10 Thoughts on… Gotham City Impostors (PC, Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony Playstation 3)

When someone suggests a game based on the Batman franchise, “first person shooter” is probably not the first genre that comes to mind, between Batman’s “no killing” creed and acrobatic nature of the character and such. Never let it be said that you can’t make anything work, given enough time, however, because that’s exactly what Gotham City Impostors is: a Batman-themed FPS… just without the Batman. The game is essentially a team-based shooter that features Batman wanabees taking on Joker fanboys/girls in the streets and landmarks of Gotham City to prove who’s best, and while that seems like a bit of a cash-in on the franchise name, the game is anything but. Developed as a downloadable game at a reasonable price point ($15/1200 Xbox Points) by FPS veteran Monolith Productions (F.E.A.R. 3, Condemned 2), Gotham City Impostors has the price point and the pedigree to be a really stellar piece of work. Well, Warner Bros opted to put together a beta test for the game prior to its release to work out some final bugs, judge player input and generally develop some hype behind the game, so I sat down with the beta for a week and plowed into it to get a feel for what was going on and how well things seemed to be coming along.

1.) As noted, the basic gist here is that you’re playing on either the Bats or Jokerz teams at all times, with the idea being that both teams are composed of random city dwellers who are sympathetic to either Batman and his sense of justice or the Joker and his anarchic want to destroy. In a grand scheme sense this is a really amazing idea; compose teams of people loyal to different superheroes/supervillains and let them fight it out in the center of town, and having a team based on, say, Riddler, Penguin, Anarchy, Huntress or whoever would be really interesting in a broad scale sort of game. Here, though, the point is more to assign a “Red vs Blue” division to the teams, but it works out okay all the same. The game doesn’t have a plot per say, but the game does offer you a training mission where the Bats team makes it known that they’re not really… endorsed by Batman, on account of the fact that they lack the financial, physical and technical capabilities that allow him to not kill his foes. The game plays the whole thing for laughs, though, and in fact seems to basically take refuge in absurdity, which actually makes the whole “Batman fans versus Joker Fans killing each other in the streets” concept go down pretty easy.

2.) The actual game, as one might expect, is your standard team based first person shooter: teams are divided up at the beginning of a round and rebalanced as needed, and the two teams try to wipe each other out and/or accomplish the required objectives of the game type in order to win the game, often with lots of deaths. The game takes more than a few cues from its predecessors, and players will notice this as first; aside from the aesthetic and sense of humor, a lot of the concepts and mechanics brought into the game have been done elsewhere already. That’s not specifically a bad thing, mind you, as there’s always the chance for improvement of those concepts, and Gotham City Impostors does a fair job at this. Regardless, the point here is that the game should be instantly familiar to anyone who is a fan of this specific type of FPS experience, so you’ll not be left confused when you jump into the game and get things going.

3.) The lack of confusion on how the game works also extends to the controls, as the game plays more or less how a first person shooter should. In game, the Left stick moves, the Right stick looks around, the Left trigger aims, the Right trigger fires your equipped weapon, A jumps, B crouches, X reloads your weapon, Y swaps weapons, pushing in the Left stick runs, and pushing in the Right stick uses a melee attack, so there’s nothing surprising in the mechanics for the most part. The only things that are require any sort of considerations are the bumpers, as the Left Bumper makes use of whatever gadget you have equipped, while the Right Bumper uses whatever Support Item you’re holding, when applicable. Now, we’ll address what those do shortly, but they’re not terribly hard to understand either, to be honest, and if you’ve had any experience in the genre you’ll likely get the mechanics of the game down, at a base level, by the end of the tutorial.

4.) Now, here’s where things get interesting. To start with, let’s talk game modes. In the beta test there are only three: the introductory tutorial, Fumigation and Psych Warfare. The tutorial allows you a chance to get familiar with some of the more oddball gadgets, as well as with the gunplay itself, but once you’re done there, there’s not anything else to do with it. Fumigation can be likened to the Domination mode from the Call of Duty series: there are three gas pumps in a level and your objective is to control more of the three at any time than your opponents. There’s a twist, however: instead of trying to own the pumps for points, you’re trying to own the pumps to fill the game map with your team’s gas emissions. If the Bats fill the meter to one hundred percent, it releases a pheromone that attracts to gnaw the opposition to death, and if the Jokerz fill the meter, nerve toxin seeps in and kills the opposing team. As such, there’s less to do with scoring here and more to do with playing tug-of-war until someone dies. Psych Warfare, to use Call of Duty as an example again, can be compared to a Demolition/Search and Destroy sort of mode; a battery spawns in the game world, and your team must either grab the battery and place it in a speaker system, or kill whoever has it/disarm the speaker system they’ve placed it into. Where that becomes interesting is not in the mechanics of transporting or recovering the battery, but in the results of a team setting up the speaker system successfully. When the speakers go off, they begin blaring propaganda for thirty seconds; if you’re on the winning team, you hear cheesy eighties rock and an announcer telling you how awesome you are, while the losing team hears hypnotic music and a voice telling them that they suck. Yup. It’s also worth noting that the team affected by the propaganda loses their ability to use weapons for thirty seconds; this makes them sitting ducks to be offed, but if you can slap an opponent you’ll likely kill them and get big points, and you can always run for the machine and destroy it by slapping if you’re able to survive long enough.

5.) Now, as a team-based FPS, Gotham City Impostors is also going to rely a lot on its hardware, and while a lot of it is the standard gear one would expect from the genre, there are some surprises here. As you’d expect, you get two weapons you can carry into battle at one time, as well as a Support item and a Gadget, and you can flip between your weapons at will. There’s no specific size restriction to what can be primary or secondary in your loadouts either, so you’re not stuck with a sidearm as your off weapon or anything like that; if you want to bring two rifles into battle, go nuts. The weapon categories break down, at this point, into Rifles, Sub-Machine Guns, Heavy Weapons, Sniper Rifles, Shotguns, Launchers, and Assistance. The game also makes it a point to try and balance all weapons to all others, to the point where weapon unlocks simply provide you a key to unlock ONE weapon, but the game doesn’t force you into picking from a category or level of weapon, so everything is as viable as everything else. The beta showed off sixteen weapon options, and while the rifles, SMG’s and shotguns were your standard fare, the odd freeze ray, ball bearing launcher and bow and arrow showed up to keep things interesting, so there promises to be some craziness here too. It’s uncertain if there will be more guns available in the game or not post-launch, but there would almost have to be, as while the variety here is okay, it’s not enough to keep the game going longer than a couple weeks, interest-wise, so presumably this is only a small sampling of what’s to come in the final release. The gadget category deals with oddball secondary items that don’t specifically deal damage but help your mobility or otherwise provide secondary benefits. You’ll see things like gliders, rollerskates, jump boots and grappling hooks in this category, but you’ll also see oddities like smoke bombs and thermal goggles, so you have several different options to cater to your play style. The Support category caters more to damage dealing and reducing secondary items with the odd stun weapon thrown in, on the other hand, so you’ll see grenades, boomerangs, bear traps and body armor here, among other things, to give you an edge in battle. In terms of sheer variety there’s plenty to goof around with here, and you can put together builds that suit your personal tastes without too much effort.

6.) The progression system in the game works off of the standard “do this to level up” sort of concept we’ve seen countless times in the genre: as you kill enemies, perform support tasks and win matches you earn experience points, and once you earn enough, you gain a level. Levels earn you different bonuses each time you earn one, so going up to level 2 allows you to change your calling card that enemies see when you kill them, level 3 allows you to customize battle loadouts, level 4 earns you a weapon mod, and so on. The game uses an odd sort of points to experience conversion system, where you can earn several thousand points in a match but only several hundred for your performance in the end, but most everything you can do in the map can potentially earn you points. You can earn points for using support items, guarding or transporting sensitive items, killing and assisting in kills of enemies and so on, so even if you’re not so good at shooting people you can still find a need and fill it as needed. The game doesn’t have specific roles to fill like a Brink or Team Fortress 2, mind you, so you can swap between loadouts as needed if you find yourself getting ruined a lot, but there are ways to pick up points no matter what you’re doing so you’ll always have options.

7.) One of the more interesting aspects of the game is the ability to customize your character with costume components that you can unlock as you play. Each match you participate in will unlock costume coins, and once you hit level eight you’ll find that you can buy items for your Bats and Jokerz costumes, allowing you to change your hair/cowl, logo/facepaint, shirt, pants, gloves and more, as long as you have the coins to do so. Coins are earned over a long period of time, however, so while you might earn twenty or thirty coins in a match, most items cost between two hundred to a thousand coins, so you’ll be grinding away to get the items you might covet the most. On the other hand, in stark contrast to how Brink handled its character creation elements, your characters look unique to their chosen side no matter what you do, so no matter what outfit someone wears they’re instantly identifiable as being friend or foe, even at long range. As such, the character creation system is instantly improved over how Brink handled things and is better for it.

8.) The game also offers all sorts of other little perks, including “Fun Facts”, which act as Perks for this game, offering mild improvements to your character for no cost, Feats of Prowess that reward you for accomplishing various challenges as you play through the different maps, and so on. The game also implies through its pop-up boxes that the game will allow players to climb as high as level ONE THOUSAND, with different promotions being earned at every one hundred levels. Obviously, how these promotions and the features associated with them weren’t really on display in the beta, and elements such as having your own Mascot and the Rampage special ability were outside of the preview options available to me, but there would certainly seem to be more going on here than even the beta indicates. As such, there promises to be a lot to this Arcade product, something that is always promising in somewhat inexpensive downloadable games.

9.) Which is not to say that, after all of the points made, everything is wine and roses here. On one hand, the beta features some noticeable issues; the auto-balancing of games rarely works effectively, often leaving one person against an army when players drop, or auto-balancing a person for one round only to leave them back on their original team the next and, again, leaving one person against an army. But beyond the technical issues that may just as likely be fixed by release, the game has other issues that seem to be purposeful, and it’s these issues that make the game a notable concern. For one thing, the game seems to have big issues with insisting that there be a large group of players and often won’t start a round unless eight people are in the room, at least, which can make for some really long wait times; this may not affect all game modes, but the two on display are both affected by this. One thing that’s also really noticeable is the fact the game makes it plainly apparent that, even beyond its price point, it wants your money; most of the various unlockable items can be unlocked earlier than normal with the spending of real dollars, including extra weapons and costume items. It’s not that these will make you better in the long run per say, as you can unlock any weapon from the list at any point with an unlock, leaving the weapons generally balanced all in all, but the idea that the game is making its content available by spending extra cash is revolting on a base level. The tangible benefits for spending such cash in such a way may be minor, but the fact that it exists at all implies the desires of those involved to draw in more of your money for a game you’ve already paid for, not with extra content, but by unlocking content you will eventually have anyway. It is, in simple terms, icky.

10.) Assuming the matchmaking issues are patched up by release, Gotham City Imposters has the potential to be a solid game; there’s a lot of content on display in the beta and assuming there’s, say, double what’s on display in the final product it’s very easy to see how this could be well worth fifteen dollars, if not double that. The game isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it does add in gimmicks that are all its own and refines ideas others have had into something more useful than in those games, and if the bad is patched or ignored it’s a good time. The matchmaking could be problematic depending on how the final product handles team building and balancing, however, and the fact that the game is basically begging for your money in every menu is distasteful at the best of times. Depending on how the final product comes together, this could either be a very good or very bad experience, and while the game equally leans in both directions, it’s hard to say how it will really pan out.

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