Game Corner [Bat-Month]: Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360)

In the decades since his first dramatic appearance in the pages of Detective Comics, Bruce Wayne/Batman has become a mainstream, worldwide, pop culture icon. The brainchild of writer Bob Kane, Batman was brought to life by artist Bill Finger and has been a popular staple of DC Comics and countless movies, videogames, and cartoons over the years. Accordingly, September celebrates “Batman Day” and is just another perfect excuse to celebrate comic’s grim and broody vigilante and, this year, I’ll be dedicating every Wednesday to Gotham’s Dark Knight Detective.

Released: 25 August 2009
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X

The Background:
Ever since his debut in the pages of Detective Comics back in 1939, the Batman has been a popular staple of DC Comics and has appeared in numerous comic books, cartoons, live-action films and, of course, videogames. The first videogame adaptation of Batman was an isometric adventure game released in 1986 and, over the years, Batman has been placed into numerous different videogame genres, from beat-‘em-ups, sidescrolling brawlers, and adventure games, but it’s safe to say that there have been more than a few duds during that time. By 2009, Batman’s videogames had been very hit and miss but the character’s popularity had received a resurgence thanks to the recent success of The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008).

Batman has starred in many videogames over the years but not all of them have been well-recieved.

After Eidos Interactive bought the rights to make a Batman game, they turned to developers Rocksteady Studios after being impressed with their prototype for the title. Noted writer Paul Dini, who had spearheaded the popular DC Animated Universe (DCAU), was brought on to develop the game’s story and characterisations, which drew inspiration from some of Batman’s grittier and more grounded tales and included the vocal talents of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to capitalise on their success in the DCAU. Rocksteady spent their time not only meticulously crafting a unique world that drew from Batman’s vast comic history to create a dark, claustrophobic game world, but also building an intuitive combat system and perfecting the depiction of Batman’s cape and gadgets to really encapsulate the feeling of being the Batman for the first time. The result was a game released to widespread critical acclaim; critics praised the game’s story and mechanics, and intricate marriage of combat and stealth and the game was later bolstered by some downloadable content (DLC), various re-releases and remasters, and kicked off one of the most celebrated and successful superhero videogame franchises ever seen.

The Plot:
After apprehending the Joker and bringing him to Arkham Asylum, Batman finds himself trapped on Arkham Island when the Clown Prince of Crime causes a mass breakout. With guards, doctors, and other innocents at risk, and hoards of his rogues and other rabid criminal thugs freely roaming the asylum, Batman has no choice but to use his skills and gadgets to fight back and uncover the true nature of the Joker’s plot.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a third-person, action/adventure game that takes place in a quasi-open world; though not as large as other open world videogames, such as those seen in the subsequent sequels, Arkham Asylum still presents Batman with a number of different locations and areas to explore on the grim, gothic island that houses Gotham City’s most depraved and dangerous criminal maniacs. While other Batman videogames often focused purely on mindless combat or poorly implemented his gadgets and skills, Arkham Asylum featured the most diverse and intuitive range of movement for the Caped Crusader that players had ever seen at that point. Although players cannot make Batman jump, they can hold down the A button to sprint and vault up/over walls and Batman will automatically hop across gaps and spread his elaborate cap to glide through the night air. Pressing the Right Bumper will see Batman grapple to nearby ledges and higher areas (usually stone gargoyles) to avoid enemies or reach new sections of the asylum. Holding the Right Trigger sees Batman drop into a crouch to stay hidden and sneak up on thugs while tapping the Left Trigger will see him tossing a quick Batarang to stun foes or activate switches (holding LT will allow you to better aim and direct this projectile) and you can select any of Batman’s gadgets using the directional pad (D-pad) to access his gadget wheel.

Combat is fast and fluid, allowing Batman to strike and counter with a deft swiftness.

Of course, one of the most prominent aspects of Arkham Asylum is the game’s unique combat system.; rather than simply mashing buttons, combat is a fluid and slick affair somewhat akin to a rhythm game. Pressing X will see Batman strike the enemy nearest to him; repeated presses begin a combo and you can stun enemies with Batman’s cape by pressing B or hop over them by tapping A. During combat, the camera automatically pans to show you the best view of your immediate area and any enemies around you and, when enemies try to strike at you, a “Counter” indicator will appear. When it does, tap Y and Batman will automatically counter the oncoming attack and, by successfully stringing together strikes and counters, you can build up bigger and more elaborate combos and fluidly take down multiple enemies at once. Once an enemy has been knocked down, or when sneaking up on them, you can press RT and Y to perform a takedown that will knock them out cold and, as you defeat enemies and uncover secrets, you’ll earn experience points (XP) which can be spent purchasing new takedowns and combat options when you level up.

Batman’s Detective Mode is perfect for striking fear into armed thugs and taking them out silently.

Another important aspect of the game is stealth; utilising the “Predator” mechanic, Batman can sneak up on enemies and make use of high ledges to stalk rooms full of armed thugs and pick them off one at a time by utilising the infrared filter offered by his “Detective Mode”. This is activated by pressing the Left Bumper and will wash the environment in a grainy, black and white filter that highlights enemies by their body heat and shows their current condition. Using the shadows and your gadgets, you can drop down on enemies from above, sneak through grates, and set up traps to take them down and pick them off and their cohorts will react accordingly, becoming increasingly agitated and trigger happy as the section progresses. Batman is extremely vulnerable to sustained gunfire so it’s better to be patient and take down each enemy one at a time but you can grapple away to safety if you’re spotted and are even able to take down enemies while hanging from ledges or from afar with Batman’s many toys. Detective Mode also allows you to scan your environment; for the most part, this will be to solve riddles placed all over Arkham Asylum by Edward Nashton/Edward Nygma/The Riddler but, at various times during the game’s story, you’ll have to set up a crime scene to scan evidence and filter out aromas and other elements that will lead you to your next objective as long as you have Detective Mode activated. Although there is no onscreen map, you can view a comprehensive blueprint of Arkham Island by pressing the “Back” button. From here, you’ll see all of the unsolved riddles in the game and where your next objective is, as well as being able to enter any of the game’s environments to review the layout and any remaining secrets to be discovered.

The game world is constantly changing and you always need to find new ways to progress.

You can’t set up a waypoint and there’s only a few sections where you’re literally shown the way but, thankfully, Arkham Asylum isn’t too difficult to explore or navigate for the most part (though there some areas that are quite frustrating or mired in overly dark lighting). Batman: Arkham Asylum features not only a level-up system but also a progressively increasing difficulty curve; while the game’s “Hard” mode will obviously offer the most challenging experience (enemies are more aggressive and counter indicators are omitted entirely), the game world will constantly change as you progress through the story. New areas become accessible as you acquire and upgrade Batman’s many gadgets and areas that you’ve previously visited will become populated by snipers, maniacs, or over-run by Pamela Isley/Poison Ivy’s monstrous plants to keep the game feeling fresh and allowing your actions to actually have an impact on the environment. Backtracking is a prominent feature of the game as some areas will be locked off until you get a new gadget; other areas are locked off entirely, forcing you to use vents, grapples, or explode walls in order to progress and you’ll definitely need to explore every nook and cranny to solve all of the game’s riddles and collect all of the pickups. Although there is no manual save option, the game is extremely generous with checkpoints (which, thankfully, also appear mid-way through certain boss battles) and Batman’s health bar is replenished after successfully defeating enemies in combat, solves riddles, or finds secrets.

Graphics and Sound:
Even now, some fifteen years after its original release, Batman: Arkham Asylum is a visually impressive game. The entire game takes places in a single night, meaning the gothic, decrepit asylum is constantly bathed in an ominous, murky darkness that goes a long way to adding to the game’s claustrophobic and oppressive atmosphere. At times, the game is a little too dark and you’ll either be relying too much on Detective Mode or adjusting the brightness settings to get around but I can forgive this as the dark, moody aesthetic really encapsulates the nature of what it means to be Batman. Arkham Asylum is quite an elaborate environment for what amounts to a glorified sandbox; the prison/facility has been depicted in many different ways over the years but, here, it’s a gloomy, gothic prison confined to an island separated from the greater city. The island itself adds as the hub world, of sorts, and you can travel to different areas by passing through large, automated doors (that are clearly masking loading zones) or using Batman’s various gadgets and skills, and at each compass point you’ll find a different area to explore.

Environments are seeped in a dark, ominous aesthetic that adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere.

The island is home to a high-tech penitentiary, a dilapidated mansion, a dock, a hospital/morgue, a cemetery, and even has a large botanical garden to visit. Each area is suitable foreboding and shows signs of wear and tear (to say nothing of death and anarchy from the breakout of the inmates) and, despite the overwhelming use of blacks, greys, and darkness, stands out from each other through their unique layouts and gameplay mechanics. The island is also home to a vast network of sewers and caves; Batman has even set up a small Batcave on the island, where you’ll travel a few times to acquire upgrades, but these stone catacombs are by far the worst areas to explore in the game. The sewer system that Waylon Jones/Killer Croc has taken as his home isn’t too bad but the caves are dark and crumbling, meaning that your grapnel gun is all but useless and you’re forced to rely on Batman’s jumping skills. For the most part, these are serviceable, but the game’s focus is not on precision platforming so it can sometimes be a pain to get Batman (and the camera) pointed in the direction you need to go. When you later revisit these areas to mop up any unsolved riddles, it’s easy to get lost and confused and it’s a shame that the game doesn’t give you the option to fast exit an area or building from the map screen as there’s nothing worse than venturing deep into the catacombs and then struggling to find your way out.

Your encounters with the Scarecrow will have you questioning the stability of the game!

While the game is tight as a drum in terms of its stability, there are noticeable times where you’ll have to sit and wait as the next section loads and it can sometimes be a little too easy to get caught on the environment or botch a ledge grab but these moments are few and far between. By far the game’s most impressive sections, though, are the nightmarish illusions and hallucinations brought about by exposure to Doctor Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow’s fear gas and toxins; these cause the game to warp, restricting your moment, perception, and controls, and transform the environment into a chilling recreation of Crime Alley or show Batman visions of his dead parents and allies. This leads to a series of really unique, 2.5D sections where you must navigate a disparate hellscape, avoiding the Scarecrow’s gaze and trying not to get too freaked out by his Freddy Krueger-like appearance or Batman’s character model briefly flashing to that of Scarecrow’s. Easily the most memorable moment of all of these sequences is the moment the game abruptly appears to crash and resets on you, only to restart with a recreation of the game’s opening cutscene with the Joker delivering a manic Batman to Arkham while his villains taunt and jeer at him.

In-game graphics are top notch, with Batman’s suit progressively taking damage over time.

In terms of character models, Arkham Asylum also still holds up really well. While generic thugs and goons quickly get a bit repetitive, the game’s interpretations of Batman’s different rogues is very unique and compelling and the influence of the legendary artist Jim Lee is readily apparent in the appearance of Killer Croc, Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn, and Batman himself. Fittingly, Batman benefits the most from the game’s graphics; not only does Kevin Conroy deliver sterling work as always as the character but Batman’s suit will accrue damage as the story progresses, with rips, tears, bullet holes, and other bits of wear and tear showing up as you progress through the story. So strong are Arkham Asylum’s in-game graphics that they are generally the default for the game’s cutscenes; many times throughout the story, Batman will stop to converse with Barbara Gordon/Oracle to comment on and progress the plot and his current investigation but there are instances of higher quality cutscenes as well, which aren’t too far off from what is seen during gameplay. The game’s music is suitably brooding and gothic, picking up when enemies spot you or you’re in combat and being used very effectively to establish a foreboding mood to the game’s events. Finally, not only do the thugs and inmates constantly chat, banter, and taunt you but the game is frequently punctuated by announcements from the Joker. Like Conroy, Hamill excels in the role and adds a glorious entertaining dark humour to the events, stealing the show every time his voice is heard and, overall, music, sound effects, and visuals are all married perfectly to encapsulate the dark, moody atmosphere of the game and really add to the experience of being the Batman.

Enemies and Bosses:
Being that it’s home to the criminally insane, Arkham Asylum is populated by all kinds of maniacal inmates; however, as part of his elaborate plan, the Joker also struck when a number of Blackgate Penitentiary’s prisoners were on the island, and these are the thugs you’ll encounter the most. Generally, goons are spread across the hub world or waiting in corridors or large, open rooms and can either be engaged head-on or from the shadows if they have firearms. Enemies will attack as a group, meaning you’ll have to be constantly aware of incoming attacks, and will even grab items and objects to throw at you or use as makeshift weapons.

Eventually, more dangerous and monstrous enemies spread across the asylum.

As the story progresses, you’ll encounter more formidable enemies: snipers will take up positions above and must be taken out before they can put a bullet in you; inmates with knives must be stunned with your cape before you can attack them; those with electrical batons must by jumped over and attacked from behind; and crazed lunatics will leap at you and must be countered at the right time to stop them from pinning you down. You’ll also have to contend with those exposed to the Joker’s “TITAN” serum, which transforms them into monstrous, hulking beasts; these guys will charge at you, necessitating a quick toss of a Batarang and a dive out of the way to stun them so you can land a few shots and, eventually, hop on their back to whittle their health down and batter about any nearby enemies. Sometimes you’ll have to fight two of these at once, alongside a variety of other thugs, and you’ll also have to dispatch Ivy’s TITAN-infused plants, which spit out homing spores and must be slowly approached in order to destroy them.

Battles with Mr. Zsasz and Bane will teach you fundamental, life-saving tactics for later in the game.

The Joker’s plan also requires him to unleash a very specific number of Batman’s most notorious rogues, who you must take down in a series of encounters as boss battles. The first of these you’ll go up against is Victor Zsasz/Mister Zsasz in what is, essentially, a glorified tutorial to teach you about grappling from cover to cover to sneak up on an enemy. You’ll also encounter him later in the game in a similar situation designed to teach you how to use the reverse Batarang feature and, in both cases, you can easily take him down with no trouble at all as long as you’re not spotted. Similarly, though she’s a constant thorn in your side throughout the game, you can easily apprehend Harley Quinn after battling a short gauntlet of goons, which is only fitting considering that neither villain is much of a physical match for Batman. Bane, however, is. Like the TITAN goons, he must be stunned with a Batarang when he charges at you and battered with a quick combo to yank out the Venom pipes supplying his superhuman strength. However, as the fight progresses, goons will drop into the arena to distract you; again, like the TITANs, Bane can grab downed enemies and launch them at you as projectiles but he’ll also toss parts of the environment your way as well so it have to constantly be thinking on your feet and ready to dodge out of the way. As long as you can deal with the annoying goons, avoid Bane’s wild strikes and ground pound, and dodge out of his charges, he’s not especially difficult and battling him (and the TITANs) serves as great practise for the game’s final boss.

You’ll need patience, skill, and gadgets to conquer Killer Croc and the Scarecrow.

Before that, though, you’ll have to contend with Killer Croc in the sewers. Down here, you must slowly walk across wooden platforms to avoid attracting Croc’s attention; when he lunges out of the water, you must quickly toss a Batarang to subdue him and make a run for it when he starts smashing up the platforms. Eventually, you’ll avoid him and collect the samples Batman needs to synthesise an anti-virus for the TITAN formula and Croc will chase you down. This forces you to run towards the camera as quickly as possible and then detonate explosive charges before Croc can reach you to send him plummeting down a deep chasm. As mentioned before, you’ll also have to contend with the Scarecrow on no less than three occasions. Each time, you must navigate his hellscape using your stealth, gadgets, and jumping/shimmying skills to avoid being spotted but, as the encounters progress, you’ll also have to fend off waves of skeletons. In the final encounter, Scarecrow summons more of these enemies, including a TITAN variant, in three waves; after defeating each one, Batman activates a Bat-Signal and will eventually dispel and break free of the Scarecrow’s harrowing nightmares once and for all.

Sadly (or thankfully), the final boss isn’t anywhere near as interesting as the one with Poison Ivy.

By far the most frustrating boss battle of the game, though, is the one against Poison Ivy; encased in a monstrous man-eating plant, she sends out a bunch of tentacles that will choke the life out of you in seconds, commands besotted thugs and guards to attack you, and fires super-fast and painful bolts your way. To defeat her, you must avoid her attacks, defeat her goons, and toss a quick Batarang at her when she exposes herself while firing at you. When she collapses, you can use your explosive gel to damage the pod but this battle can get very harrowing on the game’s Hard difficulty. When you finally confront the Joker for the final showdown, he arranges a gaggle of thugs to greet you at the door, tries to kill you with an exploding television, forces you to fight a whole bunch of enemies and two TITANs at once, and then transforms himself into a TITAN monster for the finale. In this fight, you must avoid his claw swipes and then dispatch the goons that come into the arena, destroying exploding teeth and avoiding the electrified walls until it’s safe to pull the Joker down from his ledge and put a beating on him. Sadly, it’s not a very compelling final boss battle as it’s fundamentally the same as battling the TITANs and Bane, and it’s a bit of a missed opportunity to not have Batman undergo a similar transformation, but it’s decent enough for what it is and not too surprising that you wouldn’t fight the Joker one-on-one.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Batman: Arkham Asylum features a level-up progression system; every time you defeat enemies, solve riddles, or pick up Riddler Trophies and other items (like audio tapes and so forth), you’ll gain XP. When you level-up, you can spend the Skill Points you earn on improving Batman’s armour to give him more health, adding additional takedowns and combat moves to his repertoire, or upgrading his various gadgets to improve their range and efficiency. I recommend pacing these upgrades out (armour once, then a new takedown, armour again, maybe upgrade a gadget, and so forth) and fighting every enemy you see in order to upgrade Batman as fast as possibly. It’s very easy to fully upgrade Batman on even a casual playthrough on Hard mode, though, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get there.

Use XP to upgrade Batman’s abilities and gadget, and acquire new toys to progress further.

Along the way, Batman will acquire or construct new gadgets to help him progress. Explosive gel will allow him to knock enemies off balance or break through certain walls, the Line Launcher will allow him to cross chasms and gaps too wide to jump or glide across as long as there’s a solid wall behind and in front of him, the Sonic Batarang can be used to lure enemies away from each other or into a trap, the Ultra Batclaw allows Batman to tear down certain walls by tapping A after firing, and the Cryptographic Sequencer allows him to hack security panels by matching radiowaves with the analogue sticks to access Riddler Trophies, secret rooms, or open previously-inaccessible areas. The Batmobile and Batwing also make an appearance but you cannot utilise these in the game, unfortunately, but you can upgrade the Batarang to throw up to three at separate targets or be remote controlled (though this is also quite limited in its application).

Additional Features:
Batman: Arkham Asylum has forty-seven Achievements for you to earn, the majority of which are acquired simply by progressing through the story and clearing certain missions or defeating bosses. Some require you to defeat enemies in certain ways or rack up a certain combo score, others are tied to gliding consecutively or completing the game on each difficulty setting, but the majority are tied towards finding the Riddler Trophies, solving his riddles, and completing combat and predator challenges in the game’s “Challenge Mode”. To elaborate, the Riddler has hidden numerous glowing green trophies all across Arkham Island; some are hidden in plain view, others require your gadgets or a bit of exploration to find. Pretty much every single room or area of the island also has a number of riddles associated with it that you must solve by scanning parts of the environment; these are generally linked to Batman’s history or rogues and will unlock character biographies of guys like Harvey Dent/Two-Face and Arnold Wesker/The Ventriloquist. Every time you solve or find these, you’ll gain XP and get one step closer to 100% collection so it’s worth taking time to look for a small tea set or a plague dedicated to Martha and Tomas Wayne.

Riddles and secrets are scattered all over the damn place.

Additionally, there are stone monuments to Amadeus Arkham, the founder of the island and its facility, to be found and scanned to learn more about Arkham’s morbid history as well as audio tapes and maps to further flesh out the characters’ backstories and reveal the Riddler’s secrets. From the main menu, you’ll also see the option to take on Challenge Mode. These are specific, self-contained combat and predator sections based on encounters in the game and pit you against waves of increasingly difficult enemies and rooms full of thugs, respectively, and are unlocked by finding Riddler Trophies and solving riddles. When you take on a Challenge, you’ll either have to face a number of rounds against different enemies in different environments or pick off thugs from the shadows according to a number of requirements (such as using explosive gel or a vertical takedown). Each time you successfully meet these criteria, or rack up enough points, you’ll earn up to three medals, and eventually some Achievements, and can compete against friends and others using the online leaderboards. Sadly, though, unlike subsequent games in the series, there is no “New Game+” option, you only unlock one alternative outfit for completing the game and it’s restricted to the Challenge Mode, and the only DLC available is for additional Challenge maps. Those who have the PlayStation 3 or Return to Arkham (Rocksteady Studios/Virtuos Studios, 2016) versions (which I also do), though, can choose to play as the Joker in the Challenge Mode, which is pretty entertaining as he comes with his own unique and madcap fighting style and gadgets that separate him from the Batman.

The Summary:
I remember the first time I played Batman: Arkham Asylum when I first got it for the PlayStation 3 and being just blown away by how intricate, smooth, and impressive its controls, mechanics, and presentation were. Never before had a videogame offered such a range of versatility for Batman; rather than simply focusing on combat or one aspect of the character, Arkham Asylum really delved into what it means to be Batman and gave players the chance to experience each of those elements in a new, dynamic, and incredibly entertaining way. Combat is fluid and easy to master, stealth sections are exhilarating even when it can take a while to pick enemies off, and even the game’s more frustrating enemies or bosses are fun to encounter thanks to the overall aesthetic and top-notch presentation given to the game. It truly feels like a legitimate, authentic, heartfelt attempt to capture the “spirit” of being Batman and some of his most notorious villains. Restricting the action to Arkham Island may make the game much smaller and quaint compared to its successors but it adds to the claustrophobic tension that permeates the narrative and the desperate situation Batman finds himself in as he’s trapped on an island with no means of escape and duty-bound to hunt these criminals down. While the sequels may have expanded and improved upon literally aspect featured in this first game, as well as adding much more fan service and additional features, Batman: Arkham Asylum is still a really enjoyable experience and I had a blast playing through it again for this long-overdue review.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to Batman: Arkham Asylum? How do you feel it holds up compared to its sequels and other, similar videogames? Did you enjoy being restricted to the titular asylum or do you prefer the bigger, more open worlds of the later games? Which of Batman’s gadgets and rogues were your favourite to use or fight against and why? Did you ever find all of the Riddler’s trophies and secrets? Were you a fan of the game’s freeflowing combat system and the various gameplay options available to you? How are you planning on celebrating Batman Day this year and what is your favourite Batman videogame? Whatever your thoughts on Batman: Arkham Asylum, or Batman in general, please leave a comment below and check back in next Wednesday for my review of the sequel!

Game Corner [Crossover Crisis]: Injustice: Gods Among Us (Xbox 360)

In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’ll be taking a look at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.

Released: 16 April 2013
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Also Available For: Arcade, Mobile, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One and Xbox Series One X/S (Backwards Compatible), Wii U

The Background:
When it was first released, Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992) was a phenomenal success for Midway because of its focus on gore and violence, and it offered some real competition for Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991) in arcades and on home consoles. For a time, the series seemed unstoppable during the 2D era of gaming but struggled to find a footing in the emerging 3D fighter arena and Mortal Kombat seemed to be in jeopardy after Midway went bankrupt in 2010. The main reason for this was the poor reception of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (Midway Games, 2008), the first collaboration between Midway’s Mortal Kombat and the DC Comics characters owned by Warner Bros. Interactive, which was hampered by age-related restrictions.

Mortal Kombat‘s 3D struggles culminated in a disastrous crossover with DC Comics.

Luckily, Warner Bros. Interactive stepped in and the team, now rebranded to NetherRealm Studios, immediately set about getting their violent franchise back on track; Mortal Kombat (NetherRealm Studios, 2011) was subsequently very well-received for its “back to basics” approach and, bolstered by the reboot’s success and eager to take advantage of the vast library of characters of their parent company, NetherRealm Studios sought to expand upon the game’s mechanics with a new, all-DC brawler. Although the game wasn’t as bloody and violent as its sister series, Injustice: Gods Among Us was a massive critical and commercial success that was followed up by not only a bunch of additional fighters and skins added as downloadable content (DLC) but also a sequel in 2017 and a critically-acclaimed comic book series.

The Plot:
In an alternate reality, Clark Kent/Superman has become a tyrant and established a new world order after the Joker tricked him into killing Lois Lane before destroying Metropolis with a nuclear bomb. In an effort to stop him, Bruce Wayne/Batman summons counterparts of the Justice League’s members from another universe to join his insurgency and end the totalitarian regime that threatens to subjugate the entire world.

Just like Mortal Kombat, Injustice: Gods Among Us is a 2.5D fighting game; however, this time you’re able to select one of twenty-four characters from the DC Universe and battle it out in the game’s single-player story mode, one-on-one against another player or computer-controlled opponent (both on- and offline), tackle numerous arcade-style ladders, or take on character-specific missions in Scientific and Technological Advanced Research Laboratories (S.T.A.R. Labs) training scenarios. Just as you’d expect from a Mortal Kombat videogame, Injustice’s fights take place in a best-of-three format (although there are no longer announcements or screen text between each round) and against a time limit, though you can alter these settings (and many others, such as the game’s difficulty) to your heart’s desire in the game’s options to suit your playstyle.

Attack with strikes, grapples, and combos to pummel a number of DC’s most recognisable characters.

If you’ve played the Mortal Kombat reboot then you’ll be immediately familiar with this game’s fighting mechanics and controls, although there are subtle differences: X, Y, and A are assigned to light, medium, and heavy strikes, for example, and may be either punches, kicks, or weapon-based melee attacks depending on which character you’re playing as. You can still grapple and throw your opponent with the Left Bumper (or X and Y and a directional input), dash towards or away from the opponent with a double tap of the directional pad (D-Pad), but now you must hold back on the D-Pad while standing or crouching to block, which can make blocking a bit trickier as sometimes you’ll simply walk or dash backwards when trying to block. If your opponent is crouch-blocking, you can land an attack by pressing towards and A for an Overhead Attack, and string together light, medium, and heavy attacks with directional inputs and your various special moves to pull off quick and easy combos. As is the standard for NetherRealm Studios’ releases these days, you can practise the game’s controls and mechanics as often as you like and take part in a very user-friendly tutorial to learn the basics of the game’s simple, but increasingly complex, fighting mechanics. You can also view your character’s moves, combos, special attacks, and “Character Power” from the pause menu at any time, allowing you to also see a range of information (such as where and how to pull of certain moves, the damage they inflict, and frame data).

Utilise Character Powers and the always-annoying Clash Breakers to whittle down your foe.

Each character has a range of special attacks that are unique to them; these mostly consist of certain projectiles or grapples and strikes but can also include various buffs for your character or to slow down your opponent. Each character also has a specific Character Power that is performed by pressing B; this sees Batman summon and attack with a swarm of bats, Oliver Queen/Green Arrow fire different trick arrows at his opponent, Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn gain various random buffs, and allows characters like Diana Prince/Wonder Woman and Rachel Roth/Raven to switch between different fighting styles and thus access different special attacks. While some Character Powers have a cool-down period, others don’t, but they can also be detrimental to you; for example, Slade Wilson/Deathstroke can briefly give his shots perfect aim but, once the Character Power is expended, he’ll miss every shot until it refills. Another new addition to the game is the annoying “Wager” system; when the Super Meter is filled up by two bars, you can press towards and RT when blocking an attack to play a quick mini game where you and your opponent select how much of your Super Meter to gamble. If you win, you’ll regain some health; if you lose, the opponent regains health; and if you tie then you both lose. Personally, if find these “Clash Breakers” even more annoying than the usual “Breakers” seen in the modern Mortal Kombat games as I never win them and they generally just unnecessarily prolong a fight (and, even worse, there’s no option to turn them off).

Different characters attack and interact in different ways according to their strengths.

In a bridge between the differing character movesets of Mortal Kombat and the “Variation” mechanic seen in Mortal Kombat X (NetherRealm Studios, 2013), Injustice features a limited “Class” system whereby characters are split into two camps: Gadget- or Power-class characters. Gadget characters are generally smaller, faster, and rely on various tricks and weapons in fights while Power-class characters are typically bigger, often slower, and rely more on brute strength. One of the main ways you’ll notice the difference between playing as, say, Barry Allen/The Flash and Cyrus Gold/Solomon Grundy is that they interact with the game’s fighting stages in different ways. As in Mortal Kombat X, you can press the Right Bumper when indicated to use (or attack your opponent with) various environmental hazards, such as firing missiles at them or knocking them into the background. But, whereas Superman will wrench a car out of the air and slam it on his opponent, someone like Dick Grayson/Nightwing will rig the same car to explode or somersault off the environment to get behind their foe rather than try to crush them with a wall.

In addition to powerful Super moves, you can bash your foe into new areas using stage transitions.

As you might naturally expect, there are no Fatalities or gruesome finishing moves in Injustice (not even “Heroic Brutalities”). However, when your Super Meter is full, you can still press LT and RT together to pull off a devastating Super Move; while you won’t see bones breaking and organs shattering like in Mortal Kombat’s X-Ray Moves, it’s still pretty fun to see Hal Jordan/Green Lantern transport his opponent to Oa to pummel them with his constructs, Ares shower his foe with arrows and stamp on them while grown to gigantic proportions, Arthur Curry/Aquaman force his enemy into the jaws of a ferocious shark, and Bane demolish his opposition with a series of throws and grapples, culminating in his iconic backbreaker. Another way the game separates itself from Mortal Kombat is stage transitions; when near the far edge of certain stages, you can hold back and A to wallop your opponent through the wall or off into the background where they’ll be smashed up, down, or across to an entirely new area of the stage which often allows more stage interactions and new stage transitions available for your use.

The story involves multiverse shenanigans against corrupted heroes and features some QTEs.

You might wonder exactly how someone like Louise Lincoln/Killer Frost can survive being blasting through the brick walls of Wayne Manor or go toe-to-toe with the likes of Doomsday but the game’s entertaining story mode explains that, on this alternative world, the tyrant-like Superman has developed special pills that bestow superhuman strength and dexterity to his generals. As is also the standard in NetherRealm’s titles, the story mode is broken down into twelve character-specific chapters, which is again a great way to experience a wide variety of the game’s roster (though Batman does feature as a playable character in two chapters, which seems a bit lazy). You can replay any chapter and fight you’ve cleared at any time, which is great, and skip through the cutscenes after they’ve loaded a bit, and the story mode isn’t all constant fighting either as you’re asked to pull off a handful of quick-time events (QTEs) at various points, such as blasting cars with Superman’s heat vision. The story is a fairly standard multiverse tale of the main canon heroes fighting against their corrupted or misled counterparts but it’s pretty fun and easy to blast through in no time at all.

Fight to earn XP and level-up, unlock additional perks and modes, and take on a series of challenges.

Every time you win a fight, you’ll earn experience points (XP) that will eventually level-up your character profile. This, and performing a certain number of specific attacks, playing through the story mode, and tackling the game’s other modes and mechanics, unlocks icons and backgrounds for your profile card as well as additional skins in certain circumstances. You’ll also be awarded “Armour Keys” and “Access Cards” to spend in the “Archives”, which allows you to unlock concept art, music, more skins, and certain boosts that will increase how much XP you earn, to name just one example. Like in Mortal Kombat, you can also take on ten opponents in arcade ladders in the “Battle” mode; these range from the basic tournament-style ladder to specific challenges against heroes, villains, or battling while poisoned, injured, or with certain buffs (such as a constantly full Super Meter or health falling from the sky). We’d see a similar system be incorporated into the “Towers” modes in later Mortal Kombat games and similar scenarios exist here, such as a survival mode, battling two opponents, or being forced to fight against the computer set to the hardest difficulty.

Graphics and Sound:
Like its violent sister-series, Injustice looks fantastic; there’s almost no difference between the high-quality story mode cutscenes and the in-fight graphics (which, again, makes it all the more frustrating that NetherRealm Studios insist on having character’s endings represented by partially-animated artwork and voiceovers), though it has to be said that the graphics are much more palatable when in a violent fight. I say this purely because I am not a big fan of some of Injustice’s character designs: The Flash looks a bit too “busy”, for example, and Batman’s suit (and cowl, especially) look really janky to me, though I love the representation of Green Lantern and Thaal Sinestro.

In addition to various intros, outros, and Wager dialogue, characters also take on battle damage.

Each character gets a nice little fitting intro and outro for each fight and, between rounds, will perform and quip a variety of taunts to the opponent. In a nice little touch, different character skins get different intros and outros; when playing as the evil Superman, for example, he enters and exits the fight differently to his more heroic counterpart. When playing as different skins, like John Stewart or Hank Henshaw/Cyborg Superman, you’ll also be treated to slightly different dialogue and animations, which is a much-appreciated touch on the developer’s part. Although there aren’t any character-specific interactions in the intros, there are during the Wager cutscenes and, even better, both characters and the arenas will accrue battle damage as the fight progresses! This means that you’ll not only see Selina Kyle/Catwoman’s cat suit rip and her skin be blemished by bruises and blood but arenas will degenerate or change around you the more damage you dish out, which can also allow different intractable options to become available to you.

Stages include a range of recognisable DC locations and take damage as you fight.

Speaking of the stages, Injustice really goes above and beyond to make the best use of the DC license; while it’s a little disappointing to see Arkham Asylum and Wayne Manor feature twice in the game, they are made distinctive by having Joker-ised and night-time variants, respectively (and also being clearly modelled after, and featuring cameos by, the Batman: Arkham (Rocksteady Studios/Various, 2009 to 2015) videogames and villains). Additionally, the use of stage transitions really helps to add a whole new dimension to combat, with some stages featuring more than others (or even none at all), to help ensure that every fight can be a little different. Stages also feature a bevy of other little cameos and DC references, such as the Fortress of Solitude being clearly modelled after Superman (Donner, 1978) while also featuring a portal to the Phantom Zone and a cameo from Starro the Conqueror. Similarly, J’onn J’onnz/Martian Manhunter floats in the background of the Watchtower space station, Floyd Lawton/Deadshot is just hanging out at Stryker’s prison, and Amazons are preparing a boat to launch on Themyscira. Every single stage has a number of intractable elements and changes as you fight, cause damage, or smash foes around, with Gotham City being my favourite as you can battle on the roof with the Bat-Signal and then down to the grimy streets below and then blast your foe back up to the roof using a nearby truck!

Enemies and Bosses:
Injustice helpfully separates its character-selection screen into heroes (on the left) and villains (on the right) but, despite their different alignments (and that their loyalties change due to the multiverse shenanigans of the story), every single one of them will be an enemy of yours at some point as you play through the story, Battles, S.T.A.R. Labs missions, and on- or offline. Consequently, it’s worth keeping track of which character suits your playstyle as some have easier combos and special moves to pull off compared to others, or more useful Super Moves and Character Powers.

Play as, and against, the game’s characters to learn their strengths, weaknesses, and skills.

Additionally, the Class system should also be factored in; Lex Luthor, Doomsday, and Solomon Gundy may be powerful and capable of gaining armour to tank through attacks but they’re also a lot slower on their feet and with their jumps. Superman and Shiera Hall/Hawkgirl are much faster Power-class characters but can also have their own drawbacks at times depending on your playstyle (Superman’s Character Power, for example, simply powers up his attacks rather than being a more offensive move like, say, Areas being able to conjure massive magical weapons). Personally, I tend to lean more towards Gadget-based characters, like Nightwing (who can switch between using quick batons or a longer bo staff to attack) or Green Arrow (whose arrows and bow allow for both ranged attacks and blindingly fast melee attacks).

Take on the corrupted Superman and banish him to the Phantom Zone for his crimes!

Unlike Mortal Kombat, Injustice doesn’t really feature any secret or hidden fights or unplayable sub-bosses or boss characters; the story mode and basic arcade ladder culminates in a battle against the corrupted Superman that is a far fairer and more competitive fight compared to the finales of NetherRealm’s recent Mortal Kombat games. While Superman is definitely a bit more of an aggressive foe, even on the game’s easiest difficulty, he doesn’t gain inexplicable armour, can be stunned, and doesn’t deal ungodly amounts of damage or spam his attacks like a cheap bitch. Additionally, he doesn’t transform into some monstrous final form and, instead, the final battle is a far better use of the skills you’ve built up through regular gameplay rather than forcing you to resort to cheap tactics and tricks.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Because it lacks a “Test Your Luck” mode and “Kombat Kodes” for multiplayer fights, there aren’t really any in-game power-ups available to you outside of the various status effects seen in the Battle mode. As before, though, some characters can gain in-game buffs with their special attacks and Character Powers: Lex Luthor, for example, can erect a shield, Doomsday can cover himself in impenetrable armour for a brief period, and Solomon Grundy slows time down and drains his opponent’s health with his swamp gas. However, you’ll earn yourself additional XP if you mix up your fighting style and take advantage of stage interactions and transitions, which will allow you to unlock further customisation options for your profile card, and you can also earn additional skins and rewards by playing and linking up to the mobile version of the game.

Additional Features:
There are fifty Achievements up for grabs in Injustice, with three of which being directly tied to the story mode (50- and 100% completion and succeeding at all of the QTE mini games). Others are tied to the game’s online modes, levelling-up to specific levels, customising your profile card, and finishing Classic Battle with one (and every) character. There are also some character-specific Achievements on offer, including performing every character’s Super Move or a ten-hit combat and winning a fight using only arrows as Green Arrow, or landing at least twelve shots without missing as Deathstroke. Batman is the only character to have two specific Achievements tied to him, though, as you’ll get some G for winning a match using all of his special moves and his Super Moves and for defeating every villain as him.

Injustice included some surprising DLC fighters; even Scorpion showed up!

Another standard of NetherRealm Studios is their addition of further skins and characters through DLC; you can get skins to play as John Stewart, Cyborg Superman, and the Flashpoint (Johns, et al, 2011) Batman, among others, and they’re all easily applicable when selecting a character (no need for extraneous “Gear” here). While the game’s DLC characters have no additional Achievements tied to them, Injustice included some fun and interesting extra fighters; Lobo, General Dru-Zod (who also sports his Man of Steel (Snyder, 2013) look as a skin), Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, Zatanna Zatara, and the Martian Manhunter were all great choices to add to the roster and it was nice to see NetherRealm Studios exercise a little restraint and not overload the DLC with additional Batman characters. By far the most exciting DLC fighter was the inclusion of Scorpion, who sports a Jim Lee redesign and began a trend of DC and Mortal Kombat characters appearing in each other’s games.

Take your fight online or complete a series of increasingly tricky S.T.AR. Labs challenges.

When you’ve had enough of the story mode and regular battle options, you can take the fight online in a series of matches; here; you can participate in ranked and unranked fights and “King of the Hill” tournaments where you watch other players fight until it’s your turn and bet on who’s going to win. The S.T.A.R. Labs missions will also keep us offline, solo players occupied for some time; these are expanded upon when you download the DLC fighters, which is much appreciated and, similar to Mortal Kombat’s “Challenge Tower” mode, basically serve as extended tutorials for each of the game’s characters. You’ll take on ten character-specific missions, with each one getting a little bit of text and maybe a picture to set the context of the mission, and these range from performing certain combos or attacks, winning fights, or completing tricky challenges (such as guiding Catwoman’s cat through laser trip wires, avoiding damage or debris, or racing against Superman).

The Summary:
Injustice: Gods Among Us is a far better marriage of Mortal Kombat and DC Comics than Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe and a fantastic expansion of the gameplay mechanics and features NetherRealm Studios revitalised their violent fighting game series with in Mortal Kombat (2009). While Injustice is obviously not as gory or violent as its sister-series, that doesn’t make it any less fun and it’s still a very brutal fighter; the Super Moves, especially, and certain character’s outros (such as the Joker’s) are definitely in the Mortal Kombat mould. With gorgeous in-game graphics, a fantastic amount of variety thanks to all of the character’s different special attacks and gameplay mechanics and the stage transitions, and a simple to learn, easy to master fighting system, Injustice is an extremely enjoyable game for anyone who’s a fan of either franchise or fighting games in general. The story is a breeze to get through (thought it is essentially every basic multiverse story ever told in comics) and nicely varied with some QTE sequences; the S.T.A.R. Labs missions and different arcade ladders are much more enjoyable and challenging than in its sister-series and there are plenty of character options, variety, and unlockables to keep you busy. Best of all, the game isn’t bogged down by endless grinding to unlock Gear, skins, or other perks and is a much more user-friendly and accessible fighting game, and overall experience, than its sequel.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Were you a fan of Injustice: Gods Among Us? What did you think to it as a blend of Mortal Kombat and DC Comics? What were your thoughts on the game’s story and its depiction of a parallel world terrorised by a corrupted Superman? Which of the game’s fighters was your favourite and why? Did you buy the base game and all the DLC packs separately or did you pick up the Ultimate Edition when it released later? What did you think to the additional DLC characters and skins? Were there any characters or features missing from the game for you? Which DC Comics videogame, movie, comic, or other piece of media is your favourite? Are you a fan of multiverse stories and crossovers? Whatever you think about Injustice, leave a comment down below and be sure to check back in next Wednesday for more Crossover Crisis content!

Talking Movies: The Suicide Squad

Talking Movies

Released: 30 July 2021
Director: James Gunn
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $34 million
Stars: Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena, Sylvester Stallone/Steve Agee, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Joel Kinnaman, Peter Capaldi, and Viola Davis

The Plot:
After Colonel Rick Flag (Kinnaman) and Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn (Robbie) are captured and presumed killed during a mission into the war-torn nation of Corto Maltese, Amanda Waller (Davis) blackmails former mercenary and marksman Robert DuBois/Bloodsport (Elba) into leading a new Task Force X team on a suicide mission into the nation to acquire Gaius Grieves/The Thinker (Capaldi), who has vital information regarding the mysterious and potentially cataclysmic “Project: Starfish”.

The Background:
Task Force X, otherwise known by the more colourful sobriquet of “The Suicide Squad”, is a team of supervillains, anti-heroes, and convicts that first appeared in The Brave and the Bold #25 in September 1059. Created by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru, the team’s initial six-issue run was later expanded upon exponentially by writer John Ostrander in 1987; Ostrander defined many of the elements that are now closely associated with the team, such as them being commanded by Amanda Waller and forced into behaving under threat of remote execution. Due to the very nature of the team (the clue’s in the name after all), the Suicide Squad has seen many different incarnations over the years and has featured in a number of adaptations outside of the comics. They made their live-action debut in Suicide Squad (Ayer, 2016), a film that arguably was the DC Extended Universe’s (DCEU) attempt to emulate the success of Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014); despite heavyweights like Will Smith and Jared Leto attached and bringing in nearly $750 million against a $175 million budget, Suicide Squad was a critical disaster. However, Suicide Squad did give us Margot Robbie’s fantastic portrayal of Harley Quinn, which received significant praise (and her own spin-off), and there has been a major fan demand for Warner Bros. to release the director’s cut of the film. Still, Suicide Squad made money and had a bankable star so a sequel (and several other spin-offs) was put into development. Perhaps because of Ayer’s public lambasting of Warner Bros.’ interference with his film, a new director was courted for the follow-up, with James Gunn being hired after he was briefly fired from Disney and Marvel Studios. Given complete creative control of the project, Gunn decided to produce a standalone sequel that featured some of DC’s most ridiculous villains and mashed them into a team of losers, misfits, and combustible personalities. Delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Suicide Squad was eventually released to overwhelmingly positive reviews that praised its action, gore, and humour. As of this writing, the film has only grossed $7 million at the box office but is projected to bring in $35 to 60 million and Gunn has already completed a spin-off series for HBO Max starring Christopher Smith/Peacemaker (John Cena).

The Review:
My experience of the Suicide Squad is basically almost zero; they rarely appear as a team in the DC Comics I read and usually just kind of crop up as a team of misfits for DC’s superheroes to fight with. As a result, when I heard that Warner Bros. were going to be putting time, effort, and money into a big-screen version of the team, my first question was…why? Why are we getting that and not a standalone Batman movie for Ben Affleck, or a Flash movie, or a Cyborg one…anything but randomly tossing out a Suicide Squad film. To this day, I’ll never understand why Warner Bros. didn’t retool the script to have Batman battling against Waller’s team that acted as a prequel to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Snyder, 2014) and showed exactly how and why Batman has fallen so far into the dark by explicitly centring around the Joker (Jared Leto) killing Jason Todd/Robin. Instead, the film didn’t really add all that much to the DCEU; it completely wasted Will Smith on a nobody like Floyd Lawton/Deadshot (he really should have been Slade Wilson/Deathstroke) and was so cut up by the studio that it’s basically been swept under the carpet now, and that’s a shame as its cast and concepts could have been used to far greater effect in a Ben Affleck-led Batman film.

Blackmailed by Amanda Waller, Bloodsport is forced to lead the new team to spare his daughter.

Thankfully, The Suicide Squad doesn’t go out of its way to retcon or erase the original film form continuity; I never expected that it would since Flag, Quinn, Waller, and Digger Harkness/Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) all returned to the film but you wouldn’t believe the arguments I had online with people who insisted that this wasn’t a sequel…when it clearly is. Sure, Harley’s reasoning for being back on the team is kind of hand-waved away and they don’t explicitly refer to events of any prefers DCEU films, but there’s an obvious and oft-stated familiarity between these characters, which is enough for me. Of course, we have a slew of new characters here, many of whom I am completely unfamiliar with, such as Bloodsport and Peacemaker. Although Gunn stated that he wrote the script specifically with Elba in mind for Bloodsport rather than a replacement for Deadshot…he basically is Deadshot but with a fancier suit. Like Deadshot, Bloodsport has a strained relationship with his daughter and is an expert marksman but he’s made a character all his own through his disinterest in joining the team, working with others, doing good, and his high-tech, quasi-alien suit that allows him to generate and assemble a wide variety of weaponry.

Peacemaker loves peace so much that he’s willing to kill for it!

Bloodsport not only immediately clashes with Waller when she threatens his daughter to coerce him into leading her new Suicide Squad, he also forms a fast rivalry with Peacemaker; another character I’m not too familiar with, Peacemaker is a unit of man who is so obsessed with peace that he’s willing to kill anyone to attain it. A psychopath hiding behind patriotism, Peacemaker is adept with melee weapons and guns but his presence by no means makes Bloodsport redundant as their personalities and methods are entirely different. Garbed in a ludicrous comic-accurate costume and built like a brick shithouse, Peacemaker is seemingly willing to align with the team to achieve peace but continuously grates against his teammates. He and Bloodsport often engage in a silent, unstated competition to see who can kill the most people in the most flamboyant or impressive ways but he does find common ground with the team when they share a few drinks while staking out the Thinker’s favourite night club.

Flag is a far more amiable character this time around, while Harley’s crazy has been dialled up a notch.

Returning from the last film are Rick Flag and Harley Quinn; unlike in the first film, Flag has, apparently, lost the rod up his ass and is a far more laid back and amiable character. Rather than seeing commanding Task Force X as his duty or a punishment of sorts, he treats them like friends or comrades and strikes up a camaraderie with most of them. While he also butts heads with Peacemaker, he has a former relationship with Bloodsport that allows the two to work as a more cohesive unit and, in turn, help galvanise the team of misfits into coming together in a workable strategy. Harley, by comparison, is largely the same character as before except her craziness has been dialled up somewhat. Still a bit of an odd choice for such a team, Harley proves that appearances are deceiving as her craziness makes her a formidable and unpredictable opponent who is just as likely to bust out a rocket launcher as she is to strangle a man to death with her legs during severe torture. Harley has a bit of a side story where she’s courted by President Silvio Luna (Juan Diego Botto) and provides much of the more explicit comedic moments thanks to her trademark mad-cap nature and her gunning down countless soldiers while animated flowers and birds fly around in the background.

The team is rounded about by some of DC’s most ridiculous characters.

The team is rounded out by a couple of new characters, most notably Cleo Cazo/Ratcatcher II (Melchior), Nanaue/King Shark (Stallone/Agee), and Abner Krill/Polka-Dot Man (Dastmalchian). While we learn a bit about Bloodsport and his relationship with his daughter and there’s a bit of character development for Quinn in her vow to not let men use her again, we don’t really learn too much about Peacemaker’s background and these three latter characters get quite a bit of play and have quite an impact on the film. We learn all about Ratcatcher II’s childhood, for example, and her fondness for rats (which Bloodsport is deathly afraid of); despite her lethargic attitude and borderline narcolepsy, she is also the only one of the team to actually befriend and treat King Shark like an actual person rather than a burden. King Shark looks absolutely fantastic and is characterised as a ravenous, child-like creature who is often the butt of the team’s mistreatment, though he is also responsible for some of the film’s most humorous moments. And then there’s Polka-Dot Man, a ridiculous character on paper who is given new life as a bat-shit insane psychopath who is constantly spawning and at threat from cosmic polka dots thanks to his mother’s experimentations. By the finale, his character arc becomes a tragic story of redemption, of sorts, since he begins the film literally hoping for them all to die and end sit ready to sacrifice himself to save Corto Maltese from a rampaging monster.

Waller is determined to use the Thinker to keep America’s involvement in Project: Starfish under wraps.

Behind the team, safe in the United States, is the ice-queen herself; Amanda Waller is just as impassive and manipulative as ever, fully prepared to use any means necessary to coerce the convicts into getting bombs implanted into their necks and heading out on a suicide mission in the hopes of shaving ten years off their sentences. Once they’re out in the field, Waller tells them only what they need to know and, the moment they go off-mission, doesn’t hesitate to remote detonate the bombs and blow their heads off. Similar to the last film, Waller’s motivations for the team’s excursion into Corto Maltese are shrouded in deception and revolve more around trying to cover up America’s part in Project Starfish rather than destroying the weapon but, this time around, her control staff are aghast at her extreme methods. Also similar to the first film is the fact that the team is battling against an army of foes rather than tackling a singular enemy head-on; the Thinker fills the roles of a secondary antagonist to a degree, being a maniacal scientist who has gleefully spent the last thirty years experimenting with Project: Starfish on humans in a variety of gruesome and reprehensible ways though, in the end, his role in the story is quite small beyond the team forcing him to get them into Jötunheim, the Nazi-era bunker where the project is based.

The Nitty-Gritty (Minor Spoilers Ahead):
Like the first film, The Suicide Squad (terrible title, by the way; adding a “The” to a sequel’s title is always a red flag for me and smacks of laziness) uses music to punctuate many of its scenes. Unlike that film, though, it benefits from far better editing and pacing; where Suicide Squad was like a frenetic music video (especially in the first ten minutes or so, which bombard the viewer with so much sensory input that it’s nearly impossible to know what’s going on), The Suicide Squad is far more deliberate and conservative with its use of music and edits. The film begins in media res and then flashes back to show us how Waller’s two teams ended up being recruited and sent off to Jötunheim and, at various points, the film cuts off a dramatic reveal or moment to skip over to the other characters and show us what they’ve been up to. The film also contains a number of creative on-screen titles, presumably to make the film easier to watch when on HBO Max or simply to add to the zany nature of the film.

The Suicide Squad trumps its predecessor by upping the action, violence, and destruction.

Where The Suicide Squad really stands out from, and trumps, the last film is in its use of gore, copious swearing, violence, and explosive action. The first film felt like it was holding back by having the team battling glorified zombies but this one pulls absolutely no punches; the opening scene alone sets the tone by showing Flag lead a doomed beach-front assault that sees members of his team getting immolate, shot to pieces, and blown into bloody chunks. King Shark is responsible for many moments of bloody violent thanks to his ravenous hunger and the competition between Bloodsport and Peacemaker lead the two to murdering numerous members of the Corto Maltese rebellion. Hell, Harley gets an entire side plot where she fights, shoots, and kills her way out of Luna’s mansion and the film’s hard-hitting action scenes are punctuated by endlessly entertaining explosions, gore, and over the top violence that finally does what the first film so desperately tried to do (i.e. take what we saw in the first two Deadpool films (Miller, 2016; Leitch, 2018) and ramp it up a few notches).

Based on the team’s nature, not every character gets out alive, especially when Starro goes on a rampage!

Gunn packs the film with all kinds of C- to G-tier characters from DC Comics’ vast library; given free reign to use, and kill, whichever characters he wanted, no character is safe no matter how powerful they are or how established they are from the first film. This is exemplified in the gory opening but continues throughout the film as the team are constantly against the odds, and themselves, and comes to a head in the finale. I don’t think it’s really a spoiler to say that the team end up battling against Starro the Conqueror since trailers and interviews have already shown this but seeing Starro, of all things, onscreen is just…exhilarating. Reminiscent of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Starro goes on a rampage through Corto Maltese, spewing out tiny Facehugger extensions of itself to instantly create an army of brainless zombies to spread its influence and oppose the Suicide Squad. Even better, Starro is presented in full daylight and looks equal parts incredible and ludicrous, which is entirely the point, of course. Still, I am a little confused as to where these Suicide Squad films feel they have to pit the team against armies of zombie-like enemies and cosmic-level threats when they’re arguably better suited to black ops missions and such but seeing the remnants of the team come together as a unit to try and take Starro down is something that appeals to the comic book, action, and Kaiju fan in me and it was massively entertaining as a finale. It’s just a shame that we’ll probably never see these characters interacting with the Justice League given the state of the DCEU.

The Summary:
While I don’t agree with the state of the DCEU, or Warner Bros. decision to funnel funds and certain actors into projects like The Suicide Squad when they should be concentrating on bringing some of their more well-known heroes and properties to life, and while I had some problems with the film’s presentation (those titles, for example, were a little distracting at times), The Suicide Squad was an absolute blast. Clearly evoking the bombastic action movies of the eighties and nineties and embracing the most ridiculous aspects of the source material, it presents its over the top characters and premise without shame or embarrassment and goes all-in with the concept of a team of disposable misfits being in over their heads. Punctuated by some amusing moments and character beats, copious amounts of gratuitous gore and violence, and a surprising amount of poignant heart and characterisation (to say nothing of a few unexpected twists along the way), The Suicide Squad more than makes up for the failings of the last film. Again, it’s just a shame that it’s so unpredictable as to whether or not these characters will actually interact with their respective heroes in the wider DCEU as I’d love to see more of them and for the DCEU to actually, properly bring all these disparate threads together but if all you’re looking for is a kick-ass action film that isn’t shy about pulling its punches then The Suicide Squad has you well covered!

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Have you seen The Suicide Squad? If so, what did you think to it and how would you rate it compared to the first film? Which of the new characters was your favourite? Who did you think was going to die and who were you surprised to see survive? Are you a fan of the Suicide Squad concept and comics? Would you have preferred to see the villains appear elsewhere, like in a solo Batman or Flash movie or do you think it’s a good thing that the DCEU is so sporadic? Are there any villains you’d like to see included in another Suicide Squad film and are you going to be watching the Peacemaker spin-off? Whatever your thoughts about The Suicide Squad, feel free to leave a comment below.

Game Corner: Lego DC Super-Villains (Xbox One)


Released: October 2018
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Also Available For: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC

The Background:
You’ve heard of Lego, right? Those little Danish plastic blocks that you can slot together to build all kinds of shit and make you wish you were dead when you step on them? Well, some time ago (around 2014), they started producing playsets based on DC Comics characters. After the release of Lego Star Wars: The Video Game (Traveller’s Tales, 2005) laid the groundwork for what would become numerous licensed Lego videogames, Traveller’s Tales released Lego Batman: The Videogame (ibid, 2008), the first in a series of Lego-themed videogames based on DC Comics characters. Lego DC Super-Villains came hot on the heels of The Lego Batman Movie (McKay, 2017) and was a spin-off of its immediate predecessor, Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham (Traveller’s Tales, 2014). While the gameplay and narrative may have expanded beyond simple pantomiming in enclosed environments to fully-voiced open worlds, the core blueprint of building increasingly ridiculous Lego constructs in a DC-themed world remained unchanged.

The Plot:
When the evil Justice Syndicate arrive from Earth-3, pose as superheroes, and promptly dispose of the Justice League, the super-villains of the DC Universe must join forces with a mysterious new villain in order to expose the Syndicate as frauds and reclaim their place as the world’s number one villains.

If you’ve ever played a Lego videogame before, you’ve played them all; gameplay is ridiculously simple and yet fun, with the games designed to be accessible to younger players and emphasising pick-up-and-play, co-operative gameplay, and simple, easy to master mechanics. The first thing you’ll do is design your own Lego supervillain from a range of available heads, costumes, and powers, which you’ll unlock more of as you play through the game’s story mode and find hidden Gold and Red Bricks. Once you have your Rookie, you’ll adventure with some of DC’s most notorious super-villains (including Harley Quinn, Lex Luthor, and Black Adam) across some of DC’s most recognisable locations (from Slaughter Swamp, to Metropolis, to the fire-pits of Apokolips).

Learn new abilities as you play through the story mode.

Gameplay couldn’t be simpler; you can attack enemies with combos, ranged weapons, energy blasts, and crowd-clearing ground pounds, or fly and flip across the skies of the game’s various open worlds, amongst many other attributes. The Rookie’s abilities can be customised as you play and his ability to absorb and learn new powers is a crucial part of the game’s amusing story mode.

There are many secrets to find in the game’s many locations.

Considering the Lego videogame formula hasn’t changed since their first Lego Star Wars videogame, there’s a lot to see and do here; every time you complete a chapter of the story mode, you unlock it for use in Free Play mode. As each environment has many hidden secrets that can only be uncovered by using characters and abilities not initially available in the story mode, this encourages a great deal of exploration and replayability if you want to find everything and earn all of the Achievements. Combat and gameplay are simple enough, and the game’s puzzles aren’t generally much to worry about; Lego DC Super-Villains’ challenge comes in the multitude of secrets hidden in the game’s multiple overworlds and individual chapters and in the vast amount of side missions on offer. You’ll be tasked with photographing goons, destroying certain objects, or collecting certain items, all to either obtain another hidden brick or unlock an extra playable character in the game’s already stacked roster.

You’ll need to build all manner of Lego toys to progress.

A crucial aspect of any Lego videogame is smashing everything in your path, collecting Lego studs, and building, building, building. Holding down B near a cluster of Lego pieces will see your character piece together all manner of Lego constructs, from weapons, to computer terminals, vehicles, and even the Flash’s Cosmic Treadmill, all of which will spew out yet more Lego studs, open up new areas, or allow you to progress further.

Everyone is represented, from the iconic to the obscure.

Collecting studs is vital to your progression; although you have a heart-based life system, you can return to the game as many times as you like after dying as long as you have enough studs. However, as they’re scattered across every inch of the Lego DC world, you’ll never be running short of these, and enemies will often drop hearts upon their defeat. Studs can also be used to purchase new characters and vehicles, both of which are essential to earning some of the game’s Achievements.

Graphics and Sound:
A key aspect of all of Lego’s multimedia ventures is just how well they recreate the feeling of playing with actual Lego toys; everything in their movies, animated shorts, and videogames has some basis in reality and is either based on, or available as, an existing Lego playset.

You’ll visit some of DC’s most iconic locations.

To that end, all of the characters look and act exactly as a Lego toy would; they’re made of shiny, stiff plastic and it always feels as though you’ve just dropped a bucket of your Lego out on the floor and started playing with them. Iconic DC locales are lovingly crafted out of the iconic bricks to the point where you’re smashing your way through a dark and stormy Gotham City that evokes exactly the same sense of gloomy dread as anything produced by Rocksteady.

You’ll recognise a lot of the voices in Lego DC Super-Villains.

While early Lego videogames based on movie properties utilised the soundtrack and vocal performances of their source materials, Lego DC Super-Villains favours a largely original score and goes all-in with the quality of its voice actors. You’ve got the likes of Kevin Conroy, Clancy Brown, and Michael Ironside reprising their roles from various DC cartoons and animated movies alongside John Barrowman, Zachary Levi, and Brandon Routh voicing their respective characters from DC’s live-action television shows and movies.

Enemies and Bosses:
As you journey to expose the Justice Syndicate, you’ll naturally face opposition from local law enforcement and rival goons before squaring off with members of the Justice Syndicate and the Justice League.

You’ll eventually take on Darkseid in an epic encounter!

As a result, you’ll inevitably end up in battle against the likes of Ultraman, Mazahs, Owlman, Johnny Quick, and Superwoman but you’ll also fight against Solivar, Doomsday, and the titanic New God Darkseid. Each boss battle has a unique twist, forcing you to use different abilities to break through their defences and chip away at their health.

Bosses are grandiose, but simple, affairs.

In many instances, bosses will use the environment to their advantage (such as Sea-King, who attacks with a giant octopus) or send waves of goons against you. Luckily, however, you can utilise different abilities to uncover building bricks around these environments to construct weapons and other Lego that will turn the tide in your favour.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you play Lego DC Super-Villains, you’ll find Gold and Red Bricks, hidden Batman-branded Minikits, and various graffiti points. Each of these, and the collecting of studs, will unlock and allow you to purchase a treasure trove of in-game modifiers which will double your stud bonus, detect secrets, enable one-hit kills, and even flash up the Batman (1966 to 1968) “Pow!” sound effects.

Some characters drastically change form to reach new areas.

Additionally, every Lego character has their own unique weapon and playstyle; some, like Clayface, can increase or decrease in size to smash through obstacles or fit through vents; others, like Livewire, can charge electrical conduits with their electricity powers. The likes of the Joker and Scarecrow can collect special items to brew up fear gas or laughing gas, respectively, while also commanding goons found in each level to form bridges or activate switches. Similarly, there are some characters, like Tigress, who can dig up hidden treasures or use their acrobatic abilities to jump across rooftops. While it would be wrong to say that no two characters play the same, as there are many who share recognisable traits, playing as Superman is a markedly different experience to playing as Chang Tzu. Add on to that the Rookie’s ability to learn and combine these different abilities and you have a lot of different options available to you to progress through the game’s story and side quests.

Additional Features:
Once you clear the game’s substantial story mode, which will see you take command of various different DC villains across multiple locations, you unlock five bonus levels that are narrated by Lobo and located around Apokolips. These extra missions allow you to play as the various members of the Justice League as they battle their way to freedom out of Darkseid’s hellish homeworld. There’s also a fair amount of downloadable content on offer that adds characters and levels based on DC films like Shazam! (Sandberg, 2019) and Aquaman (Wan, 2018) and DC’s live-action shows, like Arrow (2012 to 2020) and The Flash (2014 to present), among others.


The Summary:
I’ve always enjoyed the simple pleasure of the Lego videogames; they’re not exactly taxing to play through and are easy to slip right back into after years away as the fundamental basics have remained unchanged since 2005. Not only are they harmless fun to play, they’re also pretty funny; Traveller’s Tales have put a lot of work into the game’s story and dialogue and much of the game’s humour comes from genuinely funny jokes, gags, one-liners, Easter eggs, and sight-gags. Saying that, though, Lego DC Super-Villains is best played with a friend so you can easily smash your way through the story mode and side quests and uncover every hidden trinket on offer. As a solo experience, it’s serviceable enough but these are games built to be enjoyed with a friend or, more ideally, a younger sibling or a child (preferably yours…) as the challenge on offer is tailor made for a younger audience. There’s a lot to like, here, though, especially if you’re a fan of DC Comics or their animated endeavours.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think about Lego DC Super-Villains? Are you a fan of the Lego videogames or do you find the formula to be wearing a bit thin by now? Feel free to leave a comment and give me your thoughts and feedback.

Talking Movies: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Talking Movies

Released: February 2020
Director: Cathy Yan
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $82 to 100 million
Stars: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, and Ewan McGregor

The Plot:
After separating from the Joker (Jared Leto), Harley Quinn (Robbie) struggles to carve her own legacy in Gotham City. When she incurs the wrath of the sadistic Roman Sionis/Black Mask (McGregor), she is forced to team up with a rag-tag group of women who have also become targets of Sionis.

The Background:
Let’s not mince words: Suicide Squad (Ayer, 2016) was a bad film; it had so much potential and squandered it through sloppy editing and a questionable plot. However, two of the stand outs from that God-awful movie were Floyd Lawton/Deadshot (Will Smith) and Margot Robbie’s scene-stealing performance as Harley Quinn. Given the character’s cult-like following and increase in popularity, her return seemed all-but-inevitable but, in the odd, shifting, uncertain climate that surrounds the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) it was never a guarantee. However, Robbie, apparently, took it upon herself to put together a film that is not just a solo outing for Quinn but also provides a look at some of DC’s most iconic and bad-ass female characters. The result is a film as much about female empowerment and establishing your own legacy independent of others (especially abusive partners or male patriarchs) that takes everything that was good about Suicide Squad, sprinkles in more than a liberal borrowing from other violent, curse-filled superhero outings (like the Deadpool (Various, 2016 to present) films), and results in a pretty decent inclusion in an extended universe that seems to be increasingly losing sight of its direction.

The Review:
After being rescued by the Joker at the end of Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn has been unceremoniously dumped by the Clown Prince of Crime. Her first reaction to this is to, smartly, tell no one so she can continue to enjoy the fruits of being Joker’s main squeeze, which allows her to live a life of debauchery, drinking, and buying hyenas. However, once word gets out about the break-up, it becomes open season on Harley not in the least because Roman Sionis wastes no time in wanting to lay claim to her unique abilities. In the midst of fighting for her life, Harley runs into Cassandra Cain (Basco), a pick-pocket who picks the wrong pocket when she lifts a diamond out of the pocket of Roman’s top henchman, Victor Zsasz (Messina).

To say these women mean business is an understatement…

Desperate to lay claim to the diamond in order to consolidate his stranglehold on Gotham’s criminal underworld, Sionis puts a hit out on Cassandra and, in trying to recover the diamond and buy her freedom, Harley crosses paths with disgraced and undervalued Gotham City Police Detective Renee Montoya (Perez), the vengeance-seeking, crossbow-wielding assassin Helena Bertinelli/Huntress (Winstead), and Dinah Lance/Black Canary (Smollet-Bell), a singer from Roman’s club with more than a few hidden abilities.

Birds of Prey is Harley’s show first and foremost.

First off, this is largely Margot’s show; she narrates the film, controls the narrative and timeline through some amusing fourth wall breaks, and is the central, strongest character in the film. Perfectly encapsulating Harley’s many and varied (and chaotic) character and personality quirks, Margot cements that she was the perfect choice to play this character and more than capable of standing on her own.

The titular Birds help flesh out Harley’s character.

However, as we saw in Suicide Squad, Harley works best when bouncing and playing off of other characters, especially ones who are snarkier, more serious, or more sadistic than she is. Birds of Prey gives Harley a lot of these characters to work with and each one helps flesh her out in different ways: Cassandra helps her explore her protective, maternal side; Canary gives her a peer on equal footing as a fighter and a smart-talker; Huntress sets a standard off no-nonsense bad-assary that Harley wants to live up to; and Montoya gives her a foil, of sorts, to clash ideals with.

McGregor is clearly revelling in his role as Black Mask…

And yet, amongst all these strong-willed women, is perhaps the most atrocious antagonist in the DCEU yet played with delightful glee by old Obi-Wan himself, Ewan McGregor. Black Mask seems like a simple, one-note sadist but, actually, he has a few layers to him that may not be immediately noticeable as, unlike most characters, he doesn’t really get a flashback or onscreen text to go through his backstory. Roman flip-flops alarmingly between a charismatic smooth-talker and an unhinged psychopath and Ewan is clearly having the time of his life in the role. Apparently, there’s been a lot of negativity surrounding Birds of Prey and it’s even had a slight title change (to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey) to try and better capitalise on Harley’s popularity but I don’t really get why anyone wouldn’t like this movie. It’s fun, with some really brilliant (and vicious) action sequences, and is basically Deadpool but with some kick-ass women taking centre stage.

Not really sure how anyone could miss that Harley was in this movie…

Maybe people are having issue with the film’s portrayal of strong, independent women but…it’s Birds of Prey, a superhero group founded by, and exclusively comprised of, women! People have also been criticising the title; apparently, some didn’t realise Harley Quinn was in this movie? Which is just…mind-blowing to me as she’s been central to all of the marketing I’ve seen (and there’s been a lot of marketing for this movie). Saying that, though, the title is a little misleading; it’s only really Birds of Prey by the conclusion and it may have been better to just title it The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn but none of that should stop you, or anyone else, checking this one out because it’s one hell of a good time.


The Summary:
Normally, I talk about some spoilers in my review (which I unhide when the film comes out on DVD) but there really isn’t much to spoil in Birds of Prey; it’s just a fun, entertaining, kick-ass little film that’s got a lot of action and humour in it and it really doesn’t deserve all the vitriol it’s been getting. Everyone looks like they’re having a blast throughout this movie and like they’re really happy to be there and the film does a pretty good job of giving everyone a chance to shine. I guess I can understand Cassandra Cain fans being a bit disappointed, though, as she is a far cry from her comic book counterpart but, overall, Birds of Prey has way more hits than misses (Cassandra is, in my view, the only real miss of the film) and I would say it is definitely worth your time and money.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Game Corner: Injustice 2: Legendary Edition (Xbox One)


Given that Warner Brothers bought Midway back when they were forced to shut up shop, it should have been seen as inevitable that a videogame would be made that mashed together characters from the Mortal Kombat series with those of the DC Universe. Of course, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (Midway Games, 2008) was quite the barebones, lacklustre effort compared to the spiritual successor, Injustice: Gods Among Us (NetherRealm Studios/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, 2013).

Brainiac is coming to collect the Earth!

Injustice was generally applauded not only for its graphics, gameplay, and competitive fighting mechanics but also its story mode; NetherRealm Studios have seemingly perfected the art of infusing their fighters with an in-depth and genuinely captivating single play story and Injustice 2 (ibid, 2017; 2018) continues this trend. After the Justice League travel to a parallel world to help end the reign of a dictator-like Superman and his regime of similarly-evil former heroes, the Injustice-world faces a new threat in the form of Brainiac. Though Batman attempts to rally a new generation of heroes against Brainiac, they have no choice but to free Superman from his red sun prison cell in order to combat the threat and enter into an uneasy alliance.

A good roster, bogged down with one-too-many Batman characters.

A fighting game is only as good as its roster; like Injustice, Injustice 2 has an unhealthy obsession with Batman characters – Batman, the Joker, Robin, Poison Ivy, Red Hood, Scarecrow, Bane, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and Deadshot bloat out the roster. While it is a little disappointing that this appears to have caused other, unique characters such as Booster Gold or Doctor Sivana miss the cut, Injustice 2 does bring some welcome new faces to the game; Firestorm, Blue Beetle, Atrocitus, Gorilla Grodd, and Doctor Fate are just some of the new heroes and villains available to play as. The Legendary Edition also includes some fantastic downloadable characters, such as Hellboy, Black Manta, and even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

Every character has a unique play style.

Every character boasts their own unique combos, special moves, and super moves and plays a little differently; Darkseid, for example, is slow and methodical, Supergirl is a much faster character, while characters like Green Arrow and Batman rely more on their gadgets and skills to succeed. Successfully pulling off combos, counters, and landing attacks allows players to build up their super meter and power up their special moves or execute a world-ending super move. Each character starts with three loadout slots, which can be increased to five, that allow you to gear up Aquaman, for example, to have one loadout the favours attack, one that favours health, one that favours special moves, and so on, depending on the gear you apply. You can also apply this gear to AI Loadouts and have them fight for you, which is kind of weird and I’m not sure why you would want to do that rather than play the game yourself but it is useful for the game’s Endless and Survival modes.

Injustice 2‘s stage selection levels much to be desired.

While Injustice 2 has a decent roster, it doesn’t have much in the way of stages; there are only twelve stages to pick from and they’re not really that dynamic or interesting. You can still send characters flying to other parts of the stage, which is fun, but it seems there’s a lot less opportunities to do this than in Injustice. There are also some fun stage interactions to be had, like smashing Swamp Thing over the head with a crocodile in Slaughter Swamp, but, again, it seemed that there were more and better stage interactions in Injustice.

Customise each fighter with the Gear System.

The primary selling point of Injustice 2 is the Gear System; winning matches not only earns experience points for each character and the player’s profile but also awards numerous gear. Players can then apply this gear to each character to boost their attributes, gain performance buffs (such as greater attack strength against Metahumans), alter the character’s costumes, and even unlock different special moves. Winning matches also earns the player coins and crystals, which can used to buy Mother Boxes and unlock more gear, transform or combine gear to make it stronger, or unlock Premier Skins for certain characters.

Premier Skins are available…at a price.

Premier Skins allow you to play as new characters; Cheetah, for example, has a Premier Skin that turns her into Vixen and Raiden’s Premier Skin is Black Lighting. This is great, as it effectively adds even more characters to the game’s roster; the only downside is that, to purchase Premier Skins, you need Source Crystals, which are few and far between. You’re therefore forced to grind over and over, levelling up your profile and characters, to earn a pittance of Source Crystals or spend real money. This latter appears to be what NetherRealm Studios want you to do as it is extremely difficult to earn enough Source Crystals as the Premier Skins carry a hefty price tag, and only the best Mother Boxes and rewards can be earned through spending real money, it seems, making the in-game currency all but worthless. Unlocking gear and applying it to characters is fun but, let’s be honest, you won’t be applying all of your gear to every character as some characters are better than others and some or just dead weight. The biggest downside to the Gear System is that, unlike in Injustice, it is the gear that determines what your character will look like; therefore, you can’t just select Green Lantern and choose to play as Yellow lantern, you have to unlock the correct gear and colour palette (which also require Source Crystals), which is quite disappointing and annoying.

The clash mechanic as as annoying as ever.

In terms of gameplay, Injustice 2 is very similar to its predecessor with a noticeable increase in AI competency; I played the entire game on Very Easy and, on more than one occasion, noticed that the AI doesn’t take any shit. If you spam moves or favour a certain tactic, the AI calls you out on it and gives you a competitive match more often than not. The story mode is fun to play through but a breeze; I finished it in within two casual days of gameplay and only went back to it to finish off the branching paths. The clash mechanic returns from Injustice and it’s just as annoying as ever; as you take damage, you can spend your super meter initiating a clash and pressing a button in a rock/paper/scissors type of mini game, which will either deal additional damage or restore your health. It seems that the AI always busts out a clash at the worst or most annoying opportunities and it’s easily to most frustrating part of the game.

Take on the entire Multiverse…once you’re levelled up enough…

Similar to Mortal Kombat X (ibid, 2015), Injustice 2 utilises an ever-changing Multiverse mode that allows players to fight a number of opponents and obtain better rewards. These change hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly and often carry certain themes that will be familiar to DC Comics fans; you can also use the Battle Simulator to play traditional tournament modes or battle endless opponents. One thing I will praise about Injustice 2 is that every battle is different; I don’t think I ever fought the same version of a character twice as it seems every match sees random gear and colour schemes applied to the opponent. You can also join a Guild and take part in Guild Multiverses and challenges to unlock even more Mother Boxes and rewards; these are far more challenging than the regular Multiverse modes and, similarly, the best Multiverse rewards are only available when you’ve levelled a character up to level twenty or thirty, meaning that you’re going to have to play again and again and grind over and over to reap the benefits.

Unlocking stuff is time-consuming and random.

Honestly, maybe I’m a bit jaded, but I don’t find myself particularly enthusiastic about stepping up to this challenge; Injustice 2 features a wealth of Achievements, many you can sweep through regular gameplay, but the more specific ones (such as maxing every character’s level out) just seem like too much of a chore. I really don’t like that I have earned so many in-game coins and yet I cannot use them to purchase Premier Skins or extra colour palettes; I don’t really want to spend my actual money buying them, was disappointed to see that they weren’t already unlocked in the Legendary Edition, and am not sure I can be bothered to grind over and over to unlock them.

Want the best stuff? You better have deep pockets!

In the end, Injustice 2 is good; it’s fun to play, the story mode is decent, and the graphics are very impressive but there’s not too much calling me back to it. I played Injustice pretty much to death working my way through the challenge mode but you have to put some serious effort in to challenge the best Multiverses and the motivation is severely lacking this time around just because the best gear and rewards are either really rare or too expensive. Maybe, next time around, NetherRealm Studios should limit the in-game currency to two forms (one to buy stuff, one to upgrade stuff) and move away from forcing players into spending their real-world money on additional extras, especially if they’re going to bring out a Legendary Edition after the initial versions.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better