Previews

Gotham City Imposters Hands-On Preview

There’s a scene in the Dark Knight where there are several people running around, dressed up as Batman and trying to help out the Caped Crusader, but unlike the Bat, they use guns and homemade tools and gadgets in their attempts to rid the streets of crime. This one scene from the film pretty much sums up what Gotham City Imposters is; what would happen if normal people decided to replicate the Dark Knight and Clown Prince of Crime (that’s the Joker to you, Batman noob) and go head-to-head? Answer: freakin’ mayhem.

But what you really need to know is that this is a multiplayer FPS with a bright, cartoony graphics style that pits the Bats, who want to emulate their hero, against the Clownz, who think the Joker is just plain awesome, in a chaotic war that gives you plenty of homemade gadgets and guns to play with. To give us a sneak preview of the game, as well as get feedback for balancing, glitches and more, Monolith games have released a Beta for a limited time before the games full release sometime in 2012. So, we know that certain problems can be forgiven, but is the basic premise of the game looking like its going to be good?

Before we get into the nitty gritty of blasting people’s heads off with a shotgun, it’s important to touch upon the graphical style of the game and the wealth of customisation available to the player. You see, unlike the Christopher Nolan’s bleak, realistic and sometimes even depressingly dark Batman films, Imposters is a game that embraces the bright look of the old-school Batman comics, and even the old TV series to a degree. There’s a bright, vibrant look to the entire game, favouring over-the-top character designs. This favours the games costume customisation, which lets you adorn your heroes with such things as cardboard boxes for masks, towels for capes and plenty of other items. The closest comparison to be made in terms of how much clothing choice you have is Bethesda’s singleplayer/multiplayer hybrid, Brink. All of these varied costume choices are gained by spending valuable Costume Coins, earned by simply playing the game, or you can pay for them by using straight-up Microsoft points – a theme which runs throughout the entire game, as weapons, perks and more can also be unlocked using Microsoft Points. While it’s not an absolutely huge amount of customisation, it’s still enough to keep most players happy, and will doubtless be expanded on by a raft of DLC in the future.  You can even change the physical size of your character, choosing from several presets, which directly affect the stats of your avatar; the bigger he or she is the more damage they can take, while the smaller they are the quicker they move. Again, very Brink.

Like with most shooters these days there’s also a raft of unlocks to be gained via an XP system and several custom loadouts that you can play around with until madness sets in and you just blow everything up. There’s a fairly varied selection of weapons that cover practically every group you’d think, and each of them can then be modified with an attachment, such as Reflex Sights and, more interestingly, the Body Odor Sniffer which periodically displays an enemy as a stink cloud so that you can see them through walls. Along with your weapons are one slot each for Gadgets and Support items. The gadget menu gives you access to such wonderful toys as grappling guns so that you can fly across the map (tip: mastering changing direction with the grapple in mid-air is worth your time) and spring shoes, as well as wings that let you glide around and other homebrew gadgets that definitely have a cobbled together look. The support items offer things that go bang, motion sensors and other items of awesome which can be used to create carnage. Like the clothing there’s a pretty decent selection here, and while it doesn’t rival the big-boys there’s certainly enough to keep most gamers happy. As you play the game you’ll earn unlock points which can they be spent in their corresponding category to unlock anything you want, so there’s no waiting around to reach a certain rank to unlock that sniper rifle that you’ve had your eye on. It’s a system that other games could actually do with taking a look at, however the rate at which you unlock items wasn’t that quick in the Beta, nor were there enough unlocks to actually get to try everything out. Boo!

Outside of simple weapons and gadgets you’ve also got two ‘Fun Fact’ slots, which allow you to choose and equip bonuses that essentially work like perks from the Call of Duty series. It’s your pretty standard selection, from Fun Facts that give you more health to those that increase your melee damage, but while they may be pretty standard they do serve to provide more customisation, which is always a good thing. There’s also two other options in the loadout menu; rampage and psyche profile, but you can’t change these from their defaults which is rather a shame. Rampages are activated mid-game by getting enough blood lust and give you a serious power boost. Different rampages earn blood lust in different ways, so finding one that matches your play style is going to be key. The psyche profile option affects how you earn XP during the game, so again finding one to suit your style will be important.

All in all I was quite impressed with the level of customisation offered by Impostors. There’s enough clothing their to create your own unique feeling Batman and Joker lookalikes and plenty of choices to craft your own loadouts. My only disappointment is that both the Bats and the Jokerz use the exact same gear.  For example there’s a jack-in-the-box bomb which suits the Jokerz perfectly, but is also used by the Bats. It’s a relatively small complaint, and in terms of balance for the game it makes sense for both sides to use the same equipment, but still, I can’t help but wish that the Bats had some sort of explosive batarang while the Jokerz had some fake teeth that try to bite your face of. Look, I’m really not violent. I swear I’m not.

There’s just two modes in the game in which you can play with your toys and jump off of buildings while whistling that classic Batman theme tune. Fumigation is essentially a case of grabbing and controlling points around the map to fill up a bar. Get said bar full and you win! It’s sweet, simple and completely generic, but with one twist; if the Bats win they summon a swarm of those flying rodents to kill the enemy, while the Jokerz go for a nice and simple gas attack (not that kind you sick bastard) to finish off their foe. The second mode, called Psych Warfare, is like a warped version of Capture the Flag: your team must collect a battery, plug it into a machine and them defend it until it activates. This machine, once activated, spouts demoralising insults at the enemy, causing them to enter a trance like state where they lose their weapons and can only slap the enemy to death. Obviously this state only lasts for a short while, but it gives you plenty of time to get some kills in. Whichever team activates the machine the most times wins the game. Simples. Alright, so the game modes on offer really aren’t anything amazing, but they server their purpose and are enjoyable enough. Theres two maps in the beta on which these game modes can be played; Crime Alley and Amusement Mile. They simple do what they’re supposed to, offering a few different routes and rooftops to play around on, but are otherwise unspectacular designs.

But as an FPS Imposters really needs to impress with its shooting mechanics as there’s a lot of shooters already out there to compete with, and at the moment Impostors isn’t quite doing good enough. Due to the amount of gadgets on offer that allow you to jump really high or cover the entire map in just a few seconds, the gameplay is pretty quick, favoring a more run ‘n’ gun attitude over almost anything else, though snipers and more patience players can make good use of some tasty ambush spots or by simply taking their time and waiting for idiots to charge around a corner without looking.  While the core mechanics are in place and working to a decent degree, in comparison to other shooters the game feels slightly awkward and lacks the fluidity of the top shooters out there, but it’s nothing that some spit and polish shouldn’t be able to fix. Likewise throwing explosives also feels clumsy. But the games single biggest current flaw is its balance. At the moment, RPGs are absurdly over-powered to the point where you can play a fifteen-minute game and never get killed by anything other than an RPG. On the opposite end of the scale the basic assault rifle (Dawnstar) either needs a larger clip or a damage increase to make it useful. The SMGs also seem to be just as useful as the rifles at long ranges which just isn’t right, either. Also, the weapons don’t feel like they have much power to them at the moment, sometimes taking insane amounts to put an enemy down and just feeling a bit useless, especially when compared to those sodding rocket launchers of doom and that sniper rifle with max damage stats. That thing hurts!

Aside from needing some serious polishing, work also needs to be done on the games matchmaking system which is currently a pain in the ass, often disconnecting, spending fifteen-minutes going in circles or just simply not working. There’s also some other problems, such as explosives not bouncing correctly and even a game of Fumigation becoming a team-deathmatch when the capture points failed to display on-screen.

So, my overall thoughts on Gotham City Impostors is that it’s a game with a vast amount of potential that isn’t managing to deliver on it. The premise, humour and look of the game are all great, but the core mechanics need to be tightened and polished so that it can stand up to the bigger players, and the game needs some serious work put into balancing out the weapons. Should they manage to do that, which I’m confident they can, then Impostors should be a brilliant game. If it doesn’t fix it then the game will be worth a punt, but won’t hold a crowd for very long. How hand me my cape and cowl, I’ve got people to blow up.

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