Injustice: Gods Among Us was an ideal superhero fighting game that had a plot it didn’t need. Injustice 2 continues the trend, only now there’s also loot boxes we don’t need and an RPG-esque system we don’t need. But despite the overly elaborate filigree, Injustice 2 builds off the first game and at its core, is the fun time comics fans, casual moviegoers and heavy readers alike, need it to be.
The plot has a killer hook: In the last game, Batman defeated a fascist Superman, driven insane from grief due to the death of Lois Lane, locking him up and trying to either redeem the heroes Superman’s rage corrupted or deal with the last vestiges of his global rule. Into all this, Kara Zor-El, who’s been floating in space in stasis this whole time, crashes into the whole thing with one job: defend her cousin, regardless of any reasonable explanations people might have for jailing him. It doesn’t quite pay it off though, in part because it’s torn between that hook and the fact the plot needs an excuse for “Let’s you and him fight.”
Of course, the story mode is little more than a showcase, so you can try the different heroes and get a sense of who you most want to beat superheroes up with. And it lets Netherrealm show off its chops. Since they’ve got the engine and mechanics down, the studio spent the intervening years between the two games polishing everything until it glowed. The facial animations are slick, the voice acting is uniformly excellent, and the levels are gleefully full of both traps and tiny little details. The gameplay in particular is clean and fun, although one wishes Netherrealm had included more granular tools to fiddle with the controls; the thumbstick can feel a bit too mushy and the control pad can feel a bit too stiff, depending on the character you’re playing.
And the filigree over the whole thing seems unnecessary. You can “level up” a character to improve them, but a good player with a low-level character will easily whip a bad player with a high-level one. Similarly, the loot boxes you get are, in theory, a way to craft a fighter just the way you want to play them, but in reality feel more cosmetic than anything else, something only enhanced by the “Source Crystals” you can buy with real money that only unlock new shaders and skins. It’s nice to have, and it offers an incentive to keep playing beyond just crawling up the leaderboards.
Still, what matters is the playing, and especially with couch co-op, the game shines. The true test of any fighting game is sitting down with a friend, whether you’re online or in person, and seeing how much time you lose playing single matches, and Injustice 2 can suck you in with the best of them. The roster is particularly brilliant because it’s skewed towards long-time arguments DC fans have had. Could Swamp Thing take Gorilla Grodd? Is Green Arrow or Black Canary better in a fight? This game will, just like the original, settle a few arguments, at least temporarily.
Injustice 2 is the best kind of sequel, one that builds on what worked and adds more to mess with and learn about. Even if you never bother with the loot boxes or to see what level you’ve gotten every character up to, you’ll still play it for hours. After all, where else can you have Batman deal Superman the lowest of low blows?