You may recall that, a few years ago, the makers of Mortal Kombat released a game about DC superheroes that made Zack Snyder’s Batman v. Superman look like a light frothy comedy. In the alt-DC universe of Injustice: Gods Among Us, Superman goes crazy, murders people, and becomes a fascist dictator. Batman, leading the resistance to overthrow Supes, was forced to enlist the aid of the few heroes and villains not bootlicking at the Man of Steels heels.
The original was fast paced and brutal in a way that few could have predicted. Most importantly, however, it was the game that made Aquaman absolutely badass. Seriously, his finishing move involved using a Great White Shark to eat his opponent. Awesome.
Well, this screwed up universe is back for round two with Injustice 2 and it’s every bit the DC comics blockbuster that we wish the movies were. As with the first, it comes from the minds at NetherRealm Studios, who have been making fighting games a long time. They’ve become experts in making fighting games that deviate from the squeaky clean, cartoonish fighting of all the Street Fighter-type brawlers out there.
NetherRealm has also been heavily bent on giving narrative depth to their beatings in recent years. The Mortal Kombat games have featured impressively expansive storylines and that’s certainly the case with Injustice. The main story is all about epic, world-saving action, but Injustice 2 in particular takes a surprising amount of care to add depth to its characters in meaningful ways. Harley Quinn is on Team Batman, for instance, but still battling with the scars of her abusive addictive love affair with the Joker.
Injustice 2 includes 28 characters, all of whom are customizable with new armor and gear earned by playing the game extensively. Within this roster, there’s some stunning art direction and technical wizardry at work. The cut scenes are some of the most impressively animated and detailed in any game, but the overall character design speaks to the evolution of the developer as a whole.
Mortal Kombat first moved into the fully 3D phase in the late 90s and became more and more impressive with each new iteration. Just the same, it was hard to ignore the focus on creating more extreme sexualized designs of their women characters culminating with both the reboot of Mortal Kombat in 2011 and, especially, their first foray in the DC world with Mortal Kombat vs the DC Universe.
To put a fine point on it, the women warriors looked like bad porno cosplay. Seriously, just look at MK’s Sonya Blade from 2011’s Mortal Kombat and Catwoman from MK vs DC:
Apparently, however, there was a change of heart (or they fired the 14 year old boy in charge of animated boobies), because in contrast, most of their character designs since–especially where breasts are concerned–have become almost (but not entirely) practical. By the time Injustice rolled around, NetherRealm had moved on to make games that could be played in mixed company.
It’s a trend that has largely continued into Injustice 2, which may well be the most gorgeous and gothic looking fighting game ever made. The sheer level of production values instilled into Injustice 2 demands it get as wide an audience as possible. Thankfully, we live in a world where cinematic superheroes are still a billion dollar industry, which should attract players who might never touch a “normal” fighting game to help bring in sales.
Injustice 2 sports a control system that walks a fine line between easily accessible and technically deep. There are three attack buttons instead of Mortal Kombat’s five and Street Fighter’s six. The spectacularly over-the-top super moves are easily performed by pressing two shoulder buttons instead of some absurd super-secret button and stick combination. The easiest difficulty level assures most novice players can get through the entire story while still feeling like super-powered badasses, but the normal and hard levels require a bit more technical acumen to conquer.
It’s as close to a fighting game for everyone as we’ve seen, though it’s still unclear how Batman can stand toe to toe with the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman even in his shiny new armor. Keeping in line with DC’s cinematic direction, there’s also no doubt that Injustice 2 is deeply embedded in the insistence that DC heroes are buried in angst. The game brings in drama, trauma, and violence by the truckload. Yet, mostly it works here, especially considering (for whatever reason) people love seeing their heroes pound on each other.
Injustice is DC’s Civil War but done in the shadows and darkness that Marvel seldom deigns to tread. Big, bold, dark and absurdly fun, Injustice 2 doesn’t break any molds, it just takes what came before it and supersizes it.