Superman and Batman once again duke it out. This time, it doesn't matter what their moms' names were. If DC Comics' movie-makers want to learn a thing or two about translating Batman and pals to the screen, they could do a lot worse than having a look at Injustice 2. Somehow the latest fighting game from Mortal Kombat developer NetherRealm Studios has better plotting and intrigue than any DC film in the last decade. Faint praise after the garish incoherence of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, sure, but Injustice 2's compelling story mode conjures just the right amount of silliness and graphic novel grit from its enormous ensemble cast. It is largely an excuse for superheroes as wide-ranging as Supergirl and Blue Beetle to smack the snot out of each other in one-on-one bouts, of course, but that hasn't stopped it having its share of fun and clever subversions on the usual formula.
The yarn continues the alternate reality of the original Injustice Gods Among Us, with Batman imprisoning a despotic and vengeful Superman in order to stop him and his meta-human 'Regime' from murdering anyone who so much as picks up a parking ticket. There isn't the reality-hopping of the first game, but instead this version of Earth comes under attack from Braniac, an all-powerful being that goes from world to world vacuuming up its cities in his skull-shaped spaceship. This greater threat leads to an uneasy unity of the Justice League, as Batman, Superman and their scattered and conflicted allies team up against Braniac and a splinter group of villains lead by Gorilla Grodd.
It is all very silly, as you might imagine, but pulled off with a real sense of style. The plot breezes along as everyone smacks each other around a bit, with splendid visuals and a voice cast clearly having a lot of fun. It wrings a surprising amount out of the well-worn Batman v Superman conflict too, with the latter making a far more interesting villain than his usual Boy Scout heroics. Comic fans will have a blast, particularly when less famous faces such as Firestorm and Doctor Fate get their moment in the limelight.
Most importantly it serves as a terrific introduction to Injustice's fighting mechanics by exposing you to a plethora of characters throughout its five hour running time. All the looks and fancy story would be worth nothing if the game underpinning it wasn't any good. And Injustice 2 is a very good fighting game, if not excellent. It is by far the most technically adept game NetherRealm has developed to date and the most accessible, content-complete brawler on console.
It isn't as technically proficient or complex as Street Fighter, which remains the king of competitive fighting, but Injustice 2's goals are altogether different. It prefers to keep things friendlier to newcomers, with combos and special moves sharing similar button inputs across the roster. There is plenty of implication there, and mastery of a particular character still takes time, but it allows casual players to fight with heroes and still have fun and find success. That being said, it's still a very competitive title when played with the right opponent such as, take any NRS veteran tourney player or someone who has a vivid understanding of the frame data and knows how to keep the pressure onslaught going. Admittedly, it will time to fight at their level with intense pressure but knowing your opponent's weaknesses and punishable moves is a must just like any other fighting games if you are looking to dive deep into this one.
Injustice 2 is the perfect pick-up-and-play fighter, then, but that doesn't mean it lacks for technicality or skill. And brilliantly, it makes every effort to open up the fighting game lexicon for its players. Its tutorials spell out the rules for burn meters and bounce cancels, combos and crossovers, and makes them easy to execute but hard to master. The burn meter, for example, allows you to bolster special moves with an extra combo hit (or two) by simply squeezing R2 at the right time. You can also spend meter energy on dodges and air-escapes. Fill it and you can pull off your characters super move by pulling both triggers. These are brilliantly excessive shows of force: Supergirl takes her foe for a trip round the sun before hurling them back to Earth in a cluster of flaming meteors, The Flash whizzes back in time to smack his foe off the hide of a T-Rex.
It also provides a quite bewildering array of options to get into a scrap. Solo players are particularly well served, with that story mode and the 'Multiverse'; an ever-changing collection of fights and daily challenges. Playing through the story or completing missions in the Multiverse showers you with coins and random loot boxes that feed into a 'gear' system, allowing you to upgrade individual characters with buffs and cosmetic upgrades. You can then take these rewards into battle online.
The gear system arguably strips some of the purity of Injustice 2's multiplayer brawling, which is comfortably good enough to get by without such frippery. There is, however, a 'competitive' mode, which disables gear for a more straightforward scrap like cosmetics. I could have done without the gear system, but can see the appeal and reach for longevity it creates. And, honestly, the alternative costumes and shaders are so beautifully designed, you could find yourself tumbling down a rabbit hole trying to unlock spiffy new hats for The Joker.
NetherRealm has completely knocked it out of the park with Injustice 2 once again. Presenting us with a fighting title that sheds a new perspective on the world of DC is an idea that continues to be executed brilliantly. The game's story mode is highly enjoyable, and the superb animations and performances help to elevate it to movie-like quality. Gameplay is as slick as ever, and every available mode is rather addictive in nature. For the more casual player who has come for a story and few brawls, repetition has the potential to creep up on them so a variety in content wouldn't have gone amiss, but NetherRealm has still managed to utilise what's on offer to great effect.
Tamim Bin Zakir aka Shwag_Lord(PSN ID) is an enraged individual who seldom thinks of being generous to others. Feel free to devour his tranquility at firstname.lastname@example.org