As one, the gaming community let out a deep sigh and cradled their heads in their hands when Monolith unveiled Batman: Gotham City Impostors earlier this year. According to the mission statement, the lucrative Batman license has been essentially bolted on to a downloadable multiplayer FPS that has nothing to do with the DC comics universe. God knows that XBLA and PSN are stuffed full of multiplayer-only shooters, and many of us were convinced that Monolith had finally gone completely insane after being exposed to Alma's terrifying psychic projections.
Thing is, though, Gotham City Impostors is actually a lot of fun to play. Even though its claim to the Batman brand is tenuous at best.
The premise, such as it is, couldn't be simpler. A gang of vigilante Batman impersonators are locked in a bitter rivalry with an equally deranged crew of Joker aficionados, and players are encouraged to pick a side and create their own online identity. The character editing suite allows gamers to choose their body shapes, faces, costumes and all-important allegiance, as well as selecting a loadout from an impressive assortment of weapons. Traditional machine guns, sniper rifles, shotguns and pistols rub shoulders with more outlandish firearms such as the Shredder: a ball bearing cannon that has to be refilled by pouring ammunition directly into its hopper. More weapons and rewards will be unlocked by experience gained from making kills and scoring points during battle.
In terms of the action, Gotham City Imposters includes a variety of game modes that play out much as you'd expect. Straight team deathmatches are set to provide the meat of the experience, but the 4 vs 4 E3 demo showed off the new Psychological Warfare gametype. It's essentially a zanier version of capture the flag, with both teams fighting over a battery that has to be carried over to a brainwashing device in the centre of the map. Once a team manages to escort the carrier and defend the device, they score a point, but the opposing team is hit by a debilitating mind control ray that removes their weapons and forces them to fight with a hilarious slapping animation.
Gotham City Impostors' main gameplay hook is deftly provided by a wacky arsenal of gadgets and gizmos inspired by the Caped Crusader's utility belt. A grappling hook lets players zoom across huge distances in seconds with a single sustained click, or relocate to high positions in order to camp mercilessly. On the flip side, the glider cape means that the airspace tends to be full of gracefully soaring combatants who can race to objectives without battling through choke points. Roller skates give you another option for getting from A to B in a shorter time.
The Batarang also has an interesting new slant and an indirect combat application. It stuns foes on impact (allowing them to be mercilessly humiliated at leisure) and can be locked on to multiple targets before release. Smoke bombs and jack in the box explosives are also useful for defending key positions.
Arkham City Imposters certainly still has a couple of kinks to iron out. Balance issues are a key problem at this stage, and after identifying that the aforementioned Shredder firearm is several times more powerful than any of the machineguns on offer, absolutely everyone on my team equipped it and quickly laid waste to our opposition. The Batarang/Boomerang also feels incredibly overpowered thanks to its auto aim. There's nothing more annoying than being punished for wielding an inferior loadout.
Finally, though, it's worth noting that Batman: Gotham City Impostors is a capable and solid shooter... but it just doesn't feel like a Batman game. More memorable locations would go a long way towards grounding players in the lore, and frankly, are a few Adam West-esque cartoon callouts really too much to ask for? Thwack! Wham! Etc! There's no doubt that Monolith's FPS will provide a fun and engaging experience when it releases next year, but they'll need to fight to ensure that it doesn't sink into the crowded marketplace alongside the likes of Breach and Blacklight: Tango Down.