The first Injustice game—and the fantastic tie-in comic that accompanied it—told a story that pitted Batman and Superman against each other in a battle between heroism and villainy, and how good people can be driven to do horrible things. Injustice 2 isn’t really about that, and that’s both interesting and at times disappointing.
Unlike the first game, Gods Among Us, Injustice 2 offers a much more traditional superhero story—an alien invasion spearheaded by Braniac, who has come to Earth to finally get rid of the last Kryptonian and catalogue the planet’s population. It’s very comic book-y, sure, but what makes much of Injustice 2 so fascinating it’s telling this story while also picking up the pieces of a scenario that saw DC’s best and brightest torn apart in a brutal civil war, as a bereft Superman turned a brutal dictator for humanity’s own good, while Batman became an enemy of the state. Although set several years after the fall of Superman’s regime from the first game, the heroes are still as disunited as they were at the height of the conflict—and whether or not the imminent catastrophic threat of Braniac can bring them back together makes up a major part of the game’s story.
What that means is that, in between bouts of these heroes beating the crap out of each other (Injustice 2 is, after all, still a fighting game at its core, so conflicts have to be resolved with kicks and punches rather than strong words), Injustice 2 casts a more thoughtful eye over its heroes as they all try to move on from the horrors they endured during the first game. Whether it’s Harley Quinn—now a loyal ally of Batman in his goal to pick up the pieces from Superman’s tyrannical rule, being faced with her decision to move on from the toxic influence of the Joker—or if it’s the Flash and Green Lantern, who both face issues of trust and doubt over their past allegiance to Superman’s rule, Injustice 2 eschews the question posed by Gods Among Us of what it takes to make a hero a villain, and instead asks if someone can be a hero again after falling from grace. It’s a surprisingly intimate and character-focused theme for a game that is still about people giving each other concussions in a round-based format.
This thematic heart is most interestingly reflected in the introduction of Supergirl to the narrative—who, just like she did in the comics, arrives a little later on Earth than she intended to, encountering a fully grown Clark instead of the baby Kal-El—and contrasting the idealism she once shared with her cousin with the bitter, cynical darkness Injustice’s Superman has developed. Although at first duped by Wonder Woman and Black Adam (the last holdouts of Superman’s former regime, hiding away in Kahndaq) to see Batman as the enemy for imprisoning her Kryptonian cousin. But Kara comes to see just how twisted her Kal-El has become in her absence, and how unwilling he is to change. By the time the finale comes around, and the two surviving Kryptonians find themselves on opposing sides of the argument, Kara’s steadfast belief in being a hero in the face of Braniac’s most horrendous crimes serves as a reminder of just how far this version of Clark has fallen when he finds himself incapable of doing the same.
In fact, Injustice 2’s hard turn into the Batman v Superman conflict of the first game in its final chapter, in which Clark and Bruce choose to cast off their uneasy alliance at an awkward drop of a hat over whether or not to kill Braniac for his attack on Earth, actually ends up being the worst part of the game, even if it’s a return to a story beat that made the first Injustice such a compelling Elseworlds tale in the first place. Not only does it not particularly sit well with the rest of the game’s themes of its characters reflecting and learning from their past mistakes—although there is a certain tragedy to Clark and Diana being incapable of doing so—it’s too abrupt, and the ending arrives far too quickly.
With just a handful of fights and cutscenes to return to the conflict between Batman and Superman, and after spending several hours moving on from it and restitching Injustice 2’s divided cast of heroes back together, it never feels particularly earned. Whether or not you choose to side with Batman and re-detain Superman and Wonder Woman, or side with Superman and see him horrifyingly indoctrinate his former friends to reestablish his tyrannical rule, it feels like the ending to a different story than what came before it—and especially as it fails to pay off on the game’s wider themes of change by essentially having the game end with its characters in mostly the same place as they were when it began. (If you picked Batman, that is; but the game clearly expects you to choose the Dark Knight, given how little time it spends even attempting to justify Superman and Wonder Woman’s bloodlust.)
Even then, the overall story of Injustice 2 does a great job of flipping expectations from this grim, often ridiculous, take on DC’s finest heroes. Injustice: Gods Among Us stood apart from most DC Universe takes by upending the status quo so widely seen elsewhere. Its sequel, for the most part, does the same, aside from a final return to the original Injustice’s themes that doesn’t quite hit the mark a second time around.