Before We Begin...

Every critic is unique and brings their own set of preferences and biases to their experiences of video games. Here's a bit about me and my gaming preferences so you can calibrate how useful this review will be to you:.

  •  I mostly play single player games and enjoy them primarily for the challenge and storytelling..
  • I enjoy beat 'em ups and have played most of the usual suspects, but I'm more a button masher than a master of technical play.

  • I'm a comics nerd (though more a fan of stuff like Sandman and The Authority than typical DC or Marvel fare).

What's the Story?

The events of Injustice 2 mostly take place a few years after Superdictator's defeat in Injustice, entirely in the dystopian universe he calls home. I've heard that Zack Snyder was heavily influenced by Injustice in the making of Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and there are obvious parallels... but I'm glad to tell you that Injustice 2 is much more entertaining than the movie and keeps the vibrant colour palette of the comics rather than the drab shades of taupe and beige that characterise the DC cinematic universe.

The game initially focuses on Batman and his supporters as they take down Superman's closest allies and then the man in red and blue himself--a sequence that slightly confused me given that I dimly remembered already having taken Supes down at the end of the first game. Anyway, this is a useful flashback to ease us into the game and establish Batman's relationship with Damian. Once Supes is locked up, Bats and co start investigating the activities of a new criminal organisation led by Gorilla Grodd and, before you know it, are facing down yet another existential threat.

The single player story's primary purpose is to set up situations where people who are supposed to be heroes end up beating the crap out of each other. Fortunately, with daddy issues, divided loyalties, and a never-ending variety of mind control powers available, the game never has to stretch things too far to make this work well.

The writers also do a good job of using cutscenes to level the playing field between the heroes. How come Batman can go toe-to-toe with Supes? A red sun energy grenade, or a gold Kryptonite knife, or a Kryptonite-infused exo-suit explains that away in a more organic way than the first game's solution of nanotech Kryptonian pills that made everyone super dense and tough.

Beneath The Surface

The story is actually better than you might expect given that this is a beat 'em up, a genre that has rarely won accolades for its handling of characterisation and storytelling. I played Tekken 7 soon after I completed Injustice 2 and the contrast between the approach taken by each game could not have been more stark.

Injustice 2 asks whether the ends justify the means, and how extreme a hero's actions can become before they become a threat. There are no simple answers, and the story diverges towards the end to allow us to side with either Batman or Superman's faction on the subject of whether or not to kill the game's primary threat.

That's a decision that is undermined slightly by the fact that the game simply lets you re-play any chapter with the character you didn't pick the first time, but that's a compromise between the integrity of the story and the weight of compromises, and the desire to actually play the entire game after buying it!

So the story is decent, but what's Injustice 2 actually like as a game?

Graphics & Sound

I was just watching some videos from Injustice: Gods Among Us to remind myself of a few plot points and it really struck me how much graphics have improved since that game was released in 2013. The models in Injustice 2 are extremely detailed and all of the animations--especially of characters' faces--are extremely well done.

The game plays fast and fluid, and there's always something interesting happening on screen thanks to the dynamic and highly detailed battle arenas. I was particularly amused to see the letters falling off a cinema sign to leave the message "FINISH HIM", a lovely little hat-tip to Mortal Kombat.

The sound production and voice acting are top notch. Kevin Conroy reprises his role as Batman, Laura Bailey plays Supergirl, Tasia Valenza and Tara Strong return as Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn respectively, Alan Tudyk gives us his Green Arrow, and (hilariously) Robert Englund of Nightmare on Elm Street fame portrays that other well-known fearmonger, Scarecrow.

Campaign Replayability

At various points in the single-player game you're given a choice of two characters to play in a particular fight. Whichever one you pick the story will continue on, but you can go to Chapter Select at any time to play through the fight you missed. I found something about the game that caused me minor irritation here. The game shows you on Chapter Select which fight you still need to do to complete the set, but on beating the chapter it just goes straight into a cutscene and then the next fight. I often found myself having to quit back out to the main menu so I could go back into the chapter select screen so I could check which hero I'd played the first time around in that chapter.

Once you've fought each fight with all of the available characters and completed both of the available endings, there isn't much to keep you coming back to the single player story mode of the game. That being said, with a game like this most of the replayability is in the Arcade mode (see The Multiverse) and in multiplayer.

Game Mechanics

A majority of the game's mechanics will be familiar to anyone who played Injustice or Mortal Kombat X. There's a new loot and costume item mechanic but to be honest I barely paid any attention to this because it didn't interest me in the slightest.

There are enough common 'move types' (for instance, right-left-X or down-diagonal right-right Y) that you can usually muddle along for a new character by trying out a few of them to see what they do. The game also very conveniently gives you a brief list of the current character's signature moves if you pause the game, though of course a detailed move list is available if you have large amounts of time and patience to dedicate to learning the myriad combos and special moves available to the character.

In addition to standard moves and combos, each character has a special ability that does something unique. It's activated by pressing B, sometimes in combination with some moves of the stick or D-pad. Catwoman stocks up cat scratches and then unleashes a devastating automatic combo just by pressing B once, while Batman summons electric bats that fly around him and inconvenience his foes. Green Arrow is a bit more complicated, using his special ability to switch between electric, incendiary, ice, gas, and other arrow types that significantly inconvenience his foes as he fires them repeatedly across the room in a cheesy tactic that's incredibly annoying to fight against.

The super moves from the first game make a welcome return, as do scenery interactions and transitions. As well as super moves, characters can burn their super meter to perform feats like aerial recoveries and souped-up versions of their combos and special moves.

One thing I like about the super moves is that the game's intelligent about when not to show the whole 5-10 second animation. The animations are great, but it would be incredibly frustrating to lose your last shred of health to a super move and then be forced to sit through an elaborate animation for the super move before being able to resume fighting. If you're that close to the end of your health bar and your opponent uses a super move on you, it just takes your health bar all  the way down without the animation.

Speaking of health bars, I like the way Injustice has two health bars, one superimposed over the other. When a character reaches the end of their first bar, they take a moment to recover while their opponent gloats and poses dramatically, giving a moment's respite before the fight begins again. This allows the game to feel similar to most other fighting games (in that it's basically about being the first to two wins) but avoids the artificial break of a 'round' structure as seen in most other fighting games.

Bugs and Stability

I found the game pretty smooth and stable for the most part and never felt robbed of victory by a bug or glitch (though I did occasionally get frustrated at what I felt was an over-reliance by thI on a particular move or combo over and over again... making it quite a lot like playing with a real player, now I come to think about it). However, the developers have recently released a patch which is aimed at improving the game's overall stability and fixing a bunch of move list errors and other technical stuff.

I did find there was one weird bug with the game, and that was that if I put my Xbox One to sleep and then came back to Injustice 2 later, the sound would often not be working anymore. Frankly this is not uncommon; a lot of games seem to glitch out in one way or another after they've been put to sleep and then resumed.

Multiplayer and Item System

I honestly have not played a great deal of multiplayer Injustice 2, but the matches I played were good fun and didn't noticeably suffer from lag or other issues. If you enjoy collecting stuff you'll certainly enjoy the loot and item system, which allows you to don equipment that affects your favourite fighters' appearance and statistics as they level up . You can collect items by obtaining Mother Boxes, either by winning them through the course of the game or paying for them with microtransactions. The equivalent mechanic in Mortal Kombat X was a weird and tiresome first person wander-'em-up level where you could pay money to destroy tombs and statues and thus collect the exciting items held inside... so though I don't particularly care for the item collection side of Injustice 2, at least it's better than the system they used in their last game!

The Multiverse

Speaking of similarities to Mortal Kombat X, Injustice 2's answer to the Towers from that game is The Multiverse. It's essentially a living arcade mode where the roster of characters you have to beat and the rewards available to you shifts on a regular basis as new parallel realities become available. 

The Multiverse definitely adds a lot of freshness and replayability to the game and will keep you coming back for more, especially if you're a collector of items or a power-leveller.

Final Word

Injustice 2 is a worthy successor to the first game, is a hugely entertaining beat 'em up accessible to all levels of play ability, and has an enjoyable (surprisingly so, for this type of game) story. For me, this is a better game on every level than its predecessor and a worthy addition to any roster of fighting games.