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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Injustice 2 - Video Game Spotlight

            Way back in 2008 Midway Games partnered with a then relatively new Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment Division to bring people Mortal Kombat V.S. DC Universe; a game that was ultimately a critical and commercial success but is one that fans…. don’t particularly care to talk about these days.  Then in 2010, Midway sadly went bankrupt and the rights to the Mortal Kombat franchise along with the Midway division in Chicago ended up in Warner Brothers’ hands with the team renaming itself NetherRealm Studios.  Not long after the team went about revitalizing their iconic franchise with Mortal Kombat (2011) and Mortal Kombat X which were both critical and commercial successes and being the kind of return to form that the franchise had desperately needed after several mediocre installments. 
In-between these installments, however, creative director Ed Boon and company were given the task of creating a DC Universe fighting game.  The result of these efforts was the 2013 game, Injustice: Gods Among Us and was an overall solid game.  It featured a decent story, solid gameplay mechanics and really made you feel as if you were playing as one of these characters.  And now, four years later we have a follow up to that immensely satisfying game in the form of Injustice 2 which once again delivers on the goods.  Even if it the execution is a little janky at times and contains more than a few elements that are extremely problematic.
The story picks up five years after the events of the previous game.  Superman, Cyborg and Nightwing are still locked up, Wonder Woman and Black Adam are missing and Batman is attempting to rebuild the world while trying to fight off a new criminal organization known as The Society under the command of Gorilla Grodd.  Not long into the game, however, it is revealed that he is under the command of Brainiac who is searching for the last Kryptonians who escaped his planet destroying attack on Krypton several decades earlier.  In order to prevent this same fate from befalling earth, Batman reluctantly releases and teams up with Superman and the rest of the Regime members in order to take down this new threat.
The problem with many DC properties of late is that outside of the comics the company often suffers from having otherwise great premises undercut by questionable execution.  If you need any further evidence of that, you need only look at the critical and box office receptions of Man of Steel, Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad and just how divided both fans of the franchise and general movie goers are whenever the subject comes up.  And unfortunately, when one takes a good hard look at Injustice 2, you realize that the game is no exception to that.  The game’s first major problem is that the story is very poorly paced with a campaign that felt like it should have taken twelve hours that was instead compressed into a six-hour experience.  Entire character arcs are often resolved in about thirty minutes in a single chapter with the plot often bending over backwards to include as many fights as it can regardless if they are needed or not.
          The best example of all of this comes in the middle of the game with the Green Lantern’s chapter/story arc.  If you’ll recall, the character had obtained a Yellow Ring sometime before the events of the first game and was very much in favor of Superman’s Regime.  By the time the game begins, Hal has regained his Green Ring and drops out of the sky seemingly out of nowhere at the end of The Flash’s story claiming that he wants to help save the Earth from Brainiac.  Batman basically tells him to piss off to which Hal responds that he simply here to help and Batman says “Okay, you’re in!” and the issue is never brought up again.  Then later in the chapter, Hal has to go to Atlantis to convince Aquaman to help fight Brainiac.  Then, quite literally out of nowhere, the Red Lantern Atrocious just appears in Atlantis and attempts to forcibly make Hal a Red Lantern as he is full of rage at all the injustices that have been committed by the Regime and Brainiac.  Hal ultimately resists, resulting in a fight and Atrocious’ defeat, the completion of his story arc and reaffirming his loyalty to the Green Lantern Corps and his role as a hero.  And this all happens in about thirty-five minutes worth of gameplay and cut scenes in a single chapter as opposed to say being a game long arc for the character.  One moment Hal is in Atlantis talking to Aquaman and the next Atrocious is influencing him and trying to turn him evil.  It is the very definition of poorly paced and is something that that happens with just about every character in the game, making for a mostly unsatisfying narrative experience.
          The one area where the plot has significantly more success, however is when it focuses in on Batman and Superman and the ideologies that so painfully divide them.  You see anyone who has ever read a comic featuring the two could easily tell you that the two are best friends and while their methods and means are different the two are just trying to make the world a better place.  Unfortunately, ever since the debut of The Dark Knight Returns, nerd culture has had this strange obsession with pitting the Man of Steel against the Caped Crusader be physical or philosophical and has garnered mixed results in those thirty years.  This video game, however, manages to get this right because of the inclusion of one critical component; tragedy.  The game is one that acknowledges that the two were once friends and are, in their hearts, heroes who are both doing what they feel is best for the world.  Unfortunately they are divided by philosophies that are as different as night and day and you feel the full weight of pain that the two go through whenever these differences come up.
          The voice work in the game is also something of a mixed bag.  You have voice actors who are always reliable like Kevin Conroy and Steve Blum but the rest of the cast can’t help but seem a bit off.  Jeffery Combs, for example, is a great actor but he seems a bit miscast as the voice of one of the universe’s ultimate evils with a voice and tone that seems more at home as a groveling henchman rather than a boss.  The rest of the cast’s voice work is a bit off as well.  It’s not bad by any means but it often feels as if they should have done another take or two to get the delivery just right.  Again, it’s not terrible but it really takes you out of it when Superman dramatically shouts “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” and it’s obvious that the voice actor wasn’t completely invested in the line on that take.
The rest of the game’s content is also something that I cannot help but have mixed feelings on.  The core gameplay itself is solid fighter game fare.  You have your heavies who are all about power and durability, lights who are all about speed and mobility and mediums who are mix of both and gives the game a nice playing deck.  The various characters and move sets are great and makes you feel as if you are these characters and is a great time for both casual gamers as well as hardcore fighter tournament goers.  The problem, however, lays in the rest of the game’s content.
There are no traditional single player tournament options to be found and its absence makes the game feel as if 70% of its content and gameplay time are simply missing.  Instead we have the Multiverse mode that gives us a number of opponents to fight in order to complete some supposed story driven objective.  The problem, however is that it never really amounts to anything.  You have a number of fighters that you have to grind your way through along with a few additional challenges thrown in to shake up and that’s about it.  Unlike the tournament modes of previous NetherRealm games, completing these modes offers no real satisfaction.  The storylines that are hinted at have no end cutscenes or anything that gives you a sense of completion for these parallel world crisis events making the whole thing feel like a grind mode for the sake of being a grind mode.  Then you take the game’s “loot” system into account and the whole thing gets so much worse.
          One thing that the game does that is truly innovative for the studio is allow the customization of your own characters.  For going through the various multiverse crisis’ you are rewarded with Mother Boxes which unlock into loot in the form of customizable gear for your character that allows you to customize their looks as well giving boosts to their strength, endurance, etc.  The problem is that the only way to get these items is to either grind through this endless multiverse system or buy these “Source Crystals” with real money to avoid the grinding.  To make matters worse, even these Source Crystals don’t guarantee you any decent gear as even these are as random as the gear you get from the Mother Boxes and is part of the infuriating microtransaction culture that the AAA gaming industry can’t seem to let go of.  With this particular game, however, I find it especially despicable and have actually found my entire experience ruined by it.
          Ever since the Midway Chicago team found its way into Warner Brothers’ hands every game the company has produced, regardless of how good, has been guilty of all the things that the AAA gaming industry has been of over the past few years but in these latest two games, the company has been guilty of some pretty vile crap.  Moral Kombat X featured a ridiculous array of microtransactions that allowed for the buying of coins that would unlock features in something called the Krypt that mostly amounted to concept art as well as “Easy Fatalities”.  That alone was annoying and insulting but like most other AAA games that feature microtransactions it was, at the very least, ignorable.  Unfortunately, what NetherRealm and Warner Brothers have done here is effectively create a “Pay to Win” system within this game.  Despite the fact that the game is still one of skill, spending real money on these Source Crystals gives players an actual edge over others by effectively allowing them to pay for items that will give them a leg up over other players, regardless of how great that advantage might be.  It is a poison that has infected the industry and has completely tainted this game and ruined the online aspect of it for me.
Now I know that there are going to be people who are going to defend this aspect of the game.  They’re going to tell me that it doesn’t give players THAT big of an edge or that it’s still a game of skill.  Or that the Crystals are random so there really isn’t an advantage to be had.  Or that I could simply go through the Multiverse mechanic and that the payment option is just that; an option.  Or I could just play with others who make it a rule not to use the gear.  And you just might be right in some of these regards.  I will openly admit that I am not the biggest fan of fighting games and the edges that I apparently experienced with this game may have been something of a placebo effect.  But the fact remains that this kind of system, effective or not, should NEVER, I repeat, NEVER, be included in a $60 game.  Free to play, online games I somewhat understand.  The people who run these kinds of games are constantly maintaining servers, creating new content for their communities and often lack any major publisher backing.  They have to make their living somehow and microtransactions may be the only route for that.  But a AAA game with the backing of a major multimedia, billion dollar corporation behind it charging a full retail price?  That’s unacceptable.  It simply shows a complete and utter contempt for their consumers and makes it clear that the people in charge are simply greedy and will try and take us for all we are worth if given the chance and deliver products that are of significantly lower quality whenever possible.

In the end the game is a mixed experience.  The fighting system is solid and it really does feel like you’re playing as these characters.  If that’s all you’re looking for you will get your money’s worth.  But the content in general seems to have been stripped when compared to NetherRealm’s previous products and the microtransaction system the game has employed is simply disgusting and I cannot give the game a wholehearted recommendation because of it.  It is a solid game and if you’re a DC fan I guarantee that you’ll enjoy it.  But if you do buy it, I beg of you, do not, I repeat, DO NOT, give into the microtransaction system.  Even if they do pop up in games that we enjoy we need to make it clear to companies that this stuff will not stand.  Again, it is a good game and is a lot of fun but we need to make it clear to NetherRealm and Warner Brothers that this is something that will not work and will be met with extreme backlash.  Vote with your wallets people.  But for me, this has forever tainted the game and it’s going the be hard for me to ever look at a NetherRealm game the same way again.  

All Around
6/10

(Consider it a 7 if you take out the microtransactions)



           So until next time, please Like the Nerd Hub Facebook Page, check out The Nerd Hub Facebook groupFollow us on Twitter and be sure to check out my own personal blog, Trey’s Take On…as well as giving my Facebook Page a Like, checking out my new Patreon Page and checking me out on Twitter.  Until then...I really don't have a snarky closing line.  The whole microtransaction thing kind of bummed me out.

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