When it was first announced that Monolith were making a downloadable Batman-themed online shooter a number of commentators were left scratching their heads. “Surely” they said, “an integral part of being Batman is his aversion to firearms and his vow to never kill!” Well, the brains over at Warner Brothers have concocted a smart way of getting around this moral quandary.
Rather than putting you in the role of the caped crusader and friends you instead play as a person that is either inspired by Batman to fight for justice, or as someone that decides to fight for the forces of chaos.
Upon starting the game up for the first time you are given the option of playing the game’s tutorial, which pits you as a new recruit to the Bats gang, a costumed group of Batman-inspired do-gooders. Their counterparts are the Jokerz gang, a group of miscreants influenced by the Clown Prince of Crime, that are hell-bent on causing anarchy on the streets of Gotham.
During the course of your introductions to the game you’ll be taught the basics of shooting and using gadgets to navigate your environment. These include a bat-glider that allows you to glide through the air, roller skates that propel you at a far higher speed, and a grapple that grants access to rooftops and ledges. The whole navigation system is very novel and makes great use of the source material.
The game features a really clean, bright, and vibrant art style (in direct juxtaposition to Monolith’s other games, F.E.A.R and Condemned) that has more in common with the 1960’s Adam West Batman than it does the more recent grim and gritty interpretations of the character. It may not be to everybody’s taste, but I personally found the quirky, lighthearted graphical style to be particularly pleasing.
As for the gameplay itself, there are four main game modes. The first is your standard team deathmatch in which two teams compete to earn the most points within a set time limit. Anyone that has ever played Call of Duty online will feel right at home, as experience points are dolled out for killing enemies, defending teammates, and other assorted tasks.
Psych Ware is a capture the flag variant that tasks the teams with capturing a battery and taking it to their mind control device. Once activated this fills the air with either propaganda that causes the enemy team to drop their weapons and run around in a daze, with their only defence being their flailing arms.
Fumigation is essentially Conquest mode in which the teams try to take control of three bases. Once all bases are claimed and the metre fills up, the losing team is killed. If the Jokerz win they gas the city, while the Bats summon a swarm of bats that clean out the streets.
Finally there is the offline single player challenge mode that tests your ability to use the gadgets to get through checkpoints within in a set time limit. As the difficulty ramps up you will also be required to quickly shoot targets before getting to the next checkpoint. Completing challenges awards you with a small amount of experience points, and gives you something to do offline, even if it is a little tedious.
The strongest selling point of the entire game is the sheer level of customization. As well as being able to produce a player card, made up from your choice of dozens of different backgrounds and icons, you can fully customise your arsenal, and (eventually) your character’s appearance. Once you reach level eight you unlock the ability to create your own distinct character, and as you continue to level up (all the way to level 1000!) you earn more in-game currency to spend on items.
While it is fairly easy to earn experience, and it doesn’t take too many victories to reach level eight, I can’t help but feel like the early part of the game was an uphill slog that could’ve been lessened had they made character customization available earlier on.
Those that are too impatient to actually earn all of the good stuff can simply spend some real world cash on buying an assortment of upgrades. Experience boosts, costumes, mascots, and a sea of other items are available for purchasing off of Xbox live marketplace and the PlayStation Store with real world money. This gives those with more money than sense an advantage over other players, and undermines the whole concept of earning your own character and weapons. This may not bother many other players, but it has left a sour taste in my mouth.
Other elements of the game are also a little bit of a letdown. There are currently only three online game modes spread out over five maps. This is a fairly pitiful amount of content, even for a relatively inexpensive downloadable shooter.
As for the online experience itself, it can best be surmised as being uneven. Some matches work perfectly with little waiting time and minimal lag, while other games never get past the loading screen. At the time of writing you are unable to join games that are already underway, but Warner Brothers have confirmed that this feature is going to be patched in shortly.
The team making system also leaves a lot to be desired. When playing in games where we did not have full squads on either side, for instance 8 players instead of the maximum of 12, rather than separating us in to two teams of four the game has on numerous occasions made one team of five and one team of three. This could be seen as a good thing if you’re lucky enough to be put on the team of five, but for the team that is outnumbered the experience can be frustrating.
These wounds are softened slightly by Warner’s announcement that they are currently working on a patch, due to be released in a few short weeks, to fix the majority of these issues. As an added bonus the patch will include some free DLC in the form of a new map, weapons and outfits.
It is worth noting that almost every major online game has had teething problems for the first few months of release, but you’d think that after their extensive beta testing period, and the resulting delay in releasing the game, that they’d have ironed out all of the kinks by now. One way of getting around this problem would be if they had made the game playable offline against bots, as this would not only allow people to train offline, but also keep people playing, even when the online service is disrupted.
Graphics: 4/5 – A bold and bright colourful art style that is highly stylised, and reminiscent of the 1960′s Batman TV show.
Sound: 3/5 – Fairly limited voice acting and sound bytes that could grate after a while: if I hear another Joker say “Why won’t you be my friend?” I may have a seizure. The background music is decent, but not exactly memorable.
Gameplay: 3/5 – In it’s current state the online gameplay is incredibly uneven. However, when it works the gameplay is inventive and a lot of fun. The lack of offline battles against bots is a disappointment as it could’ve served as a way of entertaining players while the initial teething problems (that pretty much all online games face) were being overcome.
Longevity: 3/5 – You can potentially level up all the way to level 1000, however I don’t actually think that very many players will have the patience reach the upper limits thanks to a shortage of game modes and maps. Unlockable content can also be bought for a small fee, allowing those with more cash than sense to skip a lot of the hard work in developing their character.
Overall: 3 out of 5
In it’s current state Gotham City Impostors is lacking in maps and game modes, but features an abundance of costumes and equipment to unlock. The actual ideas behind the game, and the charming art style, make for an experience that can be a lot of fun, and I can only see it getting better when the next patch is released.
- Luke Mears