Taking over railway arches in London’s trendy Southbank for the night, Warner Bros Interactive threw a glittering press event for Injustice 2 complete with massive ice sculptures of Batman and Superman, a pro tournament that showed you how you really should be playing, real-life superheroes (well, extremely talented cosplayers anyway), and a press tournament that was, let’s say, not quite at the standard of the pros.
There were also PS4s everywhere so pros and press alike could train for the epic battles to come. An in-depth review by someone who actually knows their beat-em-ups is coming soon, but after a few games against various members of the gaming press, first impressions are extremely good. What hits you immediately are the graphical improvements, the first Injustice on PS4 was basically a port of a PS3 game, and it occasionally showed, with cutscene backgrounds in particular often looking drab and lifeless. In comparison, Injustice 2 pops off the screen, it all looks fantastic and full of character, from heroes attacking each other on the menu screen to trash talk that’s tailored to their opponent. A number of superheroes/supervillains have also been added which may well have you scouring your internal DC database and coming up short (unless you’ve, you know, actually read the comics). Atrocitus, for example, is a big red bastard that’s a Green Lantern baddie, Doctor Fate is a magical practitioner in a warrior’s helmet whose attacks seem to revolve around the Ankh symbol, and Gorilla Grodd is, well, a big gorilla only too happy to beat you to a pulp.
Returning characters have also, in classic Spinal Tap style, been turned up to 11. For example, Batman’s Super Move used to revolve around him summoning the Batmobile to run an enemy over as he casually backflipped out the way. Clearly, developers NetherRealm Studios decided that wasn’t nearly crazy enough and his Super now involves an enemy being hoisted up by a barrage balloon, which is then cut by the Batwing, before your helpless foe is machine gunned to the ground. Similarly, The Flash’s Super sees him transport his opponent back in time, first slamming them into the Sphinx, and then into a dinosaur, before finally attacking them with themselves from another timeline. It’s completely bonkers, joyously OTT, and a perfect encapsulation of what Injustice 2 is all about.
The stages are also better than ever, brimming with a vitality that simply wasn’t present in the first game. New locations have also been plucked from DC lore, including Kahndaq, the shimmering desert homeland of Black Adam; and the Ace ‘o Clubs, a Metropolis pub filled with boxing memorabilia and opportunities to cause mayhem. That stage even comes complete with a bartender and grizzled regulars, who casually look on as superpowered combatants smack seven shades of crap out of each other.
What’s immediately evident is that the game is a fast, fluid joy, everything is beautifully animated and even basic inputs from inexperienced game journalists will produce a fight full of spectacle and dynamism. A quick glance at the pro game on stage shows just how good these confrontations can look, each fight a balletic blur of attack and counterattack. But, while the game is clearly trying to establish itself as an esports stalwart, it’s also perfect for a multiplayer session with your mates, combos are hardly ever more complicated than a few button presses, and there’s a nice range of well-balanced characters. Most importantly, everything looks absolutely gorgeous, NetherRealm harnessing the power of the PS4 to produce characters brimming with personality and dazzling displays of pyrotechnics that are a real treat for your eyeballs.
Of course, this was all preparation for the real battle ahead, the chance to pit myself against the cream of games journalism. My opponent was a genial fellow in a blue t-shirt who didn’t, at first glance at least, look like he posed arcane knowledge of the intricacies of virtual combat. Alas, looks can be deceiving, we faced off and he nearly obliterated me, my Aquaman simply unable to cope with the speed and elusiveness of his Catwoman. Luckily, it was best out of 3, and I somehow managed to get the best of him in our next encounter; I remembered to actually block a few attacks this time and Aquaman’s power just about won the day. So, the stage was set for a final battle, and it was the most even yet, the adrenaline pumping as our health bars wore down virtually in sync. Suddenly, I had the advantage and an unlikely victory was within reach, all I needed to do was land a few final blows. I swung for the fences and missed, Catwoman leaping over me, trapping me in a corner and finishing me off with frenetic swipes that I was powerless to counter. And that was it, from triumph to tragedy in a few seconds and all that was left was a sportsmanlike handshake with the man who had bested me.
I sank a comiseratory drink and swapped war stories with other contenders who fell at the first hurdle, each of us feeling like we lost out in the luck of the draw. Soon though, I was back at the PS4, unable to resist diving back into this magnificently overblown world of heroes and villains locked in spectacular eternal conflict and desperate to hone my skills for battles to come.