While Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad were, frankly, dismal, DC's gaming lineup has always done a lot better. Roping in Mortal Kombat studio NetherRealm, 2013’s Injustice: Gods Among Us was a welcome addition to the fighting genre. It showed up at the tail end of the PS3 and Xbox 360 lifecycle, and, later, it was ported to the PS4 and Xbox One. Injustice 2, on the other hand, was built from the ground up for current generation consoles, and the difference is evident.
With sharp character models and nuanced eye animations, Injustice 2 screams attention to detail wherever you look. Be it Scarecrow’s rags fluttering at the start of a round, or the hilariously over-the-top super moves from the likes of Aquaman - who summons the ocean complete with a giant whale (even in arid, desertlike stages) - Injustice 2 has a sense of flair and pomp that stands out. In terms of production values, Injustice 2 is near perfect.
But there’s more to Injustice 2 aside from its looks, though not all of that is as new. Anyone who enjoyed its predecessor will be right at home with Injustice 2. Fighting involves stringing together a combination of attacks that allow you to build your power meter. Every bar added to it allows you to use a specific kind of attack, such as interrupting an enemy super move, or pulling off your own moves in spectacular fashion. This is layered with environmental interactions, such as using parts of the scenery while whaling away at your opponents. These include using a truck to wall-run across a part of a level, or a slew of alien tentacles to throw your foe into for maximum damage. And if you land a powerful enough attack, it opens up another part of the stage to lay waste to, such as transitioning from an alley to a diner.
Along the way, you’ll use Traits to give you an advantage in battle. A tap of the button gives Batman robot bats to use in combat, while Supergirl fires laserbeams from her eyes. Others like Wonder Woman and Superman can buff their existing skills, while Harley Quinn summons canines to fight by her side.
If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. There’s been little by way of change to the familiar ruleset that we saw in the first Injustice. That is not such a bad thing, considering how solid it was to begin with.
Small tweaks to the gameplay in Injustice 2 take things forward just enough. For example, some of the environmental attacks can be blocked, and rolling forward to evade an attack is also possible, as is an air-recovery, which lets you escape an opponent’s combo early when you’re in mid-air. Both of these will use up portions of your meter. All of this results in a pace of play that’s not as fast as say, BlazBlue or Guilty Gear: Xrd Sign, but good enough for most thanks to a gentle learning curve and accessible controls.
As for the game modes, Injustice 2 brings a lot to the table. There are the usual tutorials, arcade, and versus modes along with a robust story mode. Yes, the single-player story campaign is back and unlike another fighting game, you won’t be waiting for a few months to play it.
Most of Injustice 2’s story is about two groups of superheroes (one led by Superman and the other by Batman) bickering over who has the right to live or die amidst an invasion by Brainiac — an alien cyborg that collects planets. It’s set after the events of the first game and has more than a few references to it, so you’ll probably want to at least read up on Injustice: Gods Among Us - if you haven’t played it - before jumping into Injustice 2.
By and large though, the plot of Injustice 2 serves as fodder to get some time to play as popular heroes such as Batman and Superman, to lesser known names such as Blue Beetle, Firestorm, and Black Canary. There are some humorous moments with Robin stating Batman prefers leaving his victims with permanent brain damage instead of killing them, and the Green Arrow having a fusillade of quips at Gorilla Grodd’s expense. The story isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s good enough to warrant the five hours or so it takes to finish it off the first time, allowing you to see an alternate ending if you play through certain parts of it again.
When you’re done with that, you could try Injustice 2’s online multiplayer. Matchmaking was a cinch and there was little in the way of lag when playing it, both on a 50Mbps line and a tethered 4G connection. Stringing together combos and watching them play out on screen was near perfect. In our experience, it worked quite flawlessly. This is to be expected since the game isn’t out everywhere just yet, though we’ll be keeping an eye out to see if this is the case weeks down the line.
If you’re looking to extend your solo play, there’s the Multiverse mode. Akin to the Living Towers mode from Mortal Kombat X, you can take part in battle against alternate versions of heroes and villains with various modifiers such as using specific attacks. They have varying difficulty levels and rewards, allowing you to play Injustice 2 in a sort of endless mode if you’re not keen on online play.
All in all, Injustice 2 seems to be more of the same, only much better looking. Its biggest change is the Gear System. Borrowing from the likes of Borderlands 2 and Diablo 3, you gain loot as you progress. In this case, it’s costume pieces and equipment, These provide bonuses such as doing 9.5 percent more environmental damage, or raising your base statistics, which are strength, defence, health, and ability. The first three are self-explanatory, the last one determines your special attacks. As you play, your characters gain experience and level up, apart from earning items.
You also earn the in-game currency, which allows you to buy Mother Boxes, which are similar to the loot boxes in Overwatch, giving you access to even more gear. Coupled with Source Crystals that let you obtain cosmetic adjustments like skins, and Transform Gear that lets you transmogrify gear (letting you place the visuals of one costume piece onto a different piece with so that you can get the stats you want, and the look you want), you end up with a system that’s ripe for microtransactions. At the time of writing this, no Injustice 2 microtransactions have been priced on either PlayStation or Xbox storefronts. Expect it to be similar to what Mortal Kombat X’s exhaustive DLC cost - in the range of Rs. 315 to Rs. 2,880 (around $5 to $45).
The Gear System along with RPG mechanics for character attributes could result in Injustice 2 being heavily unbalanced, which goes against every design principle for a fighting game, as you’d want every player to have a fighting chance. NetherRealm has said that Gear and stats can be disabled before playing multiplayer, and don’t impact gameplay, which leads us to wonder why they’re even there in the first place, aside from marrying fan service with a potentially lucrative revenue stream.
Incremental gameplay changes and an unnecessary complex Gear System make Injustice 2 a game that’s entertaining, if safe. It’s not as bad as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but it’s not The Dark Knight either.
Rating (out of 10): 7
We played an early retail copy of Injustice 2 on the PS4 Pro. The game is out in the US on May 16 and in India on May 19 for the PS4 and Xbox One at Rs. 3,499 ($60).
We discuss Injustice 2's microtransactions, gameplay changes, and a whole lot more on Transition, our weekly podcast on all things gaming. You can subscribe to Transition via iTunes or RSS or just listen to this episode by hitting the play button below.