Sayings become clichés when they are overused -- but sometimes, they actually fit. Take the new fighting game Injustice 2 (available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, iOS, Android), which proves that the third time can sometimes really be the charm. That's because after giving us 2008's Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, which was okay, and 2013's Injustice: Gods Among Us, which was better, the good people at NetherRealm Studios (Mortal Kombat X) have really nailed it with this one.
For those who missed the first game, Injustice 2 is essentially a bloodless version of Mortal Kombat in which such DC Comics superheroes as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn, Green Lantern, The Flash -- as well as their arch enemies -- all join a fight club, with a story driven by a Superman that went dark after being pushed well beyond the brink by The Joker.
As with any fighting game worth its salt, every character in Injustice 2 has their own strengths and weakness, as well as specialized attacks accessible only by hitting just the right combination of buttons. There's also some rather devastating and cinematic moves that really, really hurt. Harley Quinn's, for instance, has her tripping someone, planting dynamite under them, then telling her hyenas to catch them in mid-air, pull them down, and chew on their arms, which only ends when Harley introduces her mallet to their face.
For fans of the comic, the centerpiece will be the game's story mode, which picks up where the previous game left off. Set in an alternate universe from the mainstream DC Universe, our tale begins with High Council Superman defeated, and Batman leading the charge to rebuild society. But just as nature abhors a vacuum, so do bad guys. Enter The Society, a Gorilla Grodd-led cabal of supervillains that includes Captain Cold, Poison Ivy, Reverse-Flash and others. Seeing this, The Caped Crusader and his allies once again take up arms.
In this mode, Injustice 2 plays much like its predecessor. After watching a bit of a story, players engage in a one-on-one fight with another character, with the narrative only progressing if you defeat them. Starting off as Batman (of course), you work your way through Cyborg, Wonder Woman, and others, before moving on as a different member of The Justice League. There are also fights that begin with you having to choose between two characters to play.
What makes this sequel feel fresh (aside from the fact that it's been four years since Injustice: Gods Among Us) is that the game features several new characters, all with their own moves and special attacks. Even the returning favorites have learned a thing or two. There's also new places to hold these fights, which allows for different interactions with the environment. (Well, unless I missed the part in the first one where you could smack someone with a gator.)
That said, while this story may be set in an alternate universe, it's not something you'll likely notice unless you pay close attention to the story. It's not like that original series Star Trek episode where the other version of Spock was a jerk with a goatee -- Green Arrow is still Green Arrow, Black Canary is still Black Canary, and Cheetah is still a villain with a target for Wonder Woman.
The game even features some familiar voices. Kevin Conroy, Susan Eisenberg, Phil Lamar and George Newbern reprise their roles as Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Superman, respectfully, from Justice League and other cartoons, while Khary Peyton does the voice of Cyborg like he does on Teen Titans Go!, though he actually sounds more like he does when he's Ezekiel on The Walking Dead. Even cooler, they got Robert Englund from the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise to be Scarecrow.
While comic book fans will be most engaged by the story mode in Injustice 2, the game also lets you engage in one-off fights with all 27 characters (29 if you buy the two sold separately) in any of the dozen arenas. These fights, like the ones in the story, can also be altered in a variety of ways that include length, number of rounds, and so on. You can also test your skills by battling your way through a progression of enemies in a mode called "The Multiverse," or take on real people in the game's online multiplayer modes, which include private matches as well as ranked battles.
These two latter modes are notable for being where Injustice 2 features its most intriguing new mechanic (well, new to this series, anyway). As you play through the story, "The Multiverse," or online, you level up whatever character you're playing with, while also earning gear that you can then use to customize characters for use online or "The Multiverse." Not only can you improve a character's strength, health, offensive moves, and defense, you can also equip helpful gear as well as special moves, like you do in Call of Duty. There's also some aesthetic options, so you can do a super makeover on your favorite character. Which means that you can make Supergirl as powerful -- or, let's be honest, as silly looking -- as you'd like.
As for how the console and tablet versions of Injustice 2 differ, it's not by as much as you might think. While using the touchscreen doesn't work as well as a controller, and this doesn't have the story mode, just a succession of fights, the former still work well enough to make this both engaging and challenging. Also, because it's free-to-play game, it has microtransactions. And while it's not aggressive about them, it can be a bit silly -- like how the Suicide Squad movie outfit for Harley Quinn costs $45. Thankfully, most are not that expensive, and most stuff can be earned by playing anyway.
While Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe had the novelty of letting us watch Wonder Woman punch Sub-Zero in the face, and Injustice: Gods Among Us was a solid fighting game with really strong people in tights, Injustice 2 is truly a DC Comics fighting game, with all that implies. So much so that even if you're not a big fight fan, but you love the comics, you should definitely check it out.
Injustice 2 is out now for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, iOS and Android.