How super is NetherRealms’ new superhero fighting game, anyway? Two GQ.com writers discuss.
Scott Meslow, GQ.com culture critic: Greetings, fellow hero of GQ.com’s Injustice League. We’ve both spent the past few weeks digging deep into Injustice 2, the long-awaited sequel to my favorite fighting game of the last generation.
For the uninitiated: The Injustice games take place in a hilariously grimdark parallel version of the DC Comics universe, in which the Joker tricks Superman into murdering Lois Lane and setting off a nuclear bomb that wipes out most of Metropolis. Superman murders the Joker, and quickly becomes kind of a reactionary global tyrant in general, and Batman—he of the “never kill anybody ever” philosophy—leads an underground resistance against his Superfriend-turned-despot. This sparks a big fight between all of your favorite DC superheroes and supervillains. Some might even call it a—cough, cough—civil war, with Batman and Superman leading opposing armies, and with the fate of the Earth in the balance.
Injustice 2 picks up a few months after the ending of the original, in which Superman was imprisoned for his crimes. Josh: Were you happy with where Injustice 2 took the story from there?
Joshua Rivera, GQ.com contributor: Oh, we should be clear, Scott: The first Injustice story is not good. I know you suggested that by saying “hilariously grimdark” but it bears repeating, that story is profoundly dumb.
That said, I kind of love it. See, one of the things about a story where superheroes fight each other is justifying why those heroes need to fight each other. They’re heroes! Injustice‘s answer was to give them every reason, and it’s a total mess that is nonetheless a blast to play through.
I didn’t expect much from Injustice 2, but it surprised the hell out of me by being much better while also not being any less ridiculous. It stops being so dire, and instead becomes more comic book—the superhero community is rebuilding after the events of the first game when a straight-up alien invasion strikes Earth, bringing with it all sorts of nutty scenarios. You get your ass beat by Swamp Thing. You have to fight a psychic gorilla. Superman puts on weird headgear. It’s all over the place, and it’s great.
Scott: You neglected to mention that the alien invasion is led by Superman baddie Brainiac, voiced by none other than Re-Animator’s Jeffrey Combs. (And the Scarecrow is voiced by Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund, so there must be some serious horror nerds at NeverRealm Studios.) But you’ve hit on one of the most impressive things about Injustice 2: In the 50-odd fights that make up the story mode campaign (with replayability coming in the form of some branching paths), they keep finding new and sufficiently plausible reasons for these DC Comics icons to kick the shit out of each other. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice needed to find just one reason to pit two superheroes against each other, and it still couldn’t get the job done.
Joshua: Look, we’ve both dragged the DC movie-verse plenty. But Injustice 2 is a perfect example of how you can get a lot of the same things wrong—tonal whiplash, baffling story choices, aggressively bad fashion—and still somehow manage to be fun. Part of it is simply that Injustice 2 has a lot more faith in the inherent appeal of even more obscure characters like Green Arrow and Black Canary (and man, I love Green Arrow and Black Canary in this game) but another part is that its ambitions are far more straightforward, almost methodical: Here are some absurdly powerful characters; what’s an absurdly powerful threat we can throw at them?
“Injustice 2 surprised the hell out of me by being much better than the original while also not being any less ridiculous.”
Of course, its plot is not one I’d want to watch in a movie theater, but I’m after very different things when I’m seeing a movie or playing a fighting game. Injustice 2 stumbles plenty—it’s, frankly, lousy that this game’s Wonder Woman is a tyranny-prone despot in light of the excellent, aspirational character in theaters right now—but Injustice 2 is always aware of what it is. Which is a video game version of smashing together every single toy you can find and shouting shit like the Green Lantern’s Oath.
Scott: I’m glad you brought up Wonder Woman, because she’s probably the most ill-treated character in the entire game. Injustice 2 is saddled with the Wonder Woman baggage from the first game. In this universe, she’s the despotic Superman’s ex-lover, and his most devoted lieutenant—but her only real purpose in this game is to mislead Kara Zor-El, a.k.a. Supergirl, who serves as the closest thing Injustice 2 has to a female lead.
Fortunately, Wonder Woman is the exception to the rule. Injustice 2 includes a total of 28 playable characters, and most of them get at least a few big moments to shine. You’ve got your big-name favorites, of course (Batman figures most prominently, alongside a huge rogues gallery that includes the Joker, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn.) But you’ve also got a bunch of lesser-known weirdos like Atrocitus, an alien with a magic cat, and Doctor Fate, a dimension-hopping sorcerer with a magic helmet. And not to belabor the point, but Swamp Thing! Swamp Thing is in this game!
Joshua: Um, excuse you, Scott. Atrocitus is a Red Lantern. Like a Green Lantern, but powered by SO MUCH RAGE their blood literally boils. They’re like the comic book version of alt-right internet trolls; they probably yell “Snowflake” all the time.
Scott: But that’s exactly what’s so great about this game! Injustice 2 gave me exactly as much information as I needed to appreciate the presence a cranky alien with a cat before it threw me into a battle with him. And if I end up liking Atrocitus enough that I pick up a Green Lantern comic to learn more about him… well, that’s exactly the kind of gateway drug to the DC Comics universe that Injustice 2 implicitly encourages.
But we’ve talked enough about the plot and the characters. Let’s get into the fighting mechanics.
Joshua: I like that these games make me feel cool without expecting me to be real good, you know? These characters all move and feel like super heroes, powerful and unique and ridiculous all at once. Also the Super Moves, which are ridiculously easy to pull off (you just pull two triggers at the same time when your super meter is full) and your character just does the most ridiculous nonsense.
Like, Batman straps a damn skyhook to his opponent, has the Batplane yank them off the ground, flies in front of the moon for the money shot, and then cuts the poor sap tied to it loose, chasing them back down with gunfire and rockets. It’s absurd. I’ve done it at least 183 times. I’m never gonna stop.
Scott: If we’re talking super-moves, I’m gonna give it to the Flash, who picks up his rival and runs so fast that they end up traveling millions of years into the past, where he smashes their head into the side of a dang dinosaur. Intense.
But whichever character you like best—I’m mostly playing as Catwoman, come at me—Injustice 2 hits the sweet spot every fighting game should aim for. There’s plenty of depth, but not so much depth that an Injustice newbie couldn’t just pick up a controller and do a bunch of cool shit by mashing buttons. And the story mode is the ideal introduction to the larger game, because it lets you control pretty much everybody for at least a few rounds. By the time the credits roll, you’ll have a pretty good idea about which character you want to focus on leveling up.
And that leads to my one lingering question about this game: the long-term replayability. I tore through the story mode (and unlocked some pretty insane gear for a bunch of the superheroes)—but I’ve barely dipped into all the online features, which look almost intimidatingly robust. We’ve had a blast with Injustice 2 over the past few weeks—but do you think we’ll still be playing it a few months from now?
Fighting games, like racing games, are often palate cleansers for me. They’re not really what I turn to when I’m looking for a ride-or-die, you know? That said, Injustice 2 makes a strong case for it staying in the rotation: There’s all this gear to find and try on to tweak every character’s look and stats, like a superhero version of Project: Runway except with lasers and fistfights. (Note to self: Find out if the actual Project: Runway includes lasers and fistfights.) It’s a level of personalization that’s both extreme for fighting games and exactly my jam, because even in video games, I’m always looking for fresh new looks.
I, however, also have little intention of playing online any longer than it takes to definitively own you, preferably with Blue Beetle.
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