It was somewhere around when Swamp Thing showed up in Slaughter Swamp that I started to be a little bit in awe of what Injustice 2 does. I mean, at the bottom and most basic, what is Injustice 2? It’s a fighting game, sure, but it’s also a little bit like playing with action figures with your next-door neighbor when you’re eight years old. You make a compelling case for why Batman is definitely winning against Superman in this scenario, and your neighbor doesn’t really buy it. Superman has laser eyes. Batman can dodge out of the way. There, sitting on the front lawn, it’s not really something that you can solve. But now, a few decades later, Injustice 2 exists, and if you’re good enough at the game, Batman can win every single time.
So that moment where Swamp Thing showed up was sort of a surprise. My assumption about these games (and this is why I’ve never played the first game) was that they were just excuses to goof off and relive those same arguments from childhood. I thought they were bad, or at least just something I wasn’t into. I was wrong.
Injustice 2 is the best translation of superhero comics to any other medium, period. The fighting game genre fits the tone and pacing of superhero comics perfectly, and I will go a step further and say that Injustice 2 is the most interested I have been in a superhero story in years.
A written and drawn comic and a film share the same problem: what does the audience do during the fights? The classic “compressed” comics before the release of books like Warren Ellis’s The Authority would pack the frame full of interior monologues or dialogue. Superman would punch Solomon Grundy, but he’d be describing the entire process to us. Over the past couple decades, the fight scene has become a form of storytelling itself; the image is something to be awed by, and I am often awed, but I am just as often bored. I mean, it’s a dude punching some other dude. Likewise, our current era of superhero film adaptations are all dragged down to one degree or the other with long scenes of people punching, kicking or shooting each other for extended amounts of time. And, again, I dig it, but I am also often bored. Superheroes are powerful. I get it.
Injustice 2, however, has this beautiful wax and wane that has the exact same pacing as a comic book. Heroes enter scenes, they have goals, villains enter the scene to prevent them from achieving those goals, and then a fight breaks out. The fight resolves, and the process continues. I don’t think anyone would suggest that this is breaking new barriers of storytelling, and the story and the way it is told is in classic comic form, but it works here. I feel like I am playing a comic book, and there’s very few games in the world that scratch that particular itch.
Injustice 2 is also an engaging and solid fighting game. Although I would never suggest that I am some kind of superfan of the genre, I am always down to tinker in a Soulcalibur, Virtua Fighter, or Tekken match or two. Each character seems to have a clear position in the field of characters: Scarecrow is a teleporting, scythe-wielding terror; Supergirl blasts you with laser vision; and Green Arrow does all kinds of tricks with arrows that enemies might not see coming. The story mode gives you a good number of sample matches with about half of the game’s total roster of characters, and the Multiverse mode (a kind of mission-based set of fights you can do with characters of your choosing) gives ample opportunity to tactically try out all the characters you want.
On top of this, Injustice 2 has a character and player leveling system with an additional layer of equipment. You win fights, you get experience, and sometimes you get a drop. It changes the way your character looks, and it also changes their basic stats. To be honest, I didn’t really understand how any of this actually fit into the game, and there were no tutorials or explainers that I saw within the game. It seems that if you’re interested in these aspects, you’ll have to hop online and investigate them yourself.
Ultimately, no matter how much I enjoyed my time with this game and its single player Story and Multiverse modes, the real test of its longevity as a fighting game will be how it shakes down as an online fighting game. In my limited number of matches during the review period, I can say without a doubt that it is clearly a game that rewards mastery and has a lot of depth to it. If you want to spend a couple of dozens of hours getting good with a character and then testing your skills online, this will be a game you can do that with.
As a casual player, no matter how excited I am about the single-player story content for the game and the fight balance for that story, there is an end to how much the game is invested in my enjoyment. I spent a lot of my online match time getting juggled across the stage by players who were infinitely better than I was. And I’m not mad about that, because that’s how they play the game, and it’s what the game is designed for. But it also hammers home that the five hours or so of really excellent enjoyment that I get from playing through the game’s story mode is mostly all that I can get out of it. Much like a comic book, I really enjoyed my time with it, and now I will move onto something else.
However, if any of that seems interesting to you, I would strongly suggest trying this game. It is the lightest possible complaint to say that I had a great time with a videogame, and I have already ordered the PS4 version of the first game to go back and play. I’ve also read the first year of the tie-in comic book to find out more about this weird fork universe of DC Comics. I guess I’m now waiting for Injustice 3 to come out. I need to know what’s up with Swamp Thing and the wild world of a nature worth fighting for.
Injustice 2 was developed by NetherRealm Studios and published by Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment. Our review is based on the PlayStation 4 version. It is also available for Xbox One.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, was released last year. It’s available on Steam.