Batman's had lots of sidekicks over the years. Imps from other dimensions, mask-wearing dogs and his own kill-crazy offspring have leapt from the shadows with the DC Comics superhero. He's trained them, scolded them and in case of Ace the Bat-hound, probably picked up their poop while out on patrol. But there's been a tacit Bat-approval for all of those partners.
Batman probably wouldn't approve of Gotham City Impostors.
The cult-like Batz gang that idolises Bruce Wayne's alter ego gets one crucial thing wrong as far as their crime-fighting campaign goes: They kill. A lot. And in this Monolith-developed multiplayer first-person shooter, all the killing happens intentionally and with much glee. None of that "oh, your hand slipped from mine while you dangle over a cliff" guff.
Of course, the rival Jokerz faction murders their do-gooder counterparts, too. But, c'mon, they're modelled after a homicidal clown. This digitally distributed game takes inspirations from the idea that people would want to emulate Batman and his enemies, most significantly from storylines seen here and here. Despite the fact that Impostors happens in the Dark Knight's hometown, the death-dealing doesn't feel all that bad. It feels pretty good actually.
There's a manic tempo to the combat in GCI. Using spring-loaded footwear, grappling hooks and glider rigs to zip around the maps makes for fast-paced, surprise-filled firefights. Even the stealth -- generally the most serious of pursuits -- feels wacky here. It's gladiatorial bloodsport in the universe of the 1960s Batman TV show. The maps feel tight and intricate, built for speed and constant running-and-gunning.
In between all the dying, you'll stumble upon a sniper-friendly hidey-hole or a great spot to lay a bear trap. The verticality's nicely layered, too, and some maps will offer instances where your death-from-above perch gets drenched in a hot-lead rainstorm by someone who got even higher than you did.
Gotham City Impostors
Developer: Monolith Platforms: PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 (Version played) / PC Released: February 7 (PlayStation Network, PC); February 8 (Xbox Live)
Type of game: Class-based first-person shooter.
What I played: About 20 hours in various online modes.
Two Things I Loved
- The Impostors experience is like playing through a notebook of some Bat-super-fan's scribbly drawings. It's not the sleek, shiny Rocksteady version of the Dark Knight and that's a good thing.
- The gunfights get hot and heavy in Gotham City's streets. There's no ramp up here; you're jumping straight into the deep end, getting hit immediately by jolts of instant adrenaline.
Two Things I Hated
- It still takes an awfully long time to fully populate a match. Whenever I just want to just jump in and bang out a couple of matches, I got frustrated at the wait.
- I never felt like the people on my side were interested in teamwork. Even when I was playing a support role, fellow Batz or Jokerz would run off without letting me heal them. Individual glory still seems to trump all.
Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes
- "If you ever wanted to shoot an arrow straight into Adam West's cowl, here's your game." -Evan Narcisse, Kotaku
- "Robins? We don't need no stinkin' Robins!" -Evan Narcisse, Kotaku
Impostors is a class-based shooter, meaning that you'll need to invest playtime to unlock better armour, weapons, mods and paint options for your Jokerz or Batz avatar. There's a typical array of class types in the game -- medics, strikers, scouts, defenders, etc -- and only continued play will reveal the best weapons+gadgets+support gear recipe for you. There's no escaping the fact that Monolith's imprinted off of Valve's success with Team Fortress 2 in a big, big way. The public announcement system updates, the hard emphasis on customisation and the random prize-drops in the field of battle all owe big debts to TF2.
Continued play is the watchword here. There's no plot-based campaign in Impostors and, after a brief tutorial, it's up to the player to figure out the best gear and strategies for their playstyle. This is freeing but it also feels frustrating too. You can level up quickly but still feel like you don't have the know-how to earn glory on the mean Gotham streets.
I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that Impostors never quite gels into that special sort of subliminal teamwork that truly great shooters engender. I've had that happen in other games where I've played with strangers. But no such thing happened in this Bat-shooter. In the Gasblaster mode -- where you have to capture and hold three control points on the map -- I constantly felt like my side went from rock-solid control to abject failure really quickly.
Now, while that may've been a failing of our skills, I felt like my erstwhile teammates and I never had quite enough tactical information or comrade telepathy to shift the tide of battle back in our favour. All the wannabe hero/villain warfare feels like it's missing some special ingredient. The only factor I can chalk that missing-piece feeling up to is the sense that Gotham City Impostors still feels like it hasn't reached critical mass.
My time with the game felt like a bunch of people playing in pursuit of the almighty level-up. It's not a terrible pursuit, though. Hell, seeing all the cool weapons and costume finery that I hadn't unlocked yet kept me grinding in the abandoned industrial parks and back alleys of the game's maps.
Impostors operates in a near-camp space, with goofy voices and a cartoony yet hyper-real aesthetic. Seeing a guy in a Joker speedo caper off after wasting you starts the weird feedback loop of wanting to know what the people who kill you look like. And then I wanted to level up to make my own characters memorable so that I could slay enemies and strut.
As magnetic as that pull is, the whole time I played Impostors I felt like I was being pulled along a series of transaction queues. I wasn't cajoled into spending any actual money and it's not all that different from other online shooters, but Impostors doesn't do enough to mask or sublimate the feeling that you're a cog in a system. You spend a lot of time waving away prompts and cycling through menus just to get back to gameplay. It's fun in that lethal habit-trail way offer but it doesn't feel transcendent. Clever, but not greater than the sum of its very transparent parts.
However, because it's an online-only game, the experience will either grow or wither as people flock to it. Impostors feels like it's figuring things out as it goes along, which might pay off. Or might not. I'll be checking back in a month or so to see how many people are donning capes or facepaint to shoot each other in Crime Alley.