Gaming Editor Roshni Patel takes a look at the announcement of World of Warcraft's 7th expansion, Battle for AzerothWritten by Roshni Patel on 20th November 2017
Could Injustice 2 Already Be the Game of the Year?
Deputy Editor Harry Turner explains how the latest NetherRealm fighter is not only one of the best games of its genre, but also one of the best games period
Injustice 2 is a game utterly consistent in its approach to achieving what it sets out to do. It’s a superhero fighter; a means to let you play around with some of the best heroes and villains the DC Universe has to offer. With its breathtakingly cinematic story mode, its epic encounters that makes you feel like a badass no matter how inept you are, or in its simple but enthralling gear system – letting you play with your favourite characters as if you were a kid again – Injustice 2 is the superhero genre made into a video game.
At the same time, though, Injustice 2 is also in many ways a culmination of the work ethic of developer NetherRealm Studios. Ever since the relaunch of Mortal Kombat in 2011, Ed Boon’s new studio has taken to their fighting games with a commitment to massive, varied content, and a deep understanding for what makes their franchise unique and special. Injustice 2 takes this approach and then some – packing its game with so much content, and varied content, that it is easy to consider the experience endless.
As premature as it may be – indeed, E3 will no doubt bring a whole slew of new Game of the Year contenders – for all that the Injustice sequel is and represents, Injustice 2 is already a serious challenger for 2017’s best game. Engaging on so many levels and so carefully designed to maximise the player experience – whoever that player may be – Injustice 2 is a masterful demonstration of good game design, and undeniably one of the best fighting games to have ever been released.
That latter point gains most weight in all the things Injustice 2 does that its genre siblings do not. Injustice 2’s story mode is the prime example of this. Story modes are an increasingly rare feature in modern fighting games, and even then, those that do include one tend to treat it as an afterthought. Often when a fighting game does feature a story mode, its cut-scenes are kept to a minimum, and what is there in terms of story itself is generally unimpressive or uninspired.
While Injustice 2 is scarcely Shakespeare. On more the one occasion can the dialogue be laughably overbearing in its exposition, and indeed, overall the game’s interesting premise lacks the kind of nuance it deserves. All the same though, there is a level of sophistication to Injustice 2’s story-telling that puts not just the fighting game competition to shame, but the likes of RPGs and even full-fledged movies too. The whole narrative is rendered in cut-scenes that are worthy of two-hour YouTube movies – and this is especially with regard to the quality of Injustice 2’s animation.
Not since Half-Life 2 has facial animation been so startlingly real. The fact this comes off the back of Mass Effect: Andromeda’s problems in this area, makes Injustice 2 only more amazing. Whether it be the energy of Harley Quinn, the stoicism of Batman, or even the inherent animalism of Gorilla Grodd, the animation is peppered with little details that brings these often larger-than-life characters to life. That this is to be found in a fighting game, of all places, also makes this all the impressive. Special commendation should also go to the voice actors in further elevating the visuals, of course – with George Newbern’s reprisal of Superman being especially standout. Fans of the early 2000s’ Superman and Justice League animated series will find this broken Superman only more heart-breaking under Newbern’s vocals.
But even aside from the presentation and delivery of Injustice 2’s main narrative, the story itself is on the whole compelling. Coming off the back of the original game, Injustice 2 features a twisted DC Universe where Superman is a tyrant toppled and Batman is struggling to repair the world left broken in his absence. With the arrival of the villain Brainiac, the narrative quickly becomes a clash between the two ideologies embodied by these versions of Superman and Batman: to kill villains like Joker or Brainiac, or not, to leave their fates to the orthodox authorities.
Certainly, this dilemma has been explored extensively already – and in the end, the narrative does fail to present the ‘kill’ side with enough nuance to make it truly a pervasive option. Yet the fact that it is there, and even touched on at all, is important. Just compare Injustice 2 to the already mentioned Mass Effect: Andromeda – a game which decided to avoid the blatant colonialism at the heart of its story – to see Injustice even entertaining these ideas is significant.
Even beyond this, however, Injustice 2’s story is often surprising in its character work. Harley Quinn, for example, is given an intriguing depth as she works alongside Batman to try to redeem herself in the Joker’s absence. The disgraced heroes of Green Lantern but also Flash enjoy similar treatment as they too seek redemption for their part in Superman’s regime. And then there are things like Black Canary and Green Arrow’s amazing relationship (and parenthood), or Catwoman’s fascinating role as Batman’s right-hand woman. Even Wonder Woman, who in the end perhaps comes off the worst of all the would-be heroes, still enjoys a certain depth, in the revelation that she fears she may have led Superman astray.
Safe to say, Injustice 2’s story is a major draw – not just exceeding its fellow fighting games, even those from NetherRealm before, but also rivalling story-focused RPGs. It’s a pulpy superhero epic through and through, yet comic fan or not, when you hear Superman and Batman reminisce about their simpler, more optimistic pasts, it is hard not to feel a swell of emotion for these pop culture icons. Injustice 2 uses its DC license, and the lineage of its characters, to full – in this putting even the efforts of the DC cinematic universe to shame.
But there is still so much more to love about Injustice 2 than just its story. As a fighting game, it is a carefully designed experience that’s easy to get into, with plenty of depth and strategy for those that want to sink their teeth. Working off the Mortal Kombat and original Injustice template, Injustice 2 is fast and visceral; where everything from a simple punch to a blast of super-breath feels substantial and satisfying.
Impressive moves are easy to pull off, and with the extravagant supers – which, for example, sees Flash creating a time-loop to smash his opponent into themselves – any player can feel like a pro. And for those that do genuinely want to reach pro-level, there is the inherent strategy in Injustice 2’s metre management and complex combos to get to grips with. Once you see what a good player can do with your favourite character, you’ll appreciate not only the depth Injustice 2 has, but also just how video games can be considered a serious sport overall.
For the average player, however, such things are likely not on their agenda. Indeed, the online scene for fighting games is notoriously intimidating – so much so that some players skirt around it entirely. To that end, NetherRealm has done much to accommodate players looking content away from the competitive scene beyond the usual arcade modes – all with the ‘Multiverse’ feature. NetherRealm built off the ‘Living Towers’ feature of Mortal Kombat X to create a constantly changing list of game modes for players. Made unique with random modifiers and challenges, the Multiverse has in store hours’ worth of content as you level up your favourite heroes, and earn them tonnes and tonnes of gear to equip.
And the gear – the loot. After its addictive implementation here, it’s hard to see why it took so long for the fighting game genre to latch onto this idea of earnable loot. For the same reasons that it works so well in the likes of Diablo or Borderlands, the loot system thrives in Injustice 2. Every other fight will earn you gear for characters – and often at levels just slightly higher than what your characters are, therein encouraging you to play more, and more, and more. Yet aside from buffing your favourite characters stats and giving you options to tweak their appearance, the gear system further plays into the superhero sandbox that Injustice 2 is all about. Costumes and alternate outfits are such an important ingredient in superhero fiction, making its presence here – and how, for example, your opponents in the Multiverse will be equipped with randomised gear making every fight aesthetically different – only truer to the medium.
Of course, as with any hint of loot or random-number generator features, there is unfortunately the issue of micro transactions – which do feature in Injustice 2. This said, whilst purchasable currency is available, it isn’t really useful when it comes to acquiring the best loot fast. Completing challenges and Multiverse events bags you enough gear to make real-world money payments largely unnecessary. Indeed, with the prize tier for purchasable gear limited two levels below the highest that you can get, there is plenty of room for earning gear via gameplay. The same cannot be said for the pre-order and seemingly on-the-disc Darkseid character, which undeniably this muddies an otherwise rather fair system; the already announced season pass could be seen as being equally troubling.
In the end, though, the issues that Injustice 2 does have – whether it be in its pre-order policy or beyond – are scarcely insurmountable. Many, in light of the game’s DLC plans, have said that they’d sooner wait for the Game of the Year edition to get the whole package up front and at a cheaper price. That is fair enough, and perhaps is more economically prudent. Yet what needs to be highlighted here is that a Game of the Year edition is very much on the table for Injustice 2.
Injustice 2 is massive, and every corner of it is expertly crafted to provide the best experience for its players. Much like how the Arkham games were fantastic for representing the quintessential Batman experience, Injustice 2 recreates the entire superhero genre. Epic in-game and as a game, while accessible yet endlessly replayable, Injustice 2 is a zenith of good game design, and practically bursts with value. Undoubtedly, Injustice 2 will not be the last great game released this year, but even then, the rest of the year now has much to live up to.