Crisis on Infinite Couches
Back when I was playing the original Injustice: Gods Among Us, I didn’t think a superhero fighting game could get much better: A decent single-player story, some fun side diversions, and the opportunity to send that smug little prick Nightwing through a concrete wall face first.
I was wrong. It is way more satisfying to send Damian Wayne through a concrete wall face first. Preferably into mid-day traffic, or a piss-filled sewer inhabited by an enraged crocodile man.
Injustice 2 has fulfilled many of my weirdly specific dreams.
Injustice 2 [PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One]
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Released: May 16, 2017
Nic – Fighting games are best experienced shoulder-to-shoulder with another player. When you have someone next to you to alternately torture and laugh with. When there is pride to lose, ribs to elbow, and cheap shots to decry. In that spirit, both me and the talented Nick Valdez (who gave his initial opinions about the game last week) are pooling our considerable fighting game expertise in this review to share our combined insights into Injustice 2.
The first thing I want to discuss is how the Joker looks like a narc trying too hard to blend in at a Juggalo Gathering. Thoughts?
Nick – Haha, I actually didn’t mind! Sure he looks like Jared Leto’s Suicide Squad incarnation, but with 30 more seconds to Mars, he only looks like an edgelord until you unlock a cool hat.
Nic – The very first piece of gear I got for the Joker was a top hat that includes a smear of bright red and green clown makeup. I immediately went into training mode and spent 20 minutes punching him directly in the face with Swamp Thing’s weird tree arm move until my hands got sore.
That’s canon now. That’s how the Joker dies. Sorry Batman fans.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the gear system is a lot cooler than I thought it would be.
Nick – Totally agree. It’s the visuals that help sell it. The fact each piece of gear looks different (I have yet to see matching characters) adds incentive to keep grinding. Especially when some pieces make a major change. Each Green Lantern shader, for example, changes the color of his Super as well.
It’s a shame the stats don’t really matter.
In my time with it so far, I haven’t experienced any major difference between equips unless it’s a fight between two extremes (level one vs. level 20). So the system relies entirely on your drive to play dress up.
Nic – I’m totally fine with the stats not mattering much! One of my biggest fears leading up to release was that online play would be totally skewed towards the player with the biggest stack of HP and damage. But, as long as you stick to ranked mode, or find willing players who are cool with disabling gear in player matches, all the shiny capes and neon tentacles do is look cool.
I do think it’s a shame that some moves and abilities are locked behind gear. On one hand, it’s kind of cool that each character has a deeper bag of tricks than they initially appear to and even after a week of playing I’m still being surprised by new things. On the other though, if you’re taking the game even semi-seriously, those moves might as well not exist. You won’t see them in ranked play, and you wouldn’t want to get too used to playing with them casually lest you ruin yourself with luxury when you go back to ranked. This is especially painful for me watching Brainiac get access to half of Lex’s kit from the original game, but all as gear moves. Such a tease.
At least you can go wild with the stats and gear moves in the Multiverse mode.
Nick – I wish the new abilities were tied to pieces of gear themselves. Instead it’s yet another separate unlock further exacerbated by random chance meaning it may be a while before you unlock a new move or gear, let alone one you want. I just want Superman’s arms is all.
I do enjoy how nearly every mode unlocks them, however. I played several matches online for this review, but once I got tired of getting my ass handed to me I switched over to The Multiverse. I didn’t really play Mortal Kombat X‘s living towers, and assumed I wouldn’t be drawn to the same kind of mode, but the pull of Gear has been mighty strong.
The fact a new challenge pops up every three hours is pretty neat, and it’s not like I needed to be great at the game to enjoy it either. The super players can play those expert missions and unlock level 20 gear right away, but there are lower-level Epic pieces awesomely rewarding schmoes like me. I feel like this mode is going to be how I improve in the game in general.
Nic – Yeah, if I had a single major complaint about the gear system it’s that it revolves so heavily around chance. The game does slant post-match drops towards the character you’re playing, but that’s cold comfort when the majority of gear comes from loot boxes earned in the Multiverse or by completing daily tasks. I’ve got a closet full of epic Atrocitus gear when all I really want is a headpiece for Brainiac that doesn’t look completely ridiculous.
That said, you can always keep your eye on the rewards for the different Multiverse quests and make sure to nail ones for specific characters. It’s not perfect, and I wish there was a better way to direct the unlocks you earn, but it helps.
Like you, I didn’t spend much time with MKX‘s living towers. While “test your luck” was good for a laugh when playing on the couch, climbing a bunch of towers versus different spreads of the same AI fighters over and over again didn’t appeal. The Multiverse on the other hand found a way to really make the concept come alive. By combining objective-based quests with truly ridiculous modifiers, wildly geared-out characters, and some incredibly tough bosses, the Multiverse is just the kind of gaming junk food I always find myself coming back to for one more bite. I spent more time this week than I’d care to admit calculating just how much time I had left for an event and if I could grind a specific character up quick enough to make an objective for it.
Speaking of getting asses handed to oneself online, I’ve been really enjoying the experience (in a slightly masochistic way). Almost every match I’ve played has been smooth as silk from a technical perspective. Crisp, responsive, and little in the way of lag, it’s hard to believe game is a direct follow-up to Injustice: Lag Spikes Among Us.
From a balance perspective though, I have noticed a few rough edges. Maybe I just have a case of the bads, but zoning seems very dominant online (and I’ve mostly been playing a character with decent anti-zoning tools). I’m sure it will even out when people get more familiar with the characters, but right now Deadshot is triggering my worst memories of Deathstroke from the original. How has it been for you?
Nick – I did experience some slowdown online pre-release, but it’s evened out since then. I’ve also experienced the same kind of difficulty, as most characters with guns are almost impossible to get in on. Even Harley, thanks to the overall boost in speed for everyone, has a gunshot with very little delay that’s super annoying.
I’ve tried utilizing the new roll mechanic (which gives you an invincible roll at the cost of a meter), but it’s got such a slow start up for some that’s it’s basically useless right now. But the more useful characters seem to be the mid-range fighters with many options. Characters like Doctor Fate are beastly at the edges of the screen, but the more fun to play seem to be ones with quick and deadly close-quarters work like Cheetah. I’m hoping the general consensus will bend to mid-range characters since there are so many of them this time around.
Nic – Yes! As appreciated as the new roll move is in theory, you’re absolutely right that it seems useless against the better zoners in the game. While you can use it to blow up characters who have zoning tools with a good amount of recovery, all rolling against Fate or Deadshot does is serve you up for another shot in the face. It seems a little disjointed, like the roll was introduced as a tool to help against heavy zoning but fails to accomplish that.
I worry about the severity of the zoning not because I think its truly broken (although Deadshot could use an adjustment or two) but because I think it’s going to be a stumbling block for a lot of new players lured in by the story and gear. Getting beat in a fighting game is one thing. Being kept at the edge of the screen by a never-ending barrage of projectiles is another. Hopefully the community helps new players figure out how to get around the worst of it.
In general though, I’m pretty happy with the roster overall. It’s very deep, with 29 characters at launch and more (for better or worse) on the way, yet every single character seems to have something to offer. NetherRealm really seems to go for the “give every character some dirt” approach to balance. If you’re not actively learning what each character is capable of, it’s real easy to feel helpless when going up against some of the trickier mixes or setups. Like all great devilry though, being on the other side of the coin is wicked fun. And there are always characters like Batman and Superman who offer powerful, but easy-to-learn tools to help players find their footing.
Nick – Injustice 2 is one of the few fighters where I want to try everyone out. The more elaborate single-player modes alone offer enough incentive and match diversity that you don’t even have to play online multiplayer in a fighting game!
And when you realize you’ve been sucked into the single-player, you also catch on to the fact that you understand the characters (and your main squeeze) better and become more capable of putting up a fight with real opponents.
All while looking dope.
Nic – This is the first fighting game I’ve recommended to my non-fighting game friends in a long time. Whether you just like the idea of a DC superhero punch party, enjoy RPGish gear hooks, or have been looking for an approachable way into fighting games, Injustice 2 has you covered.
At the same time, if you’re an enthusiast fighter and want a competitively viable game with a lot of depth to explore, Injustice 2 makes a strong case for itself. It’s the full package in a market filled with fighters that have come out half-cooked. I plan on savoring it for months to come.
And by savoring it, I do mean kicking Damian Wayne around like a red-headed stepchild.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]