Injustice 2 is a responsive, fun, meaty fighting game, which is what we probably all expected from it. But I did not expect that this game, more than any other yet, would make me think 'Oh, right. This is what games can do now.' People will play Injustice 2 and say that it looks very good for a fighting game, and they will be wrong. Injustice 2 does not look very good for a fighting game. It looks very good for any game.
Injustice 2 has a very cinematic, very detailed single player story that could be cut up into a limited run DC TV series on Netflix. Some cutscenes are long enough that you can sit enjoying your cup of tea as The Flash and Green Lantern shout at each other a bit. And they look fucking great as they do it. Things like gorgeous snowy backdrops are all well and good, but the real test is faces. Most of us have only a vague idea of what a mountain looks like from watching Planet Earth, so when a game renders a mountain we're happy enough if it's the right triangular-ish shape, and the snow is a bit sparkly from the sun.
But we look at faces all the time, every day, so we know instinctively when they're wrong. The motion capture in Injustice 2 means the cinematics are so good I didn't get any uncanny valley feeling at all, and I get it from looking at twins in real life. In Injustice 2, Harley Quinn, if she's in the background of a shot, will still be chewing bubblegum and watching her teammates with wide eyes, and characters like Wonder Woman and Green Lantern march around the fight stages, heads held high with airs of infuriating nobility.
All 28 characters on the Injustice 2 roster feel distinct, not only because they emote like people and have their own outfits, but because they all move and handle entirely differently. Even characters who are notionally quite similar, like the claw-swiping feline-themed Catwoman and, er, the claw-swiping feline-themed Cheetah, have idiosyncrasies that make them wholly different beasts — both to play and to fight. You can quickly identify characters you like the feel of and the ones you don't (I prefer faster hitters like Harley or Green Arrow; the slightly slower fighters, like perennial favourite and frontman Batman, don't do it for me).
While I don't own a fightstick, I did grow up with Mortal Kombat games, and I played the first Injustice, so I have a grounding in NetherRealm. As one would expect, the controls for Injustice 2 are very responsive and the action is fast, though I still find the inputs are more technical than comparable games like Street Fighter. Button mashing in Injustice 2 is less likely to be rewarded with accidentally doing a cool combo than it is getting thrown through the wall. It's not as accessible as other fighters, but the flip side is the sense of achievement when you win is just that little bit greater. I, battling against not only the odds but also my own idiot thumbs, managed to best Superman himself.
Not that there isn't room for some accessibility: there is a basic tutorial, inputs are similar-ish across characters, and some moves, like the throw or each character's super, are universal and take literally the push of a button. But there are still complex ways for pros to layer tactics, like the Clash, a mechanic you can trigger once per match where you wager blocks of your special meter against your opponent's. It can really turn the tide of the match, as the winner gets a chunk of health back. For really serious matches you can turn off the buffs from gear to strip it back to just you, the controller, and your relative skills — with minimal interruption from poor connection, as far as my own online games went.
The gear system is new to Injustice 2. You can change the cosmetic look of your heroes, as well as tweaking their stats, by changing specifics on their loadout (chest, arms, weapon and so on), which can be fun to drill into if you want to. Alongside that is the Multiverse, continually updating challenges that allow you to level different characters and earn more loot drops. The microtransaction and loot system, however, becomes needlessly complex, with several different types of currency to keep tabs on — it's easy enough to ignore if you're not fussed, but you can imagine players continually grinding for drops rather than having fun with it.
Because Injustice 2 is an incredible amount of fun. And it should be! It's a superhero brawler! It's classic comic book multiverse silliness. Smashing a talking Gorilla in armour into the scenery is indescribably rewarding, and Superman and Batman throwing each other through buildings evokes the least annoying bits of the Zack Snyder films. Even if you know rack all about DC or Injustice then you can get the general gist of things quite easily: superhumans; betrayal; hitting each other; mild-to-strong use of lightning. A lady dressed as a cat uses a motorbike as an offensive weapon, that's got to be interesting no matter who you are.
And it's the little touches that really elevate it: Harley Quinn blowing bubbles, or Swamp Thing's duck being him sinking two foot into the ground. Like Injustice before it, Injustice 2 has obviously been developed with a great love of the source material. So yeah, the Flash is very fast, but he also taunts his enemies by dashing off and returning with a hot dog. Aquaman, brandishing his trident, might shout 'Stick a fork in you, you're done!' That line alone makes it a GOTY contender, to be honest.
Version tested: PS4