“Injustice 2”

Platform: PS4, Xbox One

Style: 1 or 2-Player Fighting (2-Player Online)

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive

Developer: NetherRealm Studios

Rating: T

The Bottom Line: 9.25/10

Concept: A sequel that offers enhanced combat, a silly (but action-packed) story, and collectible loot galore

Graphics: No detail is spared as the titans clash and the world is destroyed around them, even in the little things like lip-syncing. The only real oddity: What’s up with Superman’s new costume?

Sound: The amount of character chatter for matches is mighty impressive. You even hear characters comment on confronting themselves, or have a special saying or two for their arch nemeses

Playability: Little enhancements to speed and evasive maneuvers create a more fluid and dynamic combat experience 

Entertainment: A deep game that hits hard in three key areas: fighting, story and collecting 

Replay: High

The Caped Crusader and the billionaire. The last survivor of Krypton and the reporter. Most of DC Comics’ heroes lead double lives, all in an attempt to blend into society as seemingly ordinary people who don masks when trouble arises. NetherRealm Studios’ 2013 fighting game “Injustice: Gods Among Us” also balanced duality, and found success as a fun fighting experience coupled with a popular story. “Injustice 2” once again delivers knockout blows with its story and fighting, but finds a third way to entertain through an addictive collecting component.

“Injustice 2” doesn’t reach same level of narrative intrigue as its predecessor, but is nearly as enjoyable for an entirely different reason. Although penned as a direct continuation to the original game, no moment is as shocking or profound as Superman ripping out the Joker’s heart. This sequel instead takes the more cliched angle of uniting heroes and villains to stop an intergalactic threat. Brainiac, a space traveler intent on destroying Earth, can control anyone’s will, and has forged his own army of familiar capes and masks. The lurking fear of Superman being freed from his prison is a nice plot thread that adds a layer of mystery to a story that can basically be summarized as “everyone fights everyone.”

NetherRealm delivers dumb fun in this story, which unfolds through lengthy sequences that are as beautiful as they are epic. The level of detail in the character models is impressive, as is the framing of the action — particularly a sequence that pits The Flash against Reverse Flash. The story breaks are as fun to watch as the game is to play, but never waver from being anything but a bombastic assault on the senses. You won’t find much to think about in this story other than why Green Arrow’s jokes are downright awful.

The fighting is once again a ridiculous show of power. At any given second a hero could be punched through a pyramid, thrown into space, or mauled by Harley Quinn’s hyenas. This is nothing new for “Injustice,” but the dancing that occurs between these catastrophic strikes offers a higher level of strategy and fluidity. The small touch of increasing the walking speed of each character goes a long way in removing the slow spacing game between opponents. Matches are noticeably faster in pace, and players have more opportunities to turn the tables on their opponents thanks to the inclusion of aerial recoveries that allow you to pop out of juggle combos, and evasive rolls that can give you distance or close the gap on a foe. 

Special meter management also offers new dynamics, and no longer hangs so heavily on banking segments for a potential Clash or super move in the final round. The new evasive moves deplete segments of the meter, as do powerful new offensive attacks. Each arena is still filled with environmental interactions and arena transitions.

The game feels tighter and faster, and the returning characters all feel new again, for better or worse. I enjoy Batman’s techniques more in this sequel, but found Superman to be strange and underwhelming in both appearance and functionality. The roster, while lacking some heavy hitters for narrative reasons, offers a nice variety that pulls equally from DC’s gods and titans as the vigilantes, such as Bat family and Suicide Squad.

Supergirl, Gorilla Grodd, and the always-quirky Doctor Fate are excellent additions to the roster, although no new character shakes up the foundation. As elaborate as some of the finishing moves are, many struggle to feel epic outside of their length. For every amazing finisher, like Swamp Thing pulling an opponent underground for a thwacking of roots, a character like Bane does little more than pile-drive an opponent.

Exploring the game’s deep well of strategies is one reason to keep playing, but I think most players (like myself) will feel the pull tied to loot. Winning a match feels great no matter what, but the game amplifies that sensation with a showering of rewards, ranging from two different forms of experience points (for you the player and the character you used in that battle), and the chance of getting gear (custom equipment that can change characters’ looks and attributes). You may also earn performance rewards such as something called a Mother Box, which is Injustice 2’s form of a blind box holding gear for any given character.

The gear won’t excite in the opening hours, most of it doing little more than giving your character a slightly different look along the lines of different pointy ears on Batman or an emblem-free cape for Supergirl. Extensive play leads to more exotic loot that can completely change the look of your character, such as Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern looking almost exactly like Kyle Rayner’s Ion. The high-end gear also produces performance bumps such as strength increasing by 200-plus or ability by 150-plus. In addition to gear, you can earn new abilities, two of which can be equipped at any given time. The benefits are different for each item, but should you receive something you don’t need, you can sell it to earn currency for more Mother Boxes. 

The bonuses tied to gear don’t enhance your characters for ranked matches (outside of look), but do come into play in a new mode called Multiverse, which replaces S.T.A.R. Labs from “Gods Among Us.” Playing off of the idea that DC’s universe has an infinite number of earths, your heroes face off against alternate versions of themselves, some stronger and others with unforeseeable powers. Multiverse is a beautifully designed avenue of play featuring daily, weekly, and monthly challenges, each testing your skills in different ways, all in the hope of unlocking more loot. Multiverse matches play with the fighting mechanics. In one tournament, I couldn’t jump. In another, the sun was fading out, which turned the screen pitch black for a split second or two. The events are always changing, but I haven’t seen anything as zany as S.T.A.R. Labs’ goofy side content such as controlling Catwoman’s kitten, Isis. 

While no cooperative play is offered, players can team up in a guild to earn guild-specific experience points and, you guessed it, unique loot. The ominous option to spend real money on in-game currency is here, but its pull isn’t that strong, as high-end gear requires characters be level 20, which can only be accomplished by playing the game.

“Injustice 2” is a huge game, offering a lengthy story-based campaign, a great fighting experience and a nearly endless supply of notable loot. The small tweaks to combat go a long way in creating a more dynamic flow, which resonates well in multiplayer matches. I ran into a little lag in a few online bouts, but the game ran smoothly for most of the time. Even if you don’t enjoy the competitive aspects of the fighting genre, this is a game you can dive into for an enjoyable superhero story. No, this isn’t a game that makes your characters go crazy when buttons are mashed, but on the easiest difficulty, you should have no problems making progress in the story, given you at least take the time to understand what makes it tick.

With DC’s cinematic universe underperforming, “Injustice 2” is the best way to see just how powerful and diverse these heroes are.

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