A fighting game based on pitting DC’s biggest and best superheroes and villains against one another was never going to be a hard sell. We’ve all pondered age-old questions like whether Batman or Superman would win in a round of fisticuffs, and 2013’s Injustice: Gods Among Us provided a tool with which to play out these fantasies, seeing critical and commercial success as a direct result. Selling a sequel, however, can be a much harder prospect, but one that NetherRealm and Warner Bros.’ have managed to surmount by meaningfully building on the original’s strong foundation.
Whether you’re a DC fan and a genre novice, or a fighting game aficionado with no attachment to the roster, Injustice 2 caters to your niche.
If you elect to hoard your power and fill the Super Meter entirely, you can trade it all in for one devastating Super Move. These signature sequences are an over-the-top spectacle, equivalent to Mortal Kombat’s visceral x-ray attacks that, while far less graphic in their depiction, are, undoubtedly, no less deadly.
The tutorial does a sterling job of teaching the above mechanics and more, but integrating these skills against an opponent that actually fights back is a whole new kettle of fish. You’ll need to experiment extensively to figure out what combinations of attacks work, where and when they work, and against who. Though time consuming, it’s part and parcel of the rewarding learning process.
Story Mode is a good place to start out and familiarise yourself with a range of characters, as each chapter sees you take control of someone new to get a taste of the different combat styles on offer. What’s more, the narrative is genuinely engaging and presented with abundant production value, making it the premier attraction when it comes to solo play, as compared to the throwaway nature of the mode in so many other fighters.
Continuing where Gods Among Us left off, Injustice 2 challenges expectations by turning heroes rogue and villains good, though, with Earth’s future in peril at the hands of Brainiac, the sides strike a temporary alliance. The high-stakes tale is brimming with fan service and boasts a seamless, filmic presentation that culminates in an experience that, as cliché as it might sound, is akin to being a part of the latest summer blockbuster.
The lavish presentation really can’t be understated, with gorgeous character models animating fluidly against bustling stage backgrounds that help the visuals pop - especially if you have an Xbox One S and a supporting TV to play with HDR. Injustice 2 is equally enticing for audiophiles as well, with a seasoned and recognisable voice cast complementing the rousing and bombastic soundtrack.
Progress is rewarded with Gear, which can then be equipped to influence a relevant character’s appearance and stats - strength, defence, health and ability - provided they meet the level requirement to use it. You level fighters simply by taking them into battle, earning experience points proportional to your performance at the conclusion of each bout, win or lose. The wide range of character-specific Gear and Shaders available is somewhat staggering, allowing you to extensively adapt each combatant to make them truly your own in terms of both their look and play style. For purists that don’t like the sound of tinkering with the game’s balance, it can also be kept purely cosmetic (which is standard in ranked online play).
The wide range of character-specific customisation options are somewhat staggering, allowing you to extensively adapt each combatant to make them truly your own in terms of both their look and play style.
Gear fiends will definitely want to spend some time in Multiverse mode, as that’s where they’ll see the highest payouts. Multiverse, a universe-hopping staple of the DC comics, is a nice way of contextualising the transition of Mortal Kombat’s Living Towers, with new multiverses constantly cropping up for limited timeframes, each home to a string of encounters against new takes on existing heroes and villains under differing rulesets. Mother Boxes are rewarded for beating a multiverse and function in much the same way as Overwatch’s Loot Boxes, dishing out a random selection of items for a random set of characters when opened.
Mother Boxes can be bought with in-game credits, which you’ll earn a steady stream of and can sell unwanted Gear for, while items you’re fond of can be refreshed with Regen Tokens to bring them up to your current level. The rare Source Crystals, however, which serve to change an item’s appearance while maintaining its stats, are a more premium commodity, requiring you to part with some cash if you want to make frequent use of them. Thankfully, Gear is earned at a fair clip, so you should never be left wanting enough to feel pressured into it.
Joining a Guild is a direct route to more loot, with all members working towards specific objectives in order to share in the victory spoils. Guilds are also a good place to meet like-minded players with which to play online, as, unfortunately, both ranked and player bouts suffer imbalanced matchmaking and opposition that spam the same few attacks.
When you do find applicable human competition, the game takes on new life, with mind games that wouldn’t necessarily be utilised by or against the AI coming into play. Unpredictable use of cancels, delays and cross-ups keep everyone on their toes, making for some edge-of-your-seat encounters. While infrequent and only occurring at peak times, it’s just unfortunate that spotty netcode can occasionally throw a spanner in the works. As is the case with any precision-based fighter, anything other than flawless online performance renders the game near unplayable.
Despite that, Injustice 2 has dethroned the mighty Mortal Kombat X as king of our hill, in the process cementing NetherRealm’s place atop the genre. Sumptuous presentation, unrivalled storytelling, deep customisation systems, endless Multiverse possibilities, and a mostly solid online experience that can only improve with time make Injustice 2 the full package.
Developer Dan Fornace is the mind behind Super Smash Land, a fan-made Super Smash Bros. demake, who also served as Lead Developer on the excellent Killer Instinct reboot that launched alongside the Xbox One. Dan’s background is precisely why his new independent venture, Rivals of Aether, should grab your attention. It’s an amalgamation of the knowledge he’s accrued, as well as another passionate love letter to one of his favourite games.
Once you’re good and ready for competition, you’ll need to carefully select a stage to put your new skills to use on. There’s a mixture of symmetrical and asymmetrical layouts, as well as compositions that allow for more or less verticality, centred around both grounded and fantastical geography. Each possesses a fitting retro soundtrack that’ll really put the wind in your sails, as well as unique hazards and pick-ups that change the way you play. It’s worth noting that these modifiers can be turned off should you want an unimpeded fight experience, perhaps to settle a dispute with a level-playing-field grudge match.
A further glut of customisation options are available for the matches themselves, namely edits to the time limit and number of lives, number of participants, whether the battle is free-for-all or team-based, and each individual fighter’s competence. Everyone can find their sweet spot as a result.
Whatever settings you opt for, matches are enjoyably frenetic, especially if you opt for a full roster of four. The streamlined controls earn their stay here, not getting lost amongst the crazy cavalcade of busy visual effects as conventionally complex inputs likely would.
As you dish out beatings the recipient’s damage percentage increases, and the higher it gets the easier it is to knock them from the stage and deplete their stock of lives by one. Once they run out, they’re eliminated, and you win by being the last animorph standing. It’s incredibly Smash, but it’s regardless a raucous good time that brings the experience to an audience Smash largely doesn’t reach.
It’s incredibly Smash, but it’s regardless a raucous good time that brings the experience to an audience Smash largely doesn’t reach.
For an early access game, technical performance is mostly rock solid thanks to responsive controls and no hitching during even the most frenzied of encounters. When we ventured online, some issues did unfortunately apparate in the finicky invite system and occasional bout of lag.
The online multiplayer issues don’t quite end there, however, as the breadth of choice available to solo users gives way to quite a rigid structure. Whilst it’s understandable that ranked matches would disable stage modifiers and bots, there’s no reason to enforce the same strict ruling on friendly matches. To the same point, team-based battles should also be available. Rivals of Aether is predictably at its absolute best when shared with friends, but unless they’re available for local play, the options are disappointingly limiting.
Despite that, if you’ve been craving a nostalgic shot of Smash Bros. but have long since left Nintendo behind, were burned by PlayStation All-Stars, or are just looking to inject some variety into your repertoire of bog-standard fighters, Rivals of Aether is for you. Whether you choose to invest now or wait for the final release depends where your interests lie; whilst you’re (at least eventually) in for a treat either way, we’d advise erring on the side of caution and waiting to see if the online options are expanded upon first.
Pick it up in preview
Wait for final release
Avoid it either way
Note: To reiterate, Rivals of Aether is currently in preview phase and this review reflects the state of the game at the time of publishing. Things can and will change, likely only for the better.
A brief second opinion:
With that in mind, the preview build definitely offers a strong beginning that we can expect to reach its full potential as the game is updated to reach release state.
Despite having been around since 1994, having been available on a multitude of platforms, and having thirteen prior instalments, PS4 exclusive The King of Fighters XIV has been our introductory encounter with this franchise. Whilst we’ve discovered a sound technical fighter to add to our repertoire, we’ve also come to understand why it fell by the wayside for so long.
Don’t expect Netherrealm-style production values from the story mode. A sparse few cinematics convey a scant narrative.
Whilst the characters all have a firm technical foundation, their designs and diversity leave a little to be desired. We couldn’t identify most of them in a lineup, which might sound a petty grievance, but when the genre’s built upon the shoulders of iconic characters, it’s criminal. Thankfully they can’t all be tarred with the same brush, as select combatants - Choi Bounge and The King of Dinosaurs, for example - are bizarre enough to be memorable.
KOFXIV’s game modes are just as numerous with versus, survival, time attack, combo trials and story available on the singleplayer front. They’re all pretty self-explanatory, though don’t expect Netherrealm-style production values from the story mode. A sparse few cinematics convey a scant narrative that does little to distract from the fact it’s actually a tower battle mode.
Whilst disappointing, it’s far from damning for most, as online’s where extended longevity is eked out. There’s a lot to keep you busy between ranked play and free matches across team, single and party disciplines. It’s all for naught if poor netcode warps the otherwise responsive 60FPS control, but for the most part, performance is reliably steady. Whilst we have experienced infrequent pockets of latency, we couldn’t be picky about opponents pre-release, so expect better results when faced with a choice of matches in your region come launch day.
It’s easy to appreciate KOFXIV’s technical prowess, but it just doesn’t stand out from the crowd.
Whilst connections vary, you’re always guaranteed a sumptuous visual and aural presentation. A bevy of creative stages show off a carnival of crisp, 1080p colour, each accompanied by a unique and fitting track. Clean menus also house a hard-rocking main theme, which never fails to build hype for the impending fight.
It’s easy to appreciate The King of Fighters XIV’s technical prowess and no bells and whistles approach; they give it a nostalgic feel that harkens back to many a classic. Despite that, it just doesn’t stand out from the crowd, or excel enough in any one area to take mantle as the game of choice in that distinction. For a certain breed of hardcore gamer, the stark focus on fundamentals will be a huge positive, whereas for another - us included - it’ll lack inherent fun through neglecting established pillars of the genre, like bonkers mini-games and recognisable guest characters. Which camp you fall into dictates whether KOFXIV is worth your time.