Already a better experience than Batman v Superman
Injustice: Gods Among Us was an ambitious undertaking, creating an original story based on an alternate DC Universe where Superman gives into a murderous fallacy and pits heroes against one another in a way not seen since Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come. Unfortunately, all the ambition in the world couldn’t save the final product from feeling a little lackluster.
But now that NetherRealm no longer had to create a fighting game from scratch (similarities to the Mortal Kombat series notwithstanding) and was able to build on an already existing framework, Injustice 2 excels at finesse.
It feels reeeally good punching Superman in the face this go around.
Injustice 2 (PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Released: May 16, 2017
First things first, I want to talk about Injustice 2‘s presentation. The jump to current-gen consoles clearly helped the visuals shine in the sequel, sometimes quite literally. Everything about it is leagues above the first title: The UI and health bar HUD have been cleaned up and streamlined (although it still carries over the small font from the first game), the menus have become a more advanced Bat-puter inspired from Injustice 2‘s story and thus a bit more involving to navigate, and the lighting of each stage greatly enhances the amount of color on-screen (thankfully no gray filter to wash out the color this time). The presentation overall is more dynamic, and that dynamism shines through the most with its mo-cap facial animations.
Injustice 2‘s face animations have been a point of contention in the weeks leading up to its release, but they’re pretty damn great. It admittedly did take me some time to get used to how uncannily some of the faces moved, but I’ll attribute that to stunt performances. Poison Ivy stands out in particular for me, in this case, because her mouth hangs open at the end of each of her sentences and it feels like something like that really only works when actually watching someone perform in that way. But the subtleties found in other performances (I didn’t realize how much head tilts would add to a fighting game, but there you go), combined with a whole host of veteran voice actors from DC Universe’s animated series like Justice League and Young Justice, adds an additional layer of legitimacy the Injustice series had been missing. This series no longer feels like some quirky side project with a few voices fans would remember, but now is a capable extension of the comics.
That capability and finesse comes through the most with the new and improved story mode. I can nitpick and say a lot of the scenes are framed weirdly (leading to a lot of mid-chest and up shots of characters to further emphasize the new animation style), but the writing has greatly improved this time around. Like the new presentation, the story was able to build on the mythos developed in the first title and led to a more engaging narrative. It’s not perfect, as some characters are forced in still, and some of the writing is hokey, but there’s a lot more focus and even fun in the dialogue this time around. There are no cheap minigames found here. Speaking of minigames, in lieu of a standard Arcade Mode and the minigame challenges of the S.T.A.R. Labs mode in the first title, Injustice 2 has the “Multiverse.”
The Multiverse is a set of fights (which apparently will constantly update and change as the weeks roll on) with occasional quirks thrown in. I’m not sure if I prefer this mode over a traditional arcade mode yet, but the early impression is good. What doesn’t have a good first impression, however, is the Gear System. I’ve been playing through Injustice 2 for a little under a week now, and the Gear System still feels as random as when I first launched the game. You earn Gear pieces by playing through any of the modes, sometimes singularly or in loot boxes Mother Boxes. Separated into five categories — Head, Arms, Torso, Legs, Character Specific Accessory — the Gear System isn’t tied to which characters you use. For example, I’ve been using a lot of Black Canary but have unlocked tons of Wonder Woman’s shields and breastplates. It’s been kind of lame to unlock “Epic” Gear for characters I’ll most likely never use instead of ones for the characters I want. I’m going to need more time to dig into this system in order to truly come to a decision of whether or not it works overall. There’s just a lot to breakdown here like attributes, character level balance, the four different currencies, or even the Source Crystals I wouldn’t shut up about.
Reading through this, I’m sure you’re wondering why I haven’t dug into the technical aspects of Injustice 2‘s gameplay and why this is a review “in progress.” To be completely honest, it has to be put through the true test. I’ve been playing a few matches online here and there, and getting through as much single-player content as I can, but I want to know how the netcode holds up when everyone gets their hands on it. It’s already a bit spotty, but it could be an issue patched at launch. Compounding on this, I’m still not quite sure how I feel about Injustice 2‘s gameplay.
Character movement feels about five to ten percent faster, bread and butter combos (simple punch, punch, kick and so forth) feel easier to pull off, and the speedier clash system and super moves don’t break the flow of the matches as much as they did in the first game. I can’t help but use words like “feel” and “seems” because I’m still in process of testing each character and figuring out the ultimate metagame (so much testing that I’m going to need a second opinion). Currently it’s as projectile heavy as the first Injustice, but I’m definitely interested to see what the community can do with awesomely up-close characters like Black Canary, tricky mixup utilizers like Robin, mid-range characters with long reaches and good zoning options like Swamp Thing, Poison Ivy, or Scarecrow, or if they’ll resort to long-range Shooty McGunners like Deadshot.
But if you’re wondering whether or not Injustice 2 is worth jumping into, as of right now, it is if you’re interested in the slightest. It’s the full DC Universe experience NetherRealm Studios had wanted to nail since Gods Among Us. The single-player experience has also been enhanced to the point where you won’t even have to go online for a while if the Gear System speaks to you.
But time, and the full review, will tell if Injustice 2 can survive in the competitive fighting genre.
[This review in progress is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]