Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment / Developer: Monolith Productions / Price: 1200 Microsoft Points / Played on: Xbox 360 / ESRB: Teen [Blood, Comic Mischief, Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence]
I’ve never been too big a fan of first-person-shooters—I’m kind of sucky at them. But I am a fan of Batman and things that have even tangential relationships to him and his fictional world. That’s why I was both intrigued and more than a little puzzled when Gotham City Impostors was announced. A Batman-themed first-person-shooter? I mean, that guy’s whole shtick is that he doesn’t kill… and that’s pretty much all you do in this game.
After playing it for a few days, I’ve come to appreciate this game for its fun attitude and addictive gameplay, despite its shortcomings and missteps.
Many have said that Gotham City Impostors is a Batman-licensed Team Fortress clone, and I’m not inclined to disagree. Players square off on opposing teams, toting multiple guns and gadgets to kill the other team as often as possible. The game offers five pre-made characters—striker, scout, medic, defender, and sniper—each with specialized weaponry and accessories to emphasize their strengths and cover up weaknesses. The defender, for instance, is big on bulk and low on neck, boasting maximum strength and health, but is slow of foot. His load-out provides strong, heavy weapons and an air glider to help his mobility… and crush foes when he crashes to the ground.
As you play, earning XP and gaining levels, you can unlock more weapons, mods, gadgets, and body types, allowing you to mix and match load-outs to best suit your own style of play. You also earn costume coins, redeemable for cosmetic customizations of your character, like different Joker-wigs, or more (or less) professional looking Batman cowls.
There are three basic modes of play: Team Deathmatch, Fumigation, and Psych Warfare, the latter two being variations on Capture the Flag. In Fumigation, the two teams battle to occupy three bases for as long as possible. When each base is held, that team’s signature gas (bat pheromone or Joker-gas) is released into the air. Victory is granted to the team that out-gasses the other, or who’s passed the most gas in the time allotted. Psych Warfare is more straight-forward: teams vie to capture a battery to power propaganda machines. When a team powers their machine, their opponents are stripped of weapons and gadgets—but earn extra points for slap-killing enemies.
There’s not much more to it than that—there’s a perfunctory Challenge mode that represents the game’s only foray into single-player gaming, tasking you with traversing one of the five maps in a certain time limit or quickly take out targets, but it’s not particularly compelling. It would’ve been nice if there was an offline, single-player campaign to play, or options for playing split-screen multiplayer locally, or for setting up custom rooms and games with AI-controlled bots so that you and your friends could have private turf wars. Sadly, none of that is here. That said, those missing features don’t detract from the enjoyable lunacy of the game. It’s all the fun of laser tag or paint ball, but from the comfort of your sofa and a coating of Batman weirdness to top it off.
Additionally, the gadgets and accessories really spice things up. It’s fun to experiment with gliders or spring-shoes for increased mobility, while stealth gas or infrared goggles offer dynamic tactical advantages. The downside is you’ve got a lot of level grinding to do to earn XP to unlock all the customizations, and you’ll frequently fall victim to gamers who’ve already done so. Fortunately, the game seems pretty well-balanced, so everyone’s got a shot at scoring kills, and XP is awarded just for seeing a match through, limiting the number of rage quits.
The basic FPS control scheme is at work here: left trigger to zoom, right trigger to shoot, gadgets on the bumpers, left stick to move, right stick to aim, etc. Those who prefer to play with a mouse and keyboard will still feel that way, but playing with a controller works pretty well. Most importantly, each body-type feels the way they should—small characters zip around, larger characters are more sluggish. The mobility gadgets add a different control wrinkle that’s fun to master. Zip-lining through stages takes practice, and graceful gliding is a very useful skill to learn. While I’m still not coordinated enough to really master the alternative movement modes, I’ve seen how much deft roller-skating can aid a player’s score. I’m definitely going to unlock those next.
Gotham City Impostors doesn’t so much have a story as it has a premise: when Batman’s out of town, crazy people put on homemade costumes and shoot each other to hell. The game’s “initiation” mode, which is the tutorial, hints at an underlying story of two street gangs at war for control of the city, but without any kind of story-based campaign, it’s never fleshed out.
In some ways this is fine, considering “Batman,” “The Joker,” and “Gotham City” are enough to conjure stories in fans’ heads. But the game’s aesthetic and introductory cut-scene point to great comic potential that I’m disappointed doesn’t get more attention. It’s clear that the people who made the game were having a good time sketching out the characters who inhabit this game, evidenced by the genuinely fun and funny victory cries and various lines of dialogue that the characters deliver throughout. Maybe we’ll get some DLC down the line that could bring more of this out.
The game’s visual aesthetic is like a stylized, cartoonish take on the recent Arkham games. Characters look like they’ve been pulled from the pages of a comic book, supplementing the game’s cartoonish violence and premise. Because you’re shooting—and being shot by—caricatures, the game has more in common with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd than Modern Warfare… which, now that I think of it, sounds like a great premise for another FPS.
The environments aren’t particularly memorable, though Crime Alley and Amusement Mile offer more personality than the other three environments (The Docks, Ace Chemical, and Gotham Power). But all five offer plenty of detail and bright color to make them fun places to rampage. There isn’t anything revolutionary going on here, but the game as a whole is generally a fun place to look at.
The sound is one of the game’s biggest strengths and weaknesses. The voice actors have done a great job bringing personality to the nameless characters, spouting dialogue that is usually pretty funny, and rarely annoying. Sound effects, too, emphasize the game’s insanity, like with the high-pitched whine and subsequent crash that comes with a gliding character dive bombing you from above.
On the other hand, none of the maps have any music at all. While this isn’t the worst thing in the world, it’s quite a missed opportunity, especially given the rich a catalogue of scores and soundtracks at Warner Bros.’ disposal. The menu screen offers a whimsical adaptation of the Danny Elfman-composed score from Tim Burton’s Batman, and the animated tutorials feature music reminiscent of The Venture Bros., but that’s all you get.
I can’t help but feel like there could’ve been more to Gotham City Impostors. Free downloadable content has been promised for the game, which will undoubtedly help to flesh out the whole experience. But while there isn’t a whole lot of game here, there’s definitely no question that this is a very fun game that does what little it does well. First-person shooter addicts can definitely have a good time here, while curious Batman fans can enjoy this while we wait for the next sequel to the Arkham series.