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Review: Injustice 2 (PlayStation 4)By FiDRoC At 11.06.2017 20:36

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Of course, the most obvious way of shoehorning an extensive cast of characters into one bulging bundle of super powers and not so hidden identities is the classic fighting game, a concept Marvel stumbled upon in 1996 with the ageing coin-op X-Men vs Street Fighter, later paving the way for the now classic Marvel vs Capcom series. In comparison, DC Comics was pretty slow to hop on the brawler bandwagon, although eventually teamed up with Midway in 2008 for the franchise mash-up Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, which was generally well received by gamers and critics, alike. Upon Midway's eventual collapse, the team responsible for Mortal Kombat was acquired by Warner Brothers (along with the MK licence) and the resulting studio (NetherRealm), having already built up a good working relationship with DC Comics, was perfectly primed to deliver on a brand new franchise based on its IP. The Injustice series was born.

Back in 2013, NetherRealm studios unleashed the DC Comics affiliated brawler, Injustice: Gods Among Us, onto an unsuspecting public, which took place in an alternate universe where Batman and Superman had become sworn enemies. While it's an unlikely scenario, a division between the normally chummy crime fighters was crucial to driving the story forward, as well as providing an explanation as to why a cast of generally do-gooder characters were so willing to batter the living daylights out of one another. The factional rift and ensuing conflict was very much an indirect result of pledging allegiance to either Team Batman or Team Superman, although for the sake of balance there were also a selection of villains tossed into the mix. The alternate universe version of Superman comes across as an embittered bad guy, no doubt as a result of falling for the Joker's ruse that not only saw him killing Lois Lane but inadvertently detonating a nuclear device in the process that wiped out Metropolis, along with the lives of millions of innocents. It was a pretty dark story from the DC stable that spawned an accompanying graphic novel franchise, which helped establish a canonical background story that was used to expand upon details where necessary.

Injustice 2 picks up five years on from where the first game left off with Superman still being held captive by Batman under the debilitating rays of a Kryptonian red sun generator that prevented any attempts to escape by sapping his normally superhuman strength. The main protagonist of the piece is introduced via a prologue that flashes back to the final hours of Superman's home planet Krypton in which he plays an instrumental role in its destruction. Brainiac is a collector at the mercy of a neverending quest for knowledge, which he pursues forcefully by shrinking and bottling other planets and civilisations like an over-zealous pickling enthusiast, destroying all remnants in the process. The baby Kal-El (who later grows up to become Superman) escapes the doomed Krypton courtesy of his quick thinking parents who have a vehicle prepared for such an emergency, although he's not alone in doing so as his cousin, Kara Zor-El (Supergirl), also manages to evacuate successfully. It will be many years before they are reunited.

Back to the present, and Batman is slowly patching up the aftermath of the recent conflicts and has made some fairly unlikely allegiances in the process, the most notable being Harley Quinn who appears to be a reformed character in the wake of the Joker's murder at the hands of Superman. It's not all plain sailing, though, as Batman is still having to deal with Superman loyalists that are intent on freeing their leader and these seem to be intrinsically linked to an increased number of incursions by a new faction of villains led by General Grodd, the guerrilla gorilla. It soon becomes apparent that these emboldened bad guys are covertly working at the behest of Brainiac who has discovered Superman's whereabouts and is orchestrating his release for his own nefarious purposes. Unfortunately, having spent quality time on Earth while attempting to track down Krypton's favourite son, Brainiac predictably takes a shine to it and decides that it's worthy of his collection. It seems that Batman has no choice but to turn to his captive nemesis and ask for his assistance in dealing with this new threat before he gets the chance to make good on his plans.

NetherRealm has very much set the standard with its story campaigns, knowing first-hand how to craft a well-structured and compelling narrative, as evidenced by the two most recent Mortal Kombat titles, as well as its DC Universe crossover, and it's a blueprint that even Capcom attempted to clone for its Street Fighter V story mode (but failed miserably). Where the traditional, long-serving brawler campaign usually goes the route of picking a character, taking on and beating a sequence of contenders in a variety of scenic backdrops only to be rewarded with a short cut-scene at the end pertaining to that character's fate, Injustice 2 plays out like a fully-fledged movie with each cut-scene punctuated by a bout of fisticuffs. Story progress halts until the relevant battles have been won and, on the occasion where multiple characters are involved, the player is offered the choice of which fight they want to participate in, giving the impression of a forked path. There are a total of 28 playable characters in the vanilla package and NetherRealm has pretty much managed to weave all of them into the campaign somehow, which does occasionally make for a few fairly tenuous appearances; for example, Swamp Thing's brief emergence does feel puzzlingly out of place, as does the very youthful looking (if ever so slightly deceased) Joker who appears as a Scarecrow-induced halluciation. With that said, no Joker... no party.

There is a decent, well-rounded selection of heroes/villains available straight off the bat, including a lot of lesser known individuals (Captain Cold, Cheetah, Blue Beetle, Black Canary, Firestormā€¦ to name a few) to counter some of the better known characters that were expected to make an appearance (Bane, Catwoman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and so on). Lex Luthor, however, is conspicuous by his absence. This time around, NetherRealm has included a levelling-up system for each individual character, which, besides encouraging persistent play, also ties in well with the Multi-verse mode (more on this later) and the new loot system. Yes, Injustice 2 features a very comprehensive loot system that operates in a similar fashion to an MMO in that there is a constant drip of new gear incoming (split between legs, torso, arms, head, weapon) that range from Common to Epic in value. Some items are purely cosmetic, others can enhance certain individual attributes, some can only be equipped once the fighter hits a specified level, and all can be regenerated or sold for the in-game currency to buy Mother Boxes (loot containers that are also earned by completing tasks). Not only does this bring a high level of unique customisation to the table, but successfully collecting full armour sets can actually provide particular advantages/defences against specific types of attacks or individuals (Kryptonite armour anyone?). The only downside to this, of course, is the same old affliction that affects all other loot-centric titles, such as Diablo or Borderlands, in that ten minutes of admin is required at the end of each session just to sift through and equip every new item in the hopper. Multi-verse world problems.

Anybody that's played Mortal Kombat X will notice straightaway that Injustice 2 shares a lot of similarities with its fight mechanics, menu layout, control mapping and generally dark and gritty tone. While the DualShock 4 probably isn't the greatest controller for fighting games, it still feels very responsive with both the left stick and d-pad providing alternate movement options, although obviously a dedicated fight stick or pad will always be the preferred choice for those more serious about laying down the hurt. The move set is simple enough to get to grips with, yet provides enough depth to reward those willing to sink the time into training and button mashing practitioners will always get embarrassingly shown up when they come up against an opponent with skill. Mortal Kombat-style fatality moves aren't part and parcel of the Injustice franchise, however, the interactivity with background items and transitional punches into other nearby areas remain and always look very cool when pulled off successfully. Regular play charges up a power meter, which, when full, can be used to deploy a character-specific special move that tends to highlight their powers in a spectacular way, yet these moves can be blocked/avoided, so it's all about the timing. The meter can also be used to activate clashes between the two combatants, which offers the instigator the opportunity to win a chunk of health back, providing they wager more bars than their opponent.

One of the main criticisms that was thrown at Street Fighter V upon its release was its lack of inclusive content and even to this very day it still feels fairly anaemic when compared to its immediate competition. Thankfully, this isn't an accusation that can be levelled at Injustice 2, which enjoys a full feature set and boasts a plethora of modes that cater for fans of both single-player and multiplayer. For solo brawlers, there is the excellent campaign, of course, as well as self improvement options, such as 'Practice' and 'Single Fight,' which are essential for those eager to find competition in the online section. The Multi-verse is probably the biggest time sink for those that aren't in the mood for a social slap down and it's not dissimilar in execution to the Towers in Mortal Kombat X. Here there are a selection of different alternate universe planets at any given time, each of which offer a variety of missions; some open for any level fighter and others possibly restricting admission to a specified rank but would likely pay out better dividends. It's not unusual to find that a lot of the missions might have a mutator active to alter the gameplay in some interesting or radical way; for example, falling snow balls that temporarily freeze whoever they land on, or a health bar that starts at zero and slowly increases until the opponent has landed the first punch (that's a tough one). All of the Multi-verse events are timed and switch out regularly only to be replaced with another; some may even only make an appearance for an hour or two at a certain time of the day. It's surprisingly more-ish and a great way to grind for new gear.

Of course, Injustice 2 also caters to lovers of multiplayer gaming, both local and online. As might be expected, the local options involve the traditional Versus mode, which is a simple one-on-one scrap, yet there is also an AI Battle Simulator that allows the creation of an AI-controlled team that can challenge other players for rewards. For those times where there just aren't any mates available to be pummelled, then the Internet comes to the rescue, with a very stable online option that's quick in match-make and seems both lag-free and responsive. There are the now obligatory Ranked, Unranked, and Private matches available, as well as King of the Hill rooms that operate on a 'winner stays on basis,' while the other occupants can be spectators (and jeer). There are maybe a few balancing issues that need to be addressed with some of the 'zoning' characters, as there seems to be a high proportion of the online population spamming Deadshot's ranged pistol attacks. It's the fighting game equivalent of camping and, while it's a perfectly legitimate tactic, it's hard not to get annoyed and frustrated when it occurs in every other match, so hopefully it's something that will get nerfed in a future update, even if it just needs a cool-down period before deployment. Guilds can be created that allow up to fifty members to join and fight on behalf of the same cause, as well as providing a good opportunity to earn exclusive Guild specific Mother boxes.

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Final Score
[i]Injustice 2[/i] packs a powerful meaty punch and has enough content crammed into its superhero trunks to put a lot of its genre sharing peers to shame. NetherRealm has delivered a satisfyingly robust package that tightens up and expands on pretty much every aspect that made its predecessor so great, while remaining true to the DC source material, and making a game that looks, sounds, and plays incredibly well.

8

/10

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