Yahtzee reviews Injustice 2.
I think it's fair to say that the DC Comics universe and its various adaptations could stand to take itself a touch less seriously. "Oh, it's easy to be an armchair cinematographer, isn't it?", snarks Johnny DC in reply. "You try getting in a cheery mood when you feel the need to break $400 million on opening weekend or your executives will have to take a pay cut and cause the collapse of the local pool-cleaning industry!" I'm just saying, Johnny DC, that Superman and Batman crying in the rain smashing each other's faces in and talking like pro wrestlers with mouthfuls of cat litter might be drifting somewhat from the essence of those characters, that is to say, power fantasies for little boys who don't want to tidy their rooms. But here's Injustice 2 anyway, another team-up between the DC universe and NetherRealm, the Mortal Kombat people; although DC shouldn't feel special, because the last Mortal Kombat game ended up crossing over with Alien, Predator, Jason Voorhees, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and basically everyone that ever replied to their emails. So I'd advise DC to get themselves down to Clap Clinic once they get back from their honeymoon.
Still, as I believe I said last time, the one-on-one fighting game and the superhero comics universe are a natural combo, as both are concerned with larger-than-life characters beating the snot out of each other for one incredibly-contrived reason after another. The broad incredibly-contrived reason running through the Injustice property is a falling-out between Batman and Superman over whether or not killing people is good. Batman takes the position that killing is the uncrossable line at which all negotiation breaks down and vigilance gives way to tyranny, while Superman takes the position that "Wah, wah, I'm really sad and cross, and I'm not going to tidy my room, so there!"
After the events of the first game, Superman is in super-prison until he jolly well does tidy his room, young man; Batman's trying to rebuild the world, Supergirl has turned up and is being misled by Wonder Woman, who had precisely none of Superman's motivation to turn evil, but did so anyway with about twice the gusto (because that's what happens when you let those slimy girls into the treehouse club, isn't it, lads?), and to this big ball of nonsense comes a new threat in the form of Brainiac, planet-destroying one-man Borg Collective and classic Superman villain, named presumably by someone who assumed they were writing an escapist fantasy for little boys and not a gritty, apocalyptic horror epic.
Injustice 2 takes a stark, realistic art style that makes the main cast resemble a bunch of mums and dads escorting their kids to the cosplay convention and getting a little bit too into it. The highly realistic faces are breakfasting at the ski lodge overlooking the uncanny valley, especially when Black Canary does her screaming attack and she looks more like she stubbed her toe on a coffee table. But hey, all the realistic graphics in the world would go to waste the instance the fight actually starts and the two characters start boinging back and forth like a pair of hyperactive grasshoppers playing British Bulldog.
And yet the obvious effort that went into making things look arse-achingly authentic is contrasted against a distinct lack of effort everywhere else; it's obvious that they've simply taken the basic skeleton of Mortal Kombat X and slotted different characters in. It uses the exact same pre-fight banter script: Character A says banter, Character B says response banter, Character A gets offended, commence hyperactive grasshopper business. Same camera angles, same elaborate animations every time. Gorilla Grodd always produces a skull and crushes it when delivering banter line 3. Where is he getting all these skulls from? Is there a little off-screen monkey slave with a big bag of the fuckers?
Also, I wonder if some of the choices of D-list character additions might have been affected by what assets NetherRealm already had lying around. We had Killer Frost last time and now Captain Cold, I suspect because they'd already made a load of ice effects for Sub-Zero in the last Mortal Kombat game, who, incidentally, is also getting added to this game as DLC, which is an act of supreme redundancy; that is, at best, putting a cherry on top of another cherry that already had a cherry on it. I worry this sort of thing is going to turn into what Guitar Hero turned into, but with characters instead of songs. If you're just going to use basically the same bloody framework every time, why even bother making entirely new games when you can just keep adding downloadable characters to the existing ones? That's pretty much how M.U.G.E.N works. Perhaps I should keep my ideas to myself, because I can faintly hear the sound of Warner Brothers executives hyperventilating.
I'm still not a big fan of actually playing fighting games; it's for twitchy people who like inputting stupidly complex button combinations in very short notice, like a jazz pianist on meth. Tutorial doesn't help; still got no idea what the fuck a "bounce cancel" is, unless it's a sure-fire way to disappoint a children's party. I would think these five-minute-long super-moves would break up the game flow rather drastically; maybe fighting game fans appreciate having a little time-out to sip their Coke and reset all their finger bones.
But you know what? I've come to appreciate fighting games as a sort of bare-bones exploration of characters. My favourite Batman villain is Scarecrow. Don't know why; maybe 'cos his bits were the highlight of both Arkham Asylum and Batman Begins, maybe 'cos I bet no one ever gets all up in his grill for not liking Smash Bros. enough, but I admit, I got a kick out of playing as him in this game and going through his Tower Mode to the ending. Of course, before I could do that, I had to find the Tower Mode, and they don't make that easy; it's buried right in the bottom of Multiverse Mode like a furtively-stashed porn mag under a mattress. Multiverse Mode, incidentally, is the method by which the game stacks up six or seven random, unrelated fights and pretends you're achieving something; it's the long-sought-after missing link between gaming and data entry.
The other main new feature is gear drops: crack open your hard-earned loot boxes and you'll be rewarded with a glove, a pocket square, and a sweatband for Dullard Woman and Captain Never-Used, which ups their flouncing ability by .1%. This loot crate shit is an indictment of the times, especially since it's always so bloody successful. But it's not like unlocking a fun alternative costume where the Joker looks like how he looked in landmark issue 537 of Flouncy Comics. Most of the gear does very little to change the overall look of a character; most of Superman's torso is just a hundred variations on a theme of, "blue jumper with lines on it".
So in terms of what I want out of a fighting game, Injustice 2 is cloyingly-stupid. Watching the story mode and its increasingly-contrived setups for a conveyor belt of fights in the same six or seven locations is like watching a school play with an irresponsibly-extravagant budget. And incidentally, did everyone just forget that normal humans can't beat up super-humans on equal footing, or is that one of those things we weren't supposed to notice? But you know what? Injustice 2 is like a puppy chewing a fire extinguisher - charming in its stupidity, but I'd rather watch it on YouTube than have it in my house.
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