first place.

Injustice 2 is a superior sequel and a superlative fighting game. Itís lavishly-produced, intoxicatingly deep, and rewarding as hell.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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