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Video Game Review: Gotham City Impostors

Video Game Review: Gotham City Impostors 1

Video Games

Video Game Review: Gotham City Impostors

Gotham City Impostors box art
Gotham City Impostors

Release Date: February 7th and 8th, 2012
Platform: Xbox LIVE Arcade, Playstation Network, Microsoft Windows
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Genre: Cross-bred Online Only FPS
ESRB: T for Teen

CLR [rating:3.5]

Clothes may make the (Bat)man, but the gadgets let him win.

Cosplay has always been one of the more extreme methods of showing devotion to something. Time was, if you admitted to wearing a costume on days not ending in “-ween”, most folks backed away slowly lest they increase your chances to breed. But in the post-ironic world that society has fashioned for itself since the turn of the millennium, the stigma surrounding cosplay has lifted a tad. The primary exceptions being furries, and those doing it wrong.

Eye-blight notwithstanding, the practice of wearing the outfits of your favorite starship crewmember or superhero is far more acceptable given the right context. If a con is in town, or the model is hotter than a summer fever in Ecuador, most folks don’t mind. Especially since dressing up like a fictional character and parading around with some like-minded individuals to share in fan love, though it might be a bit odd, is still just a bit of harmless fun (he says hoping to justify his own forays into this realm)!

But what happens when you’re a fan who dresses up as a superhero that isn’t imaginary?

More importantly, what happens when the fun isn’t so harmless?

Which of course brings us to Gotham City Impostors, the recent release from the minds over at Monolith Productions. It’s a game that seeks to answer a question that, though I’m pretty sure no one asked, turns out to have an interesting answer. Apparently, the real-life superhero super fans are just as mad as those they love! So they shoot each other! A lot!

Gotham City Impostors

Homicidally violent cosplayers who hastily throw together outfits of their heroes are still a lot less disturbing than furries though.

Yes, the basic premise behind Gotham City Impostors (or GCI for fans of abbr.) is the same as that one scene in The Dark Knight. A side product of Batman’s war on crime against the multitudes of psychopathic malcontents that haunt his fair berg is that many ordinary citizens have fallen into hero worship that all true patriots know they should only reserve for the Founding Fathers (in both cases ignoring the wishes of those they adore). But this is Gotham, a town so corrupt and crime ridden that the most cartoonish thing about it isn’t the billionaire dressed as a bat that punches insane people, but that anyone still lives there. So naturally those who decide to join the Batman fan club, being a bit daft to begin with, also decide that the Bat’s fashion choices make great day wear.

These wanton wannabes grab anything they can to form makeshift bat suits and patrol the streets with homemade gadgets in groups, trying to live up to the ideals of their hero . . . sort of. A point covered in the game’s training stage is that while this “Batman Non Profit” organization would love to battle the criminal element with the bloodless brutality of high-minded fisticuffs that the actual Caped Crusader uses, they neither have the resources, training, or morality he does; thus resorting to guns, bombs, and anything else they can cobble together or salvage to simply murder the far more (unfortunately) believable gang of thugs imitating another major local personality: the Jokerz. Meaning of course that like any “true” diehard fans of anything, the Batmen have completely missed the point (the Jokerz not so much).

Gotham City Impostors

The gist is that one band of obviously dangerous, mentally unhinged folks murders another. Did I mention it was a light-hearted, comedy?

This setup for GCI, especially as it’s delivered via darkly comic cutscenes and dialogue, serves as a – quite frankly – brilliant justification to make a competitive online multiplayer First Person Shooter set in the Batman universe. Or at least one that manages to have an upbeat tone reminiscent of the game’s obvious influence: Team Fortress 2. Because, when you’re dealing with a character that famously hates firearms, creating a game set in the one genre that fetishizes them would seem to be Herculean; the plot, thin as it is, fits that bill entirely.

TF2 isn’t the only major influence, though it is the most prominent. The characters are cartoony and exaggerated, the screwball “comedy of violence” mood is present, and you can even spend undue amounts of time (and real money if you’re lazy) personalizing your avatar’s costume. But there’s also quite a bit of Call of Duty here as well. The now ubiquitous leveling up of your character profile, experience point challenges, and customizable character slots that take a cue from the Black Ops salad bar upgrade path give the otherwise completely multiplayer game a solid sense of progression as you fight match after match online in basic Team Deathmatch, or variations on Domination and Capture the Flag gametypes.

While the “two great tastes that taste great together” concept may seem like the elevator pitch that I’m sure a Warner Bros. exec heard two years ago now, like another similarly flattering game it actually works. Monolith knows how to make a solid FPS, having been responsible for a couple of pretty darn good entries in the past, and it’s no different here. Tight controls, well designed maps (though few in number), and fun, mostly well balanced weaponry that include freeze guns and boomerangs combine with the pleasantly delusional average Joe protagonists and the general veneer of the Batman universe to make a little downloadable game better than it probably should be.

And that would be the end of the review . . . except for two major things, which like Harvey Dent’s coin reveal both the brilliant highs and the terrible lows that wait in store.

Gotham City Impostors

I’d say the game’s willingness to embrace “garish” is a low, but then . . . it’s the Joker.

GCI’s extreme customization options are nice, but aside from the “psychological profiles” option rewarding play styles that match disorders found in the DSM-IV, it’s not that unique. No, the big meaty difference here are the slipshod, homebrew gadgets that each of the imposters employ. From springy moon-boots, a pop-out hang glider, and a hand-cranked grapple gun, all of Batman’s traversal gadgets are present in a garage built form.

These movement options all function a bit differently, but each works naturally with the game’s overall flow. Roller-skates, for example, speed your character up but remove friction, while allowing huge launches off strategically placed ramps, while the glider will send a character soaring through the air before dive bombing into a foe. Combined with the tight levels that promote quick combat and which already have trampolines strewn throughout that bounce players around, and each match ends up having a frenetic, buoyant energy all its own, and paying attention to vertical space actually becomes Tribes level important.

Really, these gadgets are what make the already solid and fun little shooter sing like a stoolie in a quartet. Without them, the game is a fun, but derivative hodge-podge in a pair of gray and blue tights. But thanks to their inclusion, as well as a cute twist on Capture the Flag that involves “Propaganda Machines,” Car batteries, and slap-fighting, Gotham City Imposters turns out to be a consistently fun and entertaining “shoot all the guys” experience.

When it works, that is.

Gotham City Impostors

Also, the cute animations on note cards that teach the player how to use these toys bring a lot of personality to an area that usually has the least: the menus.

Unfortunately, the biggest issues that hold GCI back are technical, mostly on the connectivity side of things. Though it seems popular enough now, matchmaking often takes an inordinate amount of time to put a group together, and should the game’s player pop drop, it’s going to be the crowbar beating of doom. Worse still is the game’s team balancing system; if team members drop out mid-session, only very rarely will the teams rebalance the remaining players. As Johnny Rico knows, it’s rather frustrating and near impossible to go against a superior force of numbers, and definitely the opposite of the fun few minutes’ mayhem the developers are shooting for.

While these problems may not seems like that big a deal, I really can’t stress enough that for a downloadable title that promises quick, short bursts of cynical humor and exciting action, the actual game needs a much fuller commitment of your time. Of course, there’s already free DLC on its way, so if you can hold out a bit longer, all could be vastly improved.

Gotham City Impostors

What needs no improvement is the Propaganda mode where even if you lose a point, you get to slap folks silly!

In the grand Batman Gambit of things, these connectivity problems shouldn’t matter much. Should the community hold out long enough, the gadget based twists on otherwise completely solid mechanics, could create a serious contender to the free time of any FPS aficionado. Especially if they’ve ever been so in love with a movie, book, or a sports star that they know the MSG taste of obsession.

See, that’s really what Gotham City Impostors is in the end. It’s about the fan that’s not just devoted enough to make the costume, but motivated to make something more substantial. The type of person that doesn’t let little things like common sense, “threat of bodily harm,” or limited technical knowledge get in the way of their dreams. For the impostors, fanboys and cosplayers everywhere, obsession isn’t the trait of the villain, but of the hero, and it’s the one trait that connects the idea of such a grand mythic hero to the common man.

Of course that might be reaching, seeing as Gotham City Imposters is also simply a fun little downloadable where you get to toss on a cape while roller skating around and shooting clowns with a shotgun.

Yeah, that second thing is probably what they were going for. Unfortunately.

Gotham City Impostors Trailer

As one of the unfortunate few born with three first names, Adam endured years of taunting on the mean streets of Los Angeles in order to become the cynical malcontent he is today. A gamer since the age of four, he has attempted to remain diverse in his awareness of the arts, and remain active in current theater, film, literary and musical trends when not otherwise writing or acting himself. He now offers his knowledge in these areas up to the "California Literary Review," who still haven't decided what exactly they want to do with him yet. He prefers to be disagreed with in a traditional "Missile Command" high score contest, and can be challenged this way via his Xbox LIVE Gamertag of AtomGone, and if you want to "follow" him on twitter, look for Adam Robert Thomas @TheCromulentMan

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