Just like Quentin Tarantino’s assertion that every one of his generation is either a Beatles or Stones person, I’ve often surmised that most individuals fall under the banner of either Marvel or DC. Add the extra 90’s nerd layer of most that came of age in that era clearly identifying with either Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter and we’re brought to today’s subject: Injustice 2, a DC Comics Fighting Game from the creators of Mortal Kombat. Though I’ve invested heavily in Kombat over the years and love all the “good” Batman stuff (Miller’s 80’s run, The early animated series, The Burton and Nolan films…), I’d staunchly consider myself to be both a Street Fighter and a Marvel person. So why am I having so much goddamned fun with Injustice 2? Well, like most things that are branded “DC Universe” this is a pretty Batman heavy affair (and Kevin Conroy back in the voice acting saddle never hurts), but it’s probably because MK maestro Ed Boon and his Warner Bros. backed NetherRealm Studios (that rose from the ashes of 80’s and 90’s arcade giant Midway) have gotten pretty good at crafting these massive, blockbuster Fighting experiences over the years, and Injustice 2 may just be their best yet.
Let all the mainstream reviewers with their top of the line set-ups tell you “4K this and HDR that”, I’m here to tell you that even on a 10 year old plasma screen with a launch PS4, Injustice 2 is one of the very best looking video games ever made. This isn’t just from a graphical fidelity standpoint either, NR has upped their production design game considerably here. While the first Injustice essentially piggybacked on the literally and figuratively “dark” milieu of the then super relevant Arkham games and Christopher Nolan films, well… let’s just say that DC’s film division isn’t currently doing themselves or anyone else any favors, so here Boon’s Team forges their own path reverent of both DC’s dense history and their own game’s more Jack Kirby-esque, universe hopping, weird science-y atmosphere, and the result is an incredibly sleek, retro-cool environment that hosts these earth shatteringly epic superhero showdowns with effortless aplomb.
NetherRealm wisely avoids Jared Leto’s shiny grilled rap video douchebag version of the Joker here.
The far flung and futuristic attitude acquits itself early on in the game’s new villain, a towering, robotic and be-tentacled, thoroughly Mortal Kombat-y (he even presides over his own throne room stage in true Shao Khan fashion) take on classic Superman nemesis Brainiac. Gorilla Grodd has also raised an army to fill the power vacuum created by Batman’s defeat of Superman at the end of the first game, and all this high drama unfolds through the typical NetherRealm story mode, where what is basically a massive CGI movie is peppered with fights allowing the player to get a feel for each character on the roster.
I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, these graphics: holy shit. From almost uncanny valley invoking facial animations to the complete lack of any clipping, screen tearing or framerate dips, this is an incredibly impressive looking game. Speaking of that roster, the game ships with over 30 characters and of course the more esoteric members (Swamp Thing, the aforementioned Grodd, a wicked, Robert Englund voiced Scarecrow, Red Lantern Atrocitus and his kitty friend Dex Starr) are the most fun to both use and watch, their hyperkinetic, screen filling super moves amongst the most lovingly crafted ever committed to such a game. Gameplay across the board is almost grafted whole cloth from the first game, a fast paced, more combo heavy version of the modern MKs, but this time out the game takes a few cues from Guilty Gear of all things, in the form of added mobility, reversal and traversal options, adding to the match by match gameplay’s devastating addictiveness.
I get the feeling that Boon and Co. secretly wanted to make a Spider-Man game…
If there was one thing I absolutely did not like about the first Injustice it was the overly busy character designs. Here NR eschews that pitfall in both form and function with their innovative Gear system. When the Gear system was first announced, I initially balked at it, thinking it would be another game breaking, micro transaction baiting debacle on par with the Gem system that killed the otherwise outstanding Street Fighter X Tekken. Nothing could be further from the truth, because the Gear system is well implemented and highly addictive, granting loot boxes and in game currency for just about everything you do in the game to allow new uniform pieces that both look cool and introduce RPG-lite stat leveling to your character customization. Don’t like a character’s default costume? Spend an hour or so grinding through the game’s highly engrossing Multiverse mode (the analogue to Mortal Kombat X’s “Living Towers”, where near infinite tiered single player challenges are updated hourly, daily and weekly) and earn yourself a new one. My current avatar of choice is a hulking, armored black and white Batman that looks more like the Space Venom from the recent Guardians of the Galaxy comics. I’ll see you online.
I was fully prepared to write that Injustice 2 was just a personal stopgap to more enticing Fighting Games on the horizon, a new Guilty Gear and Tekken in the coming weeks and the arrival of Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite this fall. I really only pre-ordered the game out of a feeling of obligation, as someone who loves fighting games and is way into comic book shit, but wasn’t completely enamored with the first game. Even the online “Guild” (similar to MKX’s Faction Warfare, but this time user created) that I joined upon booting the game up for the first time was called “Tekken Holdovers”. But I’m really happy to have been wrong about this one. NetherRealm have taken their usual penchant for including insane amounts of content in their Fighters and added an almost Nintendo level of triple A polish to the entire endeavor. Injustice2 is no mere novelty, no licensed tie in or toy and cartoon shilling trifle, but the new high water mark by which all upcoming Fighting Games will be measured.