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When Injustice: Gods Among Us released back in 2013, it quickly became an unexpected gem of the fighting genre. In the movies, all a superhero sequel really needs is some new costumes, a bigger roster of characters and a narrative with even bigger stakes on the line. But does that formula translate over to video games, too?
To be fair, Injustice 2 offers a lot more than the features listed above, but they're certainly in the mix. The roster is indeed bigger and better than in the first outing and the story, while suffering from a serious case of déjà vu, absolutely ups the ante. And the costumes? Well, I'll get to those later, but they're actually one of the biggest highlights of the game.
Looking back over the time I've spent so far with Injustice 2 (as well as anticipating the hours I'll almost certainly continue to pour into it), I think it's fair to say that this is the most ambitious fighting game to date. More importantly, that ambition is matched by a level of quality NetherRealm is quickly establishing itself as being the only developer capable of providing. That's not to say that there aren't other great fighting games out there, just that none of them are, pound for pound, on the same level as Injustice 2. While other fighting games are stripping away modes and other content to either be offered later in a patch or as paid DLC, Injustice 2 heaps on more activities for players to lose themselves in whether they prefer competing online or diving in solo. When other fighters hit the market with online functionality that's barely functioning, Injustice 2 has worked like a dream from day one. If it feels like I'm shoveling on the praise here, rest assured that this game has earned it.
No matter what type of player you are, you'll first want to dive through the campaign. It'll only take you about five hours and it's clear the developer has once again poured a lot of love into crafting this tale, even if it doesn't head in a particularly fresh or exciting direction. The fact that I'm even talking about a fighting game's campaign is reason enough to set Injustice 2 apart from the pack. While it might not be as solid as the yarn unrolled in Gods Among Us, I enjoyed seeing the cast of DC characters try to set aside their differences in order to stop Brainiac from destroying the Earth.
The story is broken into 12 chapters (13 if you play through a second time to unlock the "true ending"), each one focusing on a character or duo as they try to stop the forces of evil. The banter is as great as ever, with characters having unique dialogue depending on who they're fighting. Those little touches are peppered throughout the Injustice 2 campaign, helping tell a story that's easy enough for newcomers to follow but packed with plenty of Easter eggs and inside jokes to keep the DC diehards happy.
As noted above, the story is a bit of a retread from the previous game, with sour-faced heroes and villains constantly at odds as they squabble over whether or not just catching the bad guys is taking things far enough. Superman and his pals still want to rule with an iron fist while Batman and his crew feel there are lines that should never be crossed. Assuming (and hoping) there's a third game in the Injustice series, my fingers are crossed that they will get a little more creative with the next campaign. Still, what's there is plenty entertaining to make those hours fly by.
Outside of the campaign, folks who prefer to fight by themselves can dive into single battles, as well as the standard tutorial and practice modes. The mode that really sets Injustice 2 apart, though, is the Multiverse. It's easiest to think of this as end-game content; a clever mode designed specifically to keep players coming back for more. In short, the Multiverse offers a collection of challenges that rotate constantly (daily or even within hours). Each challenge has a set number of fights, additional modifiers and occasionally prerequisites. Work your way through these modes and you'll earn extra loot.
Oh, that's right; I was going to tell you about the costumes. Those tie into the game's rather brilliant loot system, yet another factor that will keep players coming back time and time again. Each character in the game can unlock a huge number of costume pieces that fits into one of several categories (head, torso, arms, legs). Most of them look different, and many will alter one or more of your character's base stats. Get especially epic gear and pair it with its matching set and you might unlock completely new weapons, moves or abilities. It's extremely fun to collect and I've already spent a ton of time mixing and matching items to make my characters look truly unique. NetherRealm even went the extra mile, putting in quality of life options that let you do things like scrap duplicate gear, upgrade beloved yet underpowered gear to your current level, or even change the look of your gear while maintaining its current attributes. Honestly, I wouldn't mind seeing this kind of system implemented in a game like Destiny, where I constantly have to forfeit having my character look the way I want simply because an ugly piece of gear offers better stats.
As for multiplayer, Injustice 2 has everything you need to combat your pals in single combat or set up in-game tournaments. There's also an AI Battle Simulator, which lets you set up your own collection of heroes (outfitted in the gear of your choosing, of course) to stand guard while you attack the teams of other players. It's just another great end-game mode that also gives you more reason to equip all of your characters with the best gear you've collected. That, in turn, encourages you to keep playing and earning even better loot.
Finally, there're the online modes, which offers all of the usual suspects. You can host or join private matches, jump into rooms of folks looking to fight, play random ranked matches or go unranked if you don't like that added pressure. While all of your cosmetic changes carry over to the online modes, the stats are normalized for the sake of keeping things a bit more fair. Also, as I noted earlier, the servers have been rock solid during my time online.
Add in niceties like daily challenges and Guild support, and it's clear that NetherRealm is trying to push the fighting genre about as far as it can go. They genuinely want players to keep coming back to this game, and they've piled on the content to support exactly that.
Of course, none of this would be worth a Batarang if the fighting engine wasn't solid, and I'm happy to report that's yet another area they've only improved since the last outing.
The fighting in Injustice 2 feels snappier than in the first game, yet just as explosive. You've got your three basic attack buttons, as well as the ability button that works differently for each character. It may grant Wonder Woman a collection of blessings from the gods, for instance, while Harley can use hers to call out a charging hyena. On top of that, each character has their own wide array of special abilities that makes them truly unique and, while there isn't a universal combo or input system, commands are similar enough to translate decently between characters. NetherRealm wants you to learn the game, and the fighting engine goes to great lengths to reward those who master it. Oh, and then there's the ultimate move each character can unleash, which offer the most brutal, and entertaining, attacks in the entire game.
All of that hinges on a rather brilliant power bar that builds at the bottom of the screen. The bar is broken into four segments and can be spent in multiple ways, only furthering the game's depth. You can spend a bar to cancel out of an opponent's onslaught, for instance, or spend a bar to add an extra bit of flair, and damage, to your own attacks. A full bar can be used to trigger an ultimate move, and you can also force a Clash, wherein players gamble a section of their power bars in order to dish out some extra damage or heal up.
Finally, an Injustice game would be incomplete without its dynamic stages, giving the players a few extra toys to play with and even more variables to consider. Position yourself correctly and you can do things like hurl a computer at your enemy or even jump on the Batcycle and ride them down. Each stage also has transitions, allowing players to hurl their opponents to new areas of the map in spectacular fashion.
I know that sounds like a lot to digest, but Injustice 2 carefully rides that line where a fighting game is easy to pick up but difficult to master. Knowing only the basics, it's not too difficult to start pummeling your opponents and triggering moves that make you feel really, really powerful. But with those extra systems built in, the game becomes a veritable treasure trove for dedicated fans to explore.
Fighting games are going strong these days, but Injustice 2 has just given us the new high standard.
This review based on a PlayStation 4 download copy of the game provided by the publisher.