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Injustice 2 reunites some of DC’s bravest and boldest to further a series that is one Arkham franchise away from being the best available superhero material in today’s gaming. In addition to the property’s ever-growing success, NetherRealm continues to assert their dominance over the fighting game market. The first Injustice was a deserving hit, but left room for improvement as a potentially driving force in this genre. Injustice 2 brings the fun, even upping the ante in several key areas. But it also disappoints on a few equally important fronts.
Most of Injustice 2’s issues are simply bound to the fighting genre as a whole. Despite an interesting premise, the scene-by-scene story itself it an admittedly fun mess that is primarily there to chauffeur players from one duel to the next. Most character personalities and core traits, especially on the antagonistic side, are betrayed with the obvious purpose of getting these characters to punch each other in the face. Wonder Woman in particular was clearly an afterthought, as DC’s most admirable hero is turned into a brain-dead lackey. But she’s only the worst of several wooden characters. The characterization ranges from terrible to great. Harley’s popularity plays a clear role in the writing effort, as this version of her is spot on. Writing aside, there’s always the inherently limited runtime of a genre that, after a movie-length story, becomes an exercise in doing the same thing over and over again. But no sane gamer picks up a fighting title for the airtight story and new surprises around every corner. This is a gameplay-based product, and gameplay is where Injustice 2 really shines.
Whether you’re competitive or casual, this Injustice sequel provides a platform for the best and smoothest gameplay in any modern fighter. It even feels like a significant improvement over the very recent and polished Mortal Kombat X. The visuals are also stunning. I think 50% of the game’s overall development time went into Harley’s face. Combos chain together seamlessly, and most of the frame-by-frame choppiness you can spot in other fighting franchises between moves is nowhere to be found. If you’re like me, and can only take getting destroyed online for so long, Injustice 2’s Multiverse and guild features offer timed events that mitigate any sense of repetitiveness as well as a fighting game reasonably can. The Multiverse alone will at least double the amount of time I spent playing the original Injustice as a whole.
The gear system has been a mixed bag for me. The loot itself has been steady enough to create a sense of accomplishment, which is always a top goal for loot-based games. It certainly feels better than getting the same thing in Overwatch time and time again, or getting nothing at all in Destiny. But the heavily promoted character “customization” has been one of this game’s biggest failures. There’s a big difference between gear customization and gear progression. The only real cosmetic changes you get to choose come from a series of bland shaders that alter a character’s base colors, most of which don’t even look better than the default colors. I’ve yet to paint a single outfit, despite a hefty number of unlocked options.
The actual gear pieces are attribute/stat based, meaning you’re not making your decisions based on what looks cooler. So if Superman has some awesome Kryptonian gauntlets, but a Live Strong band has a higher strength rating, guess which one any practical player is going to be stuck wearing into battle. There is an option to transform gear, but it of course requires the same in-game currency that you’re better off spending elsewhere. This becomes the Skyrim problem where, despite the game having a vast array of cool looking equipment, everyone ends up wearing the same things to maximize performance. The quick fix here would be purely cosmetic gear and a separate skill tree that lets you boost your characters’ base skills over time. Instead, I’m currently on autopilot flying through thousands of gear options without even glancing over at what my heroes and villains actually look like. There aren’t even alternate skins or costumes, so your wearable options are a series of bland color palettes or the default options with whichever piece of random gear has the highest numbers on it.
I suppose once I fully figure it out and accumulate enough absurd currency to transform everything, the gear problem can eventually be solved via grinding. I’ll at least be able to ditch my man Ollie’s baseball cap for that sweet Robin Hood getup. Injustice 2’s unforgiveable, review-changing flaw is its roster. The many reveal trailers were exciting because, as any can admit, some of the additions to the roster are great ideas. What they failed to mention was that every newly playable character seems to come at the cost of an old one. Damian Wayne’s Robin is, without a doubt, a fun character to become. So was Nightwing, who is now gone. Hello Supergirl, goodbye Raven. Captain Cold is here, but Killer Frost had to go. Martian Manhunter was criminally excluded from the first game before DLC, and he’s now gone again. The man’s a top tier character and gets no pop culture respect. Much like the movie, DC is pushing Black Adam so hard that they forgot Shazam exists. No no no, don’t you tell me that’s because he died in the last game. Joker is in this game too. Deadshot is trendy now, but apparently can’t coexist with Deathstroke. Darkseid is one of my favorites to play as, but no more Doomsday. This roster, despite the endless talk of new faces, is no better than the old one because they cut half the old one on their way to all these newbies.
The ultimate excuse for missing characters in this century is DLC. Stay tuned; they’ll be in some expansion and inevitable Complete Edition in two years. But that’s not the game. That’s additional, paid content that piles on top of this game to get the roster you originally wanted. And you know they won’t get around to everyone. They’ll add one or two must-haves, abandon the rest, and shoehorn in some Mortal Kombat cameo. I’m sorry…kameo. The characters that actually show up look and feel great. Joker and Harley’s new designs look like the perfected versions of what the Suicide Squad movie was going for. Scarecrow’s entire concept is genius and well executed. And the more classic designs don’t disappoint. But this roster feels unfinished, slapped together, and rushed to incorporate whichever B-listers are on TV right now. The most nonsensical part is that the programming for these omissions obviously exists. It’s called Injustice. Yet they couldn’t take the Super Smash Brothers route and add exciting, fresh faces on top of a foundation that remains mostly unchanged. Smash would’ve even found a way to make Jon Stewart’s Green Lantern a separate character with slightly different moves than Hal. Then again, that game comes from a developer that doesn’t seem to know what a season pass is. For the love of God, no one tell them. A combined roster between Injustice and Injustice 2 would be fantastic, although I shouldn’t even say so out loud. Those criminals will bundle the two games together and call it the “Crisis on Infinite Earths Edition” for $99.99.
Overall, Injustice 2 is a solid time-killer that will please diehard fighting game fans with exhilarating gameplay, impressive visuals, and a game that goes a few steps beyond simple repetition. The story isn’t terrible and can be forgiven because people play these games for two reasons: gameplay and the collection of characters. I feel this sequel brings one of those to the table, while becoming inexplicably lazy on the latter. It’s a fine purchase if you’re like me and love the DC source material but, overall, there are at least five or six better games that were already released in 2017. If you somehow plowed through Nier, Horizon, Persona, Breath of the Wild, Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, and another I’m probably forgetting, first of all seek help. Then go check out Injustice 2.
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