Review: Injustice 2 for Xbox One

Injustice for all.

When I first got the chance to check out Injustice 2, I was quite excited — and not just because I also got the chance to meet legendary game designer Ed Boon. It was also my first opportunity to step into this new take on a DC Universe (“a” and not “the” because this is a franchise where alternate universes are part and parcel for the course).

Mind, just because this was my first time playing an Injustice game doesn’t mean I was entirely clueless. While the stars weren’t quite aligned for me to ever really get to sit down and play the original Injustice: Gods Among Us, I have become quite familiar with the storyline from both the game and the accompanying comic book series, which seemingly gained a life of its own that no one ever really expected at the outset. So I knew the players, and I knew their world. The only thing I didn’t really know quite so well was the gameplay.

Now, however? Now I know.

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The story follows on from the universe introduced in Injustice: Gods Among Us, which in itself seems to have taken inspiration from the Justice League two-part episode “A Better World.” There, when faced with no other option to save the world from collapsing into all-out war, Superman breaks his moral code by killing. And not just anyone, but United States President Lex Luthor — an act which Superman soon reveals he feels “great” after.

In Injustice, however, the circumstances are a bit different. Long story short, Joker arranges it so that Superman is unwittingly responsible for killing Lois (as well as their unborn child), an act which in itself detonates a nuclear bomb which effectively destroys Metropolis. Superman goes on to take the Joker’s life, believing the methods he and his fellow Justice League members had been using for so long simply wasn’t viable. Unlike “A Better World,” however, the rest of the heroes don’t fall in line; rather, a schism is created between Superman’s One Earth Regime and Batman’s insurgency, with various heroes and villains going over to either side. The game itself takes place five years after these events, with the culmination of the conflict coming to a head when those from the “prime” universe are drawn into the conflict.

Injustice 2 takes place five years after that turning point. Out are the universe-hopping characters (mostly, but no need to dwell on it), and the outed Batman is now using his public-facing persona of Bruce Wayne to bring the world’s people together as they try to rebuild while still operating from the shadows to hunt down the remaining Superman loyalists who are at large and keep tabs on those taken captive. However, a new foe threatens the planet in the form of Brainiac, and he’s a force greater than either side can take on alone.

While a sequel to the original game, Injustice 2 tries not to sweat the little stuff so much. Unless you’re familiar with the preceding game or the comics, you might be wondering how all these heroes and villains of vastly different power levels are able to challenge one-another. Though there is an answer, Injustice 2 is largely happy enough not to present you with it up-front, preferring to focus more on the present and future than anything from before.

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NetherRealm Studios essentially redefined what a fighting game story mode could be with 2011’s Mortal Kombat, the ninth entry in the long-running series which reboot everything in a big way. The style of storytelling carries over here in Injustice 2‘s story mode, where you’ll spend as much time watching the tale unfold through cutscenes as you are fighting. There are some minor branches in which you’ll occasionally be offered a choice of who to fight with, lending some replay value as completion will challenge you to go back and select all of the other choices in order to see an alternate ending.

While you don’t get to use everyone in the game — you’ll only be fighting as the protagonist(s) of each given chapter, and guys like Captain Cold, Bane, and Gorilla Grodd don’t really qualify — you still get a healthy enough selection and variety to open you up to new possibilities. Flash was and is by and large my main preference, but going through story mode opened me up to characters I might not have tried otherwise, including Firestorm, Blue Beetle, and Black Adam. The move sets for each are available at the touch of a button as well, allowing you to learn a bit about using each as you go along.

The one downside is that you’re stuck with whatever difficulty mode you chose at the outset, which can prove frustrating at times. Edna Mode may say “no capes,” but they seem to be a pretty good indicator of who is going to give you the worst time in the game. Retroactively speaking, I suppose it makes sense now why Superman was given his own brand of cheese.

The execution of the story is pretty good, in my opinion. The cutscenes are well-rendered, and voice acting is top-notch, with the likes of Kevin Conroy and George Newbern reprising their longtime roles from the DC Animated Universe, as well as other notables such as Tara Strong continuing in her role of Harley Quinn after taking over the role from Arleen Sorkin. Steve Blum, a personal favorite, makes a surprising Hal Jordan, but he grew on me as the story progressed and did well in the part, for my money. And Jeffrey Combs makes as perfect a Brainiac as you could want.

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In terms of the fighting itself, I was thrown for quite a loop. Coming from the same studio that produces the aforementioned Mortal Kombat titles, I expected a game which played much like Mortal Kombat with a secret identity. Instead, what I got was anything but, and nothing quite like any fighting game I’ve played before.

Where Street Fighter gives you three punches and three kicks and Mortal Kombat opts for high and low punches and kicks, Injustice 2 simply goes for “attacks” of the light, medium, and heavy variety. This leaves an added face button for super powers (which vary by character, of course), a throw on the left bumper, background interactions on the right bumper, a meter burn on the right trigger to power up your attacks, and a stance change on the left trigger, whose function beyond turning your character to face towards or away from the camera is a mystery to me.

Like most any fighting game worth its salt, special moves are a big part of the game as well. These are performed mostly Mortal Kombat style, by tapping two directions and a specific action button. The options in this game (much like very nearly every aspect, really) are quite robust, even allowing you to dictate whether an action is performed when you press the button or when you release it, or whether negative edge is on, which effectively adds in the diagonals to performing special moves (even just back to forward stuff, which becomes back to half-circle down to forward). So there’s room to experiment if something doesn’t feel quite right to you.

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Image taken with Xbox One’s screen capture.

Also worth noting is that Injustice 2 throws in super moves. Unlike Street Fighter‘s version of the same or Mortal Kombat‘s myriad Fatalities, these are incredibly simple to pull off: Just press the left and right triggers together when you’ve completely filled your super meter, and you’ll get a cutscene-styled attack which can range from simply brutal to brutally entertaining. A crowd favorite is The Flash’s, which sees him dizzy his opponent before zipping them through time to be run into the nose of the under-construction Sphinx in Egypt, into a feasting Tyrannosaur, and then back to just a moment before you left throw them into themselves, as seen above.

Of course, actually landing the attack isn’t always so easy, as they can be blocked (not performed via a button press here, as in Mortal Kombat, by the way) or dodged. Connect, however, and you can either sit back and let the computer take over for a moment, or if you really want to rub it in, pressing buttons at certain points of impact seems to do a bit more damage. Similarly, opponents can try to time it so as to reduce the damage they take.

Another fun element which sets things apart is the interactivity of stages. Parts that can be interacted with will sometimes flash, letting you know you can do something with them via the right bumper. This can rage from knocking your enemy into something in the background to throwing machinery and cars at them, riding a nearby motorcycle over your foe, taking control of a computer console that operates a laser, and more. Other times, they simply offer you a quick way to evade and get back to the other side of your opponent quickly to attack from behind. Still others allow you to break through the wall of the arena and move the battle to a new area. It’s a lot of fun, and keeps things interesting, to be sure.

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As fun as fighting is, it’s also not especially pick-up-and-play friendly. Don’t be mistaken, two people who’ve never played before can each take a controller and have a good time, but being truly competitive in any real sense is going to take time and practice. I’ve been playing the game since it came out, and I’m merely adequate at best, something my win-loss record online (or just my loss record, for short) can attest to. It’s a deep pool, and if you plan on being in the water for very long, learning to swim is highly recommended.

Fortunately, there is a tutorial to help you out. Unfortunately, even that gets pretty steep before too long. While I’ve gotten better with the timing of special moves, there are combos and more advanced techniques that I just have not been able to master, as getting the timing of the basics down feels like some next-level stuff. Full disclosure: I haven’t even been able to complete the training mode. There’s probably an Achievement for that, and I’m the schmuck without it.

And you’ll need to “get gud” (as the kids like to say) before venturing online. There are odds given for all the opponents available in a room for how likely you are to beat them, and most of mine weren’t good. Sometimes you get rejected, and even when I found people I should have theoretically been able to beat, I usually didn’t last long — mostly as it seemed like my special moves weren’t going off as intended. Hiccuping and disconnections weren’t completely absent, but seemed minimal from my end.

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Fortunately, if swimming with the sharks sounds too intimidating for you, there’s still a plethora of other things to do. In addition to the story mode, there is online and offline multiplayer with friends, single rounds against the computer, and most significant of all, the Multiverse mode.

Multiverse presents various other parallel Earths which each have their own small scale “stories” to deal with, though they might be better thought of as more akin to fetch quests. For instance, one Earth has a new kid on the block in Blue Beetle, and you’ve got to show him the ropes, or in another — such as the tie-in with the newly-released Wonder Woman movie — you’ll be confined to a single character as you take on other fighters in sequence with various conditions and stipulations attached. Win, and you can build up experience, currency, Mother Boxes, and other loot drops.

There are also the online Guilds you can join, where you’ll work together with others to achieve larger specified goals. When these goals are met, you all get to cash out with lots of loot, with some of it even themed — the aforementioned Wonder Woman movie world gives you loot drops upon completing each sequence which allows you to deck her out in the costume from the movie.

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Image taken with Xbox One’s screen capture.

Loot and item drops bring another innovation in the form of the Gear character customization system. As you play with different characters, you’ll raise their levels up to a cap of 20, with different gear you obtain being equippable at different specified levels. Part of doing this can involve the use of Microtransactions, though I’ve yet to spend on any myself, and other accounts I’ve seen have said they’ve not had to worry about doing any real-world spending in the course of their playing.

The Gear does all sorts of things. In addition to changing up the look of your character, you can buff stats such as attack, life, and defense, and even gain new moves in the process. You’ll also find “shaders,” which can recolor a character’s costume to resemble someone else, or another part of their history (such as the Batman Beyond-themed Batsuit above). In some cases, full skins are available to transform one character into another who sports a similar power set or style, such as Supergirl to Power Girl, allowing for more characters to be available without having to design each from the ground up. They’ll even have some of their own lines and other touches as well.

Unfortunately, you can’t bring your own custom characters into competitive battles online — why, I don’t know, it’s not like it can possibly be any worse than being trounced by a superior opponent already. Actually, you can bring the custom aesthetics in, but their stat boosts won’t be in effect, so at least there’s that. With that exception, though, beefed-up characters can be handy for other encounters.

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I think I’ve covered all the pertinent points here, and I apologize for anything I’ve missed — I’m already over 2,000 words here (more than I imagined when I started), so I should probably wrap this up.

Put simply, I really like this game a lot. It’s a very unique take on fighting games without being wholly unfamiliar; in much the same way Mortal Kombat differed from Street Fighter, so too does this differ from both, and what it does, it does well. If you’re into the heroes and villains of DC Comics and like fighting games, I cannot recommend this enough. Even if you’re not a fan of Mortal Kombat, I feel that while a little of that game’s stiffness can be found here, it’s still enough of its own game to stand well apart from its NetherRealm sibling in all the right ways.

For your money, there is quite a lot going on in this one package, and if you’re not the type who hops from one game to the next in quick succession, there’s a lot here to keep you busy and entertained. Even if your trip to this other Earth is short lived, however, you’ll at least have the benefit of a story as worthwhile as many of the cartoons and movies produced under the DC banner. Either way, you can chalk it up as a win.

injustice2boxInjustice 2 was released for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on Tuesday, May 16th, 2017 at a price of $79.99 for the Standard Edition and $129.99 for the Ultimate Edition.

A review code was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive.

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.

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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.