Comic book superheroes make for good fighting game characters. Most of them come in with defined fighting styles, strengths, and weaknesses that can help define a set of moves. Marvel‘s been doing it with some regularity over the years, to the point where each character comes in with certain expectations about the sorts of moves they should probably have. Now that NetherRealm has delivered a followup to Injustice: Gods Among Us, a similar cadence and set of expectations is getting established for DC‘s roster. Injustice 2 is a hard-hitting game that makes its cast of heroes and villains feel important, both with the way they fight and also with the wide range of modes and options that help make the game a good fit for wide variety of players.
The story mode fits the same blueprint that the developers have been using since 2008’s Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, with a system that both takes you through a story and gives you a bit of a crash course in the game by automatically switching out playable characters from chapter to chapter. Injustice 2 continues the story of the previous game and once again pits Batman against a totalitarian Superman who just wants to straight-up murder criminals before they’ve even committed a crime. This time you’ll make a couple of choices along the way, which usually determines which characters you’ll control in a given chapter. But the structure is roughly the same as the studio’s last several story modes–which is to say that it’s the gold standard for telling a story in a fighting game. The tale itself, which puts Supergirl and Brainiac into the middle of the existing conflict, is an interesting one. Even as someone who doesn’t much care for any of DC’s characters, it moved at a nice pace and kept me interested in both the moment-to-moment action and the overall state of the multiverse.
The fighting itself plays a lot like the previous Injustice, which is to say it’s also not entirely unlike the last couple of Mortal Kombat games. It feels good, looks great, and the vast majority of the moves aren’t especially difficult to execute, either. You can get in there and have a good time, even if you aren’t trying to be a tournament-status player. It has that same snappy feel that NetherRealm’s previous work has, and that same staccato pace that lets you appreciate each hit as it lands. Of course, there’s way more here for you if you’re willing to move past the basics of low-level play.
Learning Injustice means learning how to time your juggles properly and really focusing on your super meter. “Meter burn” versions of your special moves are more or less required knowledge if you want to perform the game’s best combos, though your super meter can be used for air recovery moves that help you get out of juggles, clash sequences that can let you break out of combos completely and risk your meter to potentially gain some health, block escapes that let you push an attack opponent away from you, rolls that let you get out of corners… It’s all stuff that’s easy to perform, but learning when to deploy all this stuff strategically while making sure you’ve got enough juice built up to do it feels like slightly more resource management than I tend to want out of a fighting game.
Though we tend to think of fighting games as almost exclusively multiplayer affairs, Injustice 2 has a really great assortment of things to do alone. In addition to the story and a standard training mode, the game also has the Multiverse, which is somewhat like the Living Tower mode in Mortal Kombat X. Here, the game serves up a variety of options for fighting against the AI. You can get into straight-on fights and see an arcade mode-like ending for each character, or you can get into deeper challenges that add modifiers and are often built around specific characters. These challenges are refreshed at set intervals, so there’s almost always something different for you to do.
Some of those challenges might be easier if you had the right stats. In Injustice 2, each character earns experience points and moves from level one to level 20. You also earn equippable gear that can boost a fighter’s stats or even add new moves to your arsenal. This stuff is pretty cool because it lets you piece together multiple looks for your characters and bring them into battle. The stats, which get balanced out in ranked matches, don’t always feel like a huge boon since you won’t often fight against characters who are lower level than you during any of the single-player stuff. Also, gear management is a real chore due to inventory limits, the time it takes to open an individual loot box, and the equipment interface. At times, it felt like I was spending more time playing dress-up than fighting… but that’s mostly because a lot of that gear looks pretty good when equipped.
Online, Injustice 2 behaves pretty well and contains the modes you’d expect to be there. Ranked and unranked fights are capable of running great, provided your internet connection is up to it, and the same system of rooms and text chat found in previous games from NetherRealm are still here. A king of the hill mode lets you get eight players into one game, and you can spectate the other matches while you wait your turn. There’s also an asynchronous mode where you pick three characters and tweak their AI to your liking, then send that team up against other players’ AI teams. You can speed these up if you’re only interested in the outcomes, and it’s a good way to earn a bunch of loot boxes, too. Overall, it all feels really fully featured and robust. There’s a lot to do, even if you’re not the sort of player who wants to fight strangers on the internet.
It’s also worth mentioning that the game looks fantastic. It transitions into and out of story mode cutscenes really cleanly, and there appears to have been some additional attention paid to character faces, which animate really well both during the story and during fights, super moves, and victory poses. The backgrounds are nicely detailed and active, with an emphasis on the type of low lighting you’d expect to see when fighting in front of a busted-up movie theater.
You may already know if NetherRealm’s brand of fighting is for you or not, and Injustice 2 plays a lot like the studio’s previous work, so it’s unlikely that it’ll change your mind. The fights are fun and flashy, with nice depth for players willing to spend the time learning those nuances. But Injustice 2 also sets a very high bar for content variety in a way that opens up the game to people who might just be fans of DC’s heroes and villains, too. If you’re open to the idea of a fighting game, you’re almost certain to find something worth liking.