In­jus­tice 2

EDGE - - GAMES -

PS4, Xbox One

There’s a rea­son fight­ing games don’t tend to have loot sys­tems, yet In­jus­tice 2’ s im­ple­men­ta­tion of the ran­domised gear grind is more ef­fec­tive than we’d ex­pected. Still, go­ing in, we won­dered in which di­rec­tion the scales would tip. Make gear too pow­er­ful, and you ruin the vi­tal even bal­ance on which a game in this genre lives or dies. But tone it down too much and it might as well not ex­ist. For the most part, In­jus­tice 2 leans more to­wards the lat­ter, but makes up for it in sheer vol­ume. Ev­ery match, whether on­line or off, won or lost, ends with a chance at some loot, though you’ll leave with­out a drop more of­ten than not. Com­plet­ing mis­sions and chal­lenges sees you re­warded with spe­cific gear pieces, loot boxes or both, the lat­ter of which can con­tain up to four po­ten­tial new toys. It’s sus­pi­ciously gen­er­ous early on, fling­ing gear and loot boxes at you with aban­don; this, surely, is just the first-hit-free method­ol­ogy of a free-to-play game, whose tor­rent will soon slow to a trickle. But it isn’t, and it doesn’t.

In fair­ness, it can’t, ei­ther. While a menu op­tion gen­tly weights loot drops in favour of the char­ac­ter you’re play­ing as, this is a game com­prised of 28 heroes and vil­lains, each with eight gear slots to fill. As such, if it’s go­ing to be any­thing ap­proach­ing sat­is­fy­ing there is go­ing to need to be loot, and lots of it. So it proves, though it’ll be some hours be­fore you feel like you’re ac­tu­ally get­ting any­thing use­ful. Early on you’re look­ing at, say, a three-point in­crease to a stat with a base level of over 1,000. The oc­ca­sional Epic drop will of­fer a boost to mul­ti­ple cat­e­gories at once, and hint at what awaits later on. By the time you hit the level cap of 20, your base stats will be around 2,000, and gear pieces can boost those by over 300. It’s not purely about raw power – some bonuses af­fect XP or cur­rency ac­crual, mit­i­gate cer­tain types of in­com­ing dam­age, or re­ward cer­tain be­hav­iours, such as not jump­ing. But ef­fects are mi­nor, and of­fer lit­tle to truly quicken the pulse. Dozens of hours later, with a hand­ful of char­ac­ters at max level, we’re still yet to re­ceive a sin­gle piece of gear that has felt trans­for­ma­tive, or any­thing like it.

Ex­pect­ing game-break­ing loot drops from a ver­sus fight­ing game is a fool’s er­rand, per­haps – but what is most strik­ing about In­jus­tice 2 is the ex­tent to which you can avoid hu­man com­pe­ti­tion al­to­gether. In the Nether­realm tra­di­tion, the three-hour cin­e­matic story mode is an ab­so­lute treat: as in the first game, the cheery comic-book set­ting is a much finer fit for the tem­plate than the gloomy brutish­ness of Mor­tal

Kom­bat, and a new op­tion to choose be­tween two fight­ers in cer­tain chap­ters is a fine ad­di­tion. While we still can’t quite get our heads around Nether­realm’s bat­tle an­i­ma­tions, its fa­cial mod­el­ling is al­most be­yond re­proach, lend­ing a much-needed air of be­liev­abil­ity to its Satur­day-morn­ing tale of peo­ple with su­per­pow­ers duff­ing each other up. If you’ve played a few fight­ing games, your nat­u­ral in­stinct af­ter the cam­paign’s cred­its have rolled will be to head on­line. Don’t. The Mul­ti­verse is In­jus­tice 2’ s beat­ing heart, its true sin­gle­player mode, its the­o­ret­i­cally in­fi­nite endgame. The prob­lem with Nether­realm’s story cam­paigns is that you’re never given enough time with a sin­gle char­ac­ter to learn them prop­erly, but here you’re given all the time you need, free to take the fighter of your choice through a ro­tat­ing, time-lim­ited and of­ten themed suc­ces­sion of bat­tles. Here es­pe­cially, it rains re­wards: matches are over quickly, com­ple­tion of each set coughs up a loot box or two, and chal­lenges – land a num­ber of su­per moves, for in­stance – yield fur­ther re­wards when com­pleted. The re­sult is un­heard of in the fight­ing-game genre: a game that of­fers the sin­gle player some­thing new to do, and re­wards for do­ing it, ev­ery time they load it up.

That, com­bined with the one-more-go hook of the loot pur­suit, makes In­jus­tice 2 ter­rif­i­cally dif­fi­cult to put down. It’s full of va­ri­ety, too: in most fight­ing games we learn one char­ac­ter and stick with them un­til the point of ei­ther mas­tery or bore­dom, yet here we’re mak­ing eyes at the rest of the cast as soon as a war­rior hits the level cap. Af­ter max­ing out Su­per­girl, we headed to the in­ven­tory to see which char­ac­ter had amassed the most gear. It was Bane – so he be­came our next project.

It’s not all plain sail­ing, how­ever. Some Mul­ti­verse chal­lenges are tweaked by mod­i­fiers that have seem­ingly been de­signed to an­noy, rather than en­thral. The game changes speed; lights go off briefly ev­ery few sec­onds; ord­nance rains down to in­ter­rupt your com­bos. Per­haps the stage will see-saw through­out the fight, or flip en­tirely so you’re fight­ing on the ceil­ing. A boost to su­per-move dam­age sees us lose 75 per cent of our health bar to an at­tack we had blocked. The nadir comes in a fight that gives both char­ac­ters full armour, do­ing away with the con­cept of hit­stun as two fight­ers stand next to each other and press their strong­est but­tons un­til one falls over. And for all the Mul­ti­verse’s magic, we’re not en­tirely sure it’s made bet­ter play­ers of us. The AI hap­pily stops block­ing as soon as you ac­ti­vate your su­per, for in­stance, while the scor­ing sys­tem dis­pro­por­tion­ately re­wards you for fin­ish­ing a match with th­ese pow­er­ful mini-cutscenes de­spite there be­ing half-a-dozen more use­ful ways to spend me­ter.

We’d prob­a­bly still get stomped if we went on­line, then, but the fact that we’ve man­aged to play over 30 hours of In­jus­tice 2 with barely any hu­man or net­worked com­pany rather says it all. Games in this genre are too of­ten bare-bones, us­ing the in­fi­nite ap­peal of their mag­i­cal mul­ti­player modes to ex­cuse a lack of things to do in them. Well, no longer. This is still a Nether­realm game, with all that im­plies, and it isn’t with­out its mis­steps. But for lone wolves at least, this is the rich­est fight­ing game on the mar­ket.

The Mul­ti­verse is In­jus­tice 2’s beat­ing heart, its true sin­gle­player mode, its the­o­ret­i­cally in­fi­nite endgame

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