Gotham City Impostors Hands-On Preview

Coming out on XBLA, PSN, and PC early next year, Gotham City Impostors asks what would happen if ordinary (though more than slightly crazy) people were inspired by Batman’s efforts to clean up Gotham City to dress up and have a go themselves. The result is a war between an army of vigilantes, armed with make-shift gadgets based on the Dark Knight’s arsenal and weapons bought on the black market, and The Joker’s thugs.

The game is a team-based first person shooter, and places the player either on the side of the Batwannabes or Joker’s gang, with up to six on each side in any given battle. There are three game modes planned for the finished game, based around variations on team deathmatch, capture the flag, and domination. The last of these, called Fumigation within the game, was available to play here at GamesCom and I was lucky enough to have a go.

Fumigation places three gas canisters around the map, which was the well-known Crime Alley when I played, and each team is involved in a tug of war trying to control at least two of these in order to swing the balance of power in their direction. Percentage points are awarded for holding two or three of the canisters, more quickly for three, naturally, and the first to reach 100 wins, with their opponents gassed to death by the canisters going off. The percentages go up and down, so a team that starts poorly can rally and turn things around and, in the case of a close-run thing, there is also a set match time, which switches to sudden death when the clock runs out. When a team reaches 90% or the game goes into sudden death, the action is ramped up by a much faster accumulation of points for controlling the gas canisters.

So far this is all fairly standard online team-shooter territory. What sets Gotham City Impostors apart from the rest of the pack, however, is the way in which developers Monolith (the team behind the F.E.A.R franchise, already giving the game something of an impressive pedigree) are given free license by DC to play around with the setting and Batman comic universe. The result, inasmuch as I was able to see, is an incredibly fun title with a warped sense of humour. As the game is not tied to any pre-existing version of Batman (though the idea of vigilantes impersonating Batman has been explored before, this game has nothing to do with any of those interpretations), and as Batman and The Joker themselves are not actually in the game, the designers had no restrictions on how far they could push the humour and irreverent tone.

This desire to have and make fun pervades every aspect of the game. The visual style takes loose inspiration from Team Fortress 2, with very cartoonish characters and weapons. Player re-spawns in open areas are heralded by the arrival on map of a beaten up car painted up to look like a replica Batmobile or Joker clown car. The voice taunts and sounds are amusing to listen to (though I did have some difficulty hearing them clearly, due to the noise levels in the convention hall, and would reserve final judgment until I get to play in a quieter setting). Playing two matches on the Joker team, I was able to see both the victory and defeat messages at the end of each session – when I was on the losing side the game mocked me with “Who’s laughing now, assclowns?” Even loading screens are a brightly coloured series of hand-drawn caricatures of Batman and other characters, accompanied by the usual gameplay tips but also mildly rude and inflammatory jokes.

Customisation is a big deal too. The members of the development team on hand to guide us through the demo session were very clear on how much of a focus they wanted to give to player choice in just about every aspect of players’ characters and how they play. It starts with the basics, such as building your own character avatar by creating a face and selecting from one of (announced so far at least) three body types, each with varying ways of moving and interacting with weapons – a nimble female model with a lithe and fast body type, a massively fat male model with greater strength and resilience, and another male model set between the two with all-rounder aptitudes. Voices and taunts are all optional too.

Costumes and weapons loadouts are also fully customisable – new gadgets and weapons are unlocked as you gain experience and level up – and all are available to all body types. This is not a class based shooter, more a loose coalition of like-thinking individuals knocking shit out of another loose coalition with an opposing view of criminal activities. Even the team-themed items are usable by players on either side during matches – Joker thugs with grappling guns and glider wings, vigilantes with bazookas, and the like. As soon as you unlock it you can use it, and with a stated desire for there to be hundreds of levels and many weapons, the potential for mixing and matching an incredibly varied and unusual toolkit to take into combat is frankly exciting and, as far as I’m aware, unprecedented in the genre.

Mobility gadgets are something else that’s different. Gliders and rocket packs and the like have been done before, but were very much optional extras. In this game you need to know how to use at least one of the many different mobility gadgets, and use it well, or you’re going to get left behind or simply killed before you’re even aware of what hit you. My favourite from the demo was the grappling gun – point it at a solid object, any solid object, hit the left bumper, and you’re suddenly hurtling forward at breakneck speed. It adds to the fun enormously, as well as the pace of the action.

The game is currently slated to come to Xbox Live just after Christmas for 1200 MS points, and on the Playstation Network at the same time for the equivalent amount of money. It will also be on the PC, but how distribution for that will work has yet to be nailed down so PC gamers will want to keep an eye out for future details.

I had a LOT of fun with this game. Everything about it, even at this stage of development, is very polished, and the quality looks like it could rival many full retail releases. The developers I got to speak to were all very enthusiastic about the opportunity to lovingly subvert the Batman universe – “We wanted to see what the crazies get up to when Batman is asleep during the day!” – and that shows, it really does. I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes pointed skywards for more Batsignals about Gotham City Impostors closer to release.

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One Comment

  1. Edward Edward says:

    I wasn’t convinced by the game when it first showed up, but this has done well to persuade me.
    Well, it would if it was at a slightly lower price point. 1200 is too much considering it’s a small multiplayer only game, and I can imagine I won’t be the only one put off by that. 800, and we’d be talking, though.

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