What happens when a really good superhero takes a really bad turn?
That was the premise of the game Injustice: Gods Among Us—the first of the Injustice franchise. In that alt-universe romp, the Joker moved his brand of deadly insanity over to Metropolis and tricked Superman into setting off a nuke and killing a pregnant Lois Lane. The true-blue hero subsequently snapped, offing the Joker in a fit of retaliatory rage with a fist through that iconic villain’s chest. Then the Man of Steel established an authoritarian organization of supes who were more than ready to put an end to crime around the world—by putting a definitive end to all criminals, or anyone who disagreed with Superman’s iron-fisted approach.
Yep, not such a super solution.
With a bit of effort, Batman and a gaggle of still-upright good guys were able to stop the killing, beat Superman, and send his super-powered allies running for cover. Injustice 2 propels this narrative to its next chapter.
It’s five years later. Superman is locked up and powerless under a red sun ray, and his compatriots are still in hiding. While Batman is trying to get things back to normal, new threats arise. Gorilla Grodd has pulled together a group of baddies called The Society, for one thing. While that Earth-bound menace is bad enough, the danger hovering above the planet is worse. None other than Brainiac—that über-powered, extraterrestrial gatherer of knowledge—has swooped in to claim the imprisoned Kryptonian and his cousin, Supergirl.
And, well, to destroy anything else he doesn’t find of particular value.
That storyline makes for an interesting single-player campaign. But the truth is, all that twisting, turning, multiverse drama is really just a way to set up the game’s fight-focused action. Whether you’re excited to save the day or you just want to jump into the ring and slug it out, you quickly realize that Injustice 2‘s real focus is a more like a series of one-on-one Mortal Kombat-style beat-’em-ups.
Players get to see what might happen if you could pit the likes of Wonder Woman against Captain Cold, or Batman against The Flash, or nearly any other DC super matchup you can imagine. And then you determine whose moves and skill sets will prevail.
On that bam, bash and blowup front, the game is impressively flexible. Fighting-game novices can get by on the easy setting with the main attack buttons and an occasional bumper-linked throw move. But for the more seasoned crowd, there are layers of combos, blocks, feints, bounce cancels, roll escapes and all manner of other moves to master.
Each hero gets his or her own specialty moves and character buffs, too. Wonder Woman can, for example, call upon various Greek gods to receive certain battle boosts. A call out to Athena pumps up her shield attack and Hermes gives her the ability to air-dash. Meanwhile, Batman has explosive batarangs and can call upon his batwing flying overhead for a little help softening up seemingly invulnerable opponents.
With some practice, gamers will be bashing foes with scenery objects, slipping away from major attacks and knocking their adversaries outside the arena in laugh-out-loud, over-the-top onslaughts. It’s darkly humorous, for example, to see the Flash grab a brawler by the collar and run so fast with them that they slam into various unexpected objects down through history.
When you toss two people into a ring who can both punch a hole in the moon, however, it does potentially open the door to destruction and mayhem.
You won’t find finishing moves involving ripped out spines or beating hearts plucked out of chests (à la the Mortal Kombat comparison I mentioned above). But players do see “brutal-lite” spurts of blood after certain percussive blows. Likewise, some cutscene animations show characters (some dressed in skin-tight spandex) swallowed by sharp-toothed whales, blasted by missiles, hit with poison fumes, struck by lightning, impaled by a sword, repeatedly shot at close range, hit upside the head with a crowbar … well, everything but tossed into a KitchenAid blender. (And who knows, that might be in the mix, too.)
Along with that splash of battling violence, in-story moments can get pretty ferocious and dark, too. We see one particular baddie beaten down and stabbed to death by Aquaman’s trident, for instance. Elsewhere, torture-like situations get pretty bad, too—something we’d likely be seeing a lot more of in this alternate DC universe if Batman wasn’t working hard to restrain these heroes gone bad.
Of course, that hero-with-a-dark-side edginess is the sort of stuff that can unfold when you take enduring comic book icons of good and tweak their character to the point of villainy. They can walk close to or even cross over a murderous line. They can use rough-edged language (including a few s-words, “d–n,” “h—” and “a–“).
We’ve seen that trend at the movies. We’ve seen it in the comics. And now we’re seeing it in video games, too. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to see it in your family room.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.