Injustice 2 review
There’s been a steady uptick in quality with NetherRealm’s fighters of late, improvements across the board steadily turning the studio into one of the front runners on the beat-’em-up scene in some regards. Since 2011’s Mortal Kombat reboot, we’ve seen games that hold up as proper competitive fighters rather than relying on shock value and wackiness, with quality ramping up with each subsequent release – the first Injustice showed real promise and improvement, with Mortal Kombat X the most refined and creative of all the team’s projects. And now, Injustice 2 takes a little bit from feedback garnered on those games to create a fighter that sits alongside MKX as NetherRealm’s finest work.
Core systems change little from the first game – three different strengths of attack and a character-specific trait sit on the face buttons, with shortcuts for throw and interact on triggers along with the Meter Burn button for powering up moves and NetherRealm’s ever-pointless stance switch button. The only real change is that more things can be meter burned now, offering Air Escapes to break free of juggle combos and Roll Escapes to safely close distance. Level interactions and transitions return, once again affected by your character’s ‘class’ – while Batman might blow up a sign in the background or leap off it, beefier characters like Swamp Thing or Grodd will just rip it out of the ground and chuck it. Gentler environmental attacks are no longer unblockable and many can be used to extend combos or end on a big damage move, plus working them into your regular strings tends to look flashy as well as dealing good damage, a win/win situation for a fighting game.
NetherRealm’s big bullet point for Injustice 2 is the game’s loot system, with countless unique gear pieces (at least in terms of their randomly-rolled stats – many look alike) allowing you to both physically and mechanically customise your heroes and villains to your liking. There’s no denying that popping a loot box to find a shiny new Epic for your main is a thrill, but the system itself is somewhat muddy in its execution. Gear stats don’t apply in Ranked matches but can only be disabled via a mutual menu option in unranked modes, which can lead to confusion as you attempt to use abilities you don’t have or get battered by a fully geared character because you forgot to toggle an option. This is exacerbated by the fact that boxes drop not only gear but unique abilities too, which can be anything from adding a Meter Burn option to a move or combo that doesn’t usually have one to completely replace moves or even Character Powers. While this offers great versatility and freedom in modes that support it, that’s everything but competitive play, where these tools are often needed most to ensure character versatility and counter bad match-ups. Their omission in Ranked naturally makes the game easier to balance, but it can’t help but feel like a step back after MKX’s three-styles-per-character solution, and a similar solution would have been preferable here. It’s still too early to be calling tier lists but even now, it’s clear that some characters simply don’t have ways of reliably getting in on others, and without the extra options offered by these additional abilities, those guys aren’t likely to see a great deal of competitive play.
The main issue there is that zoners – fighters who control the stage with projectiles and traps – are extremely strong in Injustice 2. Doctor Fate pretty much exists to chuck stuff at other people, while Deadshot is master of the ragequit, able to lock down a lot of the cast with shots that can reach more or less anywhere on the screen and bullet buffs that can even drain super meter in the process. Characters with fast teleports or similar moves are well equipped to deal with zoners, but everyone else tends to need meter in order to close the gap and avoid being chipped to death in a corner. And that’ll happen, too – chip damage is crazy high and even if your blocking is on point, you’ll be taking a lot of passive damage as you close in on thing-flingers. In more balanced match-ups, the game’s solid systems are far more prevalent and while the dial-a-combo style strings won’t be to everyone’s tastes, the combo system is flexible and all kinds of crazy juggles are possible with practice and skill.
Lack of content saw genre headliner Street Fighter V catch a lot of flak at launch, but Injustice 2 was never going to fall into the same trap – few developers make fighters packed with more to do than NetherRealm, after all. True to form, there’s tons to see and do here, with a cinematic Story mode (secretly the best DC movie in years, daft though it is), constantly updating Multiverse challenges, a comprehensive online suite and something we never knew we wanted until now – AI loadouts. This allows you to gear up a character and modify their attributes by assigning skill points across a number of attitudes and play styles, effectively programming how they will be played in a limited yet effective manner. It’s Super Hero Manager 2017, the fighting game equivalent to Gran Turismo’s B-Spec races and as well as being a great way to grind out challenges and Trophies with characters you can’t use well (or just grab some free loot boxes while you do something else), you’ll also find yourself rooting for your creation and cheering them on to bring you home that shiny new loot.
Animation still feels stiff and robotic and zoning might well be too strong as it is now but in most other respects, Injustice 2 is a clear success. Even with the host of other great fighters released this year, we can still see ourselves coming back for a few loot boxes or multiplayer sessions for the foreseeable future, especially considering how much more DLC characters will add with their new loot. Another cracking fighter from a studio still on the up.