Injustice 2 is unmistakably a NetherRealm Studios game. Ever since they reinvented themselves with 2011’s Mortal Kombat, all their games have followed the mold. 2D fighting with a story campaign that brings you through many different playable characters as your fight your friends just as much as you do your enemies.
Yeah, that was Injustice: Gods Among Us, that was Mortal Kombat X and now the trend is continuing with Injustice 2. But, while Injustice 2 has donned a beautiful new coat of paint, NetherRealm Studios’ latest title suffers from questionable mechanics and sloppy execution of their once-successful formula.
Glossing Over the Story
This is one of those catch-22s of reviewing a fighting game. If you say its campaign and story mode are incredible and awe-inspiring, those who like the game will nod their head in enthusiastic agreement. But, if you say you don’t like the story mode, they immediately about face and say “fighting games aren’t about the story.” In the case of Injustice 2, that’s total nonsense.
The amount of effort NetherRealm studios put into the story of Injustice 2 makes it impossible to simply ignore and toss aside as irrelevant. Much of that effort is abundantly clear. As you’ve no doubt seen by now, the facial animations in Injustice 2 are absolutely jaw-dropping, and those are only given justice (sorry) in the story mode. Realistic doesn’t begin to cover it—they look human, even down to straining neck muscles.
Then you have the incredible lighting, with at least a dozen different sources in each level all casting different-colored shadows in every which direction, and keeping that consistent is a task many developers simply skip over.
That being said, the campaign is perhaps where Injustice 2 has grown the most tiring.
The story in Injustice 2 presents a layered issue that just can’t be overlooked and thrown aside because “fighting games aren’t about the story.” The story itself is one of the more head-scratching elements. I know other games in NetherRealm’s recent library were like this as well, but Injustice 2 feels especially contrived.
Whenever you’re roaming around with two or more people, they always find some convenient way to get rid of one of them and have you choose which one you’re going to play. Worse yet, almost every time the allies defeat one of the bad guys, they feel the need to pad out the game by creating some lame excuse to fight each other. And no, I’m not dinging a fighting game for including more fights, but how they include them could have used a little more work, because it comes off as lazy for the sake of buffer and, at times, unintentionally comedic.
At one point, for example, you fight Swamp Thing on his territory. After beating each other to a pulp, with you ultimately coming out the victory, Harley Quinn tells him about why they’re there, to which Swamp Things calmly and reasonably responds “Hmm … I see.” Writing is yet another aspect of Injustice 2 for which I don’t understand the praise.
And man, do I wish they varied up the formula of the fights a little. I know people didn’t much care for Mortal Kombat’s 1v2 and 1v3 fights—although I found those to be a dear treat that raises the challenge level and increases variety—, but are straight up 1v1s with two health bars really all Injustice 2 have? Maybe a tag-team match? Maybe you’re weakened from one story aspect or another? Something.
Not everything is perfect from a technical perspective, as on the PS4 version I experienced several frame-rate drops during cutscenes that made it hard to pay attention to what characters were saying and served an injustice (sorry) to how hard the animators worked on those faces.
Just as well, the story of Injustice 2 doesn’t play out in any particularly climactic or exciting way. Brainiac, while a more difficult enemy, is little more than that, and he’s tossed aside almost as quickly as he is physically introduced. The fights that follow his feel a lot like filler, simply padding out the run-time when you already know where the story is headed.
I just wish they could pull off any sort of levity. I’m not saying Injustice 2 needed to be a kitschy Guardians of the Galaxy 2 type of story or anything, where characters are boisterously laughing and making poop jokes to pass the time, but even the Nolan Dark Knight trilogy knew how to appropriately have fun and stoke excitement among its audience without sacrificing its stakes or dark tone.
Xs and Os
But enough about that. Let’s get into what you probably all came here for: the multiplayer, or the non-story focused combat. Injustice 2 is, at its core, a fighting game that caters to competitive 1v1 matches between friends or strangers in a couch or online setting rapidly mashing Xs and Os.
Combat is incredibly technical, which is a good thing for a fighting game that has any competitive aspirations, which Injustice 2 does. I’ve always been more of a button masher myself, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize what people can do with a combat system like Injustice’s—I just can’t.
If you’re accurate enough with your button presses and precise enough with your timing, you can string together almost any attack or combo, and cancel the animations on the back end of those so you can take it even further. More imaginative people will invent series upon series of near-endless combinations and practice them into eternity, and it’s great that Injustice 2 caters to this level of play while also allowing scrubs like me to get a kick out of it.
Grinding My Gears
That being said, I still can’t wrap my head around the gear system, and that’s not to say I don’t understand it—I understand it perfectly. You unlock gear by playing the game. This gear gives you bonuses to damage, special move damage, defense and/or health. Fortunately, you can’t buy this gear, so it’s not any sort of pay-to-win concept.
What I don’t understand is why the gear system exists at all. Oddly enough, this too is an aspect that many are praising. Perhaps that’s because Injustice 2 include loot boxes for this gear, which are fun and addictive to open, but it just doesn’t seem like stat-boosting gear has any place in a fighting game.
Fighting games should be about individual skill only. Whoever is more mechanically sound and combines those mechanics with split-second decision-making and reaction times should be the victor. In Injustice 2, all else being equal, the person with the better gear will win, because they have better stats. In its most favorable light, I would say that this incentivizes people to keep coming back to play so they can keep getting better gear and finally compete, but I could just as easily say “to heck with this,” and put my controller down for good.
It’s not For Honor, which is to say it isn’t a pay-to-win microtransaction fest. But rather than feeling unfair, it just feels unnecessary. Overall, Injustice 2’s gear system puts a huge damper on what is otherwise a beacon of technical fighting games.
I feel very lonely on my island. Having praised to high heavens games like Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat X, I was certainly expecting to find joy in Injustice 2.
And of course, the folks at NetherRealm Studios are a talented group; no doubt about it. They created a really solid core that feels more deep and technical than ever, and put it all together with lighting and facial animations that set a new high bar for the genre.
But these fruits are soured by lazy, contrived storytelling, and a gear system that stands in opposition to what fighting games should be about. All of this ultimately makes Injustice 2 a step back not only from the original but also from the level of quality we’re used to seeing from NetherRealm.