Injustice 2 Hands-On: Building a Better Superman

LOS ANGELES — After playing as much Injustice 2 as possible without getting kicked off the E3 show floor, I’m happy to report that punching superheroes in the face feels better than ever. This follow up to NetherRealm Studios’ hit DC Comics fighting game retains its predecessor’s tight brawling and over-the-top special moves, while adding a new layer of strategy to the mix with a gear system that allows you to create your own version of heroes such as Superman and Batman.

New Blood

Having poured an ungodly amount of hours into the original Injustice, playing Part Two felt like slipping into a cozy spandex suit. Returning characters such as Batman, Superman and Aquaman play almost identically to their Injustice 1 counterparts, retaining many of the same satisfying chain combos and hero-specific powers. But the real fun came when I got to try three of Injustice 2’s newcomers: Atrocitus, Gorilla Grodd and Supergirl.

Green Lantern baddie Atrocitus is as big and bruising as he looks, with some damaging up-close combos and a special move that can pull the enemy closer to him. His character power allows him to summon Dex-Starr, a space feline who can shoot projectiles that I found especially useful for extending combos and keeping my opponent away.

Gorilla Grodd’s base move set consists of savage leaping attacks, but once he activates his character power, he turns into a psychic ape that can knock enemies back telepathically. But no new fighter grabbed me quite like Supergirl, whose teleports and quick laser blasts make her feel far more nimble and projectile-friendly than her Kryptonian cousin. 

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Getting Into Gear

Thanks to Injustice 2’s new Gear System, I was earning new pieces of equipment for my fighters after every match. In addition to changing up the look of your fighter, each helmet, cape or piece of armor you wear provides a boost to attributes such as speed, health and damage. Some items can even give your character new moves.

You can equip a piece of gear as soon as you earn it — after just a few matches, my Supergirl went from wearing her traditional blue spandex to donning an epic torso piece that made her look like royalty. Many of Injustice 2’s gear items are inspired by DC Comics lore; Superman can don a chest plate based on his Russian Red Son counterpart, while Batman’s optional red-winged torso piece brings Batman Beyond to mind.

While I loved seeing my characters evolve before my eyes, I did have some concerns about how the Gear System’s stat boosts would affect competitive play. Fortunately, a NetherRealm developer assured me that the game will have some sort of balanced, even-playing-field mode for tournament players.

Superhero Sheen

Like Mortal Kombat X before it, Injustice 2 oozes with style. While the game’s gorgeous graphics engine highlights every detail down to the individual plating of Batman’s suit, it was the smaller, sillier comic-book-inspired touches that made me really fall in love with it.

My colleague Sherri Smith and I couldn’t stop laughing the game’s character select screen, where heroes and villains stare each other down before landing a few cheap shots on one another in slow motion. Of course, it wouldn’t be Injustice without huge, cinematic super moves and ridiculous stage transitions, both of which are more over-the-top than ever.

Superman’s sky-high punching barrage looks like a scene out of Man of Steel, and when Batman hooks a parachute to his opponent before hopping into the Batwing just to shoot them out of the air, you simply have to smile at how comically excessive it is. You can once again knock your opponent through select walls, and I took great joy in seeing my enemies go flying through a Gotham City movie theater, or get chewed up by an Atlantis sea monster before getting tossed back into battle.  

Injustice 2 is the only game at E3 that compelled me to go back for seconds, and if the show floor wasn’t winding down, I’d still be playing it. The game’s gear system has a ton of potential to add RPG-like depth for casual players, while the core gameplay feels perfectly tuned for competitors. Injustice 2 launches early next year for PS4 and Xbox One. Until then, I’ll be dreaming up the perfect Supergirl armor set and patiently waiting for my beloved Nightwing to join the roster.

Michael Andronico

Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.