Injustice 2 Loves These Dumb, Costumed Superheroes as Much as You Did as a Kid
Do you ever get that feeling when you’re watching or playing a piece of media that everything that’s going on is both incredibly stupid and kind of weirdly brilliant? Like the writers were just throwing stuff onto a wall, but then also closely examined that wall with the finest equipment readily available? That’s the feeling I got from the story mode of the game of the week, Injustice 2: it’s smart, and also really, really dumb, but without being all that distracting.
To be clear here, when I say dumb, I mean this in the nicest way possible. On surface, it’s pretty much what it looks like — a fighting game wherein the various heroes and villains of the DC universe all punch each other to submission — but there’s also something lying at the heart of it that gives it that extra depth. For some players, it’s going to be the well known Gear system that allows you to dress every fighter up in a different way to your liking, but even that’s rooted in the sheer appreciation for the characters that this universe has and the machinations the plot has them go through.
Our plot, in case you’ve been unaware, is that years after Superman has been imprisoned for ruling the earth under a fascist Regime, Batman and his friends have been hard at work putting the world back together into relative normalcy. The complications arise when Brainiac comes to Earth looking to collect the most important parts of the planet and eradicate both Superman and his cousin Supergirl, who’s been living in hiding with the Regime for years building her powers to break her cousin out. Everything through the game’s dozen chapters plays out roughly like a company wide event comic that would play out across multiple books for months to come.
Fortunately, it avoids the problems of those comics by giving mostly every character in the roster their time to shine, either through ample screentime or moments appropriate to their character. It’s consistently engaging throughout, and backed up by a voice cast that knows how to deliver their lines and have some fun with the madness the story puts them through. Fun is really the operative word here; even though everything that’s going on is very serious, it doesn’t get up its own ass.
In some ways, Injustice 2’s story keeps hold of brilliance by being constantly aware that it’s a fighting game. The “fight one character, then another” approach to storytelling from the first game continues, but there are several chapters in the game where you do get to pick which of two characters to play as. (You’re given a brief window of opportunity to make a choice before the game makes it for you.) There’s even something close to self awareness at play, with characters acknowledging that the fighting is just something that they have to do because of the different ideological stances they’ve taken over the years and it’s impossible to go back.
And that’s the thing about Injustice 2 and the entire alternate universe it’s a part of: beyond all the fighting and punching, it’s still about the characters, and it isn’t afraid to just let them have the spotlight. So if this allows for Harley Quinn to finally shed off Joker’s looming shadow by beating the hell out of a Fear Toxin-induced hallucination of him, then that’s what happens. Or if this means that Blue Beetle and Firestorm get a fun kid brother dynamic through their shared chapter, and the story helps them both become full-fledged heroes in their own right, then that happens too.
Mocking as this may sound, Injustice 2’s story can best be described as fan fiction. That may sound redundant, given that pretty much all comic books have become fanfic after they’ve been written and drawn by people that aren’t their creators, but Netherrealm’s take on the DC superheroes really does hit that line more than most comics these days. The cast of characters on hand covers the typically big name characters such as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Flash; characters made famous from outside media such as Blue Beetle, Supergirl, and Captain Cold; and ones rising to more and more prominence like Doctor Fate and Swamp Thing. It feels as though someone just picked all the characters they liked from recent DC media and threw them all into a scenario where they can all bounce off one another, like they’re all just action figures to play with.
Frankly, treating these characters like they’re action figures works heavily in Injustice 2’s favor. Not only does it allow for some Super moves that manage to defy all sense of logic while being entertaining to watch, it allows for small little touches to shine through. Upon choosing your two fighters, they’ll both hit each other rather childishly (Flash+anyone=him slapping them hard they recoil in slow motion). The pre-match character banter is gold, no matter which two characters you pick and is sure to get some laughs out of you. And then there’s the victory poses, which end up looking like comic book covers and give the game a dash of personality that helped bolster Overwatch’s popularity among fans over the last year.
When the first Injustice arrived on scene, it was admittedly a rough start, what with its inciting incident involving fridging beloved character Lois Lane and having the Man of Steel do some truly abhorrent things. (Not helping in its favor was coming out just a few months before Man of Steel, which gained tons of flak for not being true to Superman.) The comics have helped the series shake off most of that stigma, and with it gone, it’s allowed for the series to go all out and take its various characters in directions that are surprising and adhering to what we know of them. Netherrealm may be doing it in a different way as opposed to DC’s current Rebirth line of books, but they certainly love this property, and it comes across in every pixel and panel.