Platforms: PC | PS3 | Xbox 360 (reviewed)
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Holy context, Batman! Gotham City Impostors has a fantastic premise. The spellbinding intro cinematic introduces us to two rival Gotham gangs: a crew of vigilante Batman impersonators (who we saw for a few seconds in The Dark Knight) and a deranged mob of Joker-obsessed wannabes who brawl over the streets with homemade costumes and ramshackle weapons. We get to watch the Jokerz stealing handbags and terrorising the populace... only to be challenged by the Batz. We're introduced to the idea of normal people - possibly living next to each other - becoming warring street thugs by night. What a brilliant concept. And what a waste.
See, "Impostor" is the operative word here. Monolith has paid lip service to both the Batman brand and their own exciting concept, just latching to the license and hoping for the best. There are no crimes to commit. No grateful civilians to save. No modes, no maps, nothing except the logo that make the most of the rich setting and license. Instead, Gotham City Impostors is just a 6v6 multiplayer shooter with three gametypes, an initially-limited clutch of weapons and a small number of levels.
And that's fine, bizarrely. Monolith make good shooters and Gotham City Impostors packs just enough clout and personality to work. Unfortunately, it's also pretending to be something else. A freemium game... disguised as a £12 purchase.
Mechanically, Gotham City Impostors is thoroughly solid and breathtakingly generic. A colourful and cheerful veneer masks an exceptionally derivative core, but with Monolith at the helm, it's both responsive and delightfully weighty in equal measure - a trademark of the veteran studio. A relatively small arsenal (of somewhat traditional genre mainstays) is surprisingly well balanced, making players trade off between devastating damage, accuracy and crippling weight. Once you've joined a game and been issued an affiliation, you'll hare around the five maps, frag away to your heart's content and partipate in one of three game modes. It's frantic, fun and familiar, though there are a couple of concessions towards innovation.
Team deathmatches and a domination-wannabe will be instantly accessible (read: devoid of imagination) to anyone with FPS experience, but, the objective-based Psychological Warfare gametype enjoys a slightly more anarchic setup. Your team will need to secure, transport and defend a battery that powers a mind control device, which if successfully defended, renders the other team unable to fight with anything but slaps - all the while tortured by an ego-sapping insults. It's a neat and humorous touch, and does much to disguise the serious lack of variety on offer here.
A smorgasbord of gadgets help to separate Impostors from the crowd and are easily its best feature. You can equip up to two gadgets, which include a selection of bombs and traps as well as some exciting ways of getting around. Rollerskates let you leap over ramps at high speed. The glider cape allows you to soar through the air and deliver a death dive on unwary enemies. A grappling hook is perfect for finding sneaky camping spots. When you use these mobility enhancements effectively, the maps suddenly transform from tiny claustrophobic mazes into vertical playgrounds where every seemingly innocent scenery element could be hiding a deadly sniper. Which is where you can optionally trade your mobility for a pair of targeting specs which make campers visible to your entire team. However, bar the "wacky" voiceovers and colourful art design, they're the only truly unique thing that Gotham City Impostors brings to the table. Without them, you might as well just be playing BioShock 2's multiplayer suite, Breach, Blacklight: Tango Down or F.E.A.R. 2. It's interchangeable; solid and satisfying but without genuine personality beyond its quickly-forgettable premise.
Personality and the personal touch is therefore needed to save Gotham City Impostors from mediocrity, and luckily, customisation is king. Gaining XP and levels showers you with unlock keys that can be used to purchase weapons, customise them, choose new perks and new gadgets. Cosmetic details like your viewable calling card and even the pitch of your character's voice can be tweaked, allowing for a satisfying degree of choice and personalisation. Up to a point.
Much was also made of Impostors' costume customisation options, which allow players to create their own zany secret identity from an enormous mix of outfits. Completing matches awards you with a small amount of costume coins to spend in the sprawling online store, and it's an addictive hook that served games like Brink and Team Fortress 2 very well. But, sadly, what should have been a compulsive draw is almost ruined by Warner Bros. insistence to implement a freemium model on top of the regular unlocks. Costume points are doled out in such small amounts (typically 20-40 per game or thereabouts), and costume items are so expensive (typically a few hundred) that assembling a truly unique character will take an age.
Unless, of course, you just buy items and XP boosts directly from the DLC marketplace. This is precisely why the costume rewards are so grindingly slow... and why you absolutely shouldn't.
Let me explain: there's nothing wrong with this setup in theory. After all, the overwhelming majority of the paid DLC items can be unlocked in-game if you grind away for long enough and the £12.99 price tag is fairly attractive considering how solid the action is. But with only a tiny number of maps and three game modes on offer, there is nowhere near enough real content to warrant a purchase in the first place. Boredom and malaise set in after just a couple of hours, and you'll see everything - really, everything - that Impostors has to offer well within that amount of time. With several more maps and modes to enjoy, Impostors could have provided a firm foundation for countless hours of generic, rehashed fun, but I can't recommend spending the recommended price with a clear conscience.
As a freemium game, Impostors could have made a massive splash. As a £12 download, it absolutely fails to provide anything resembling appropriate value... and makes the DLC marketplace seem all the more cynical in the process. I may be inclined to modify the score when the promised free DLC releases next month, but until then, I'd actually suggest you buy Brink instead. Or play Team Fortress 2 for nothing. Or wait for Hedone and Ghost Recon Online to offer a AAA freemium experience that won't cost you a penny.
Yeah. Do that.
Supplemental: At the time of writing, Gotham City Impostors' matchmaking is broken on the PC and patchy at best on consoles. I don't understand why the PC version uses matchmaking in the first place, but having to wait 20+ minutes for a game is unacceptable regardless. A meaty free patch is on the way, and I'll be sure to take it into account.
- Solid and colourful FPS action
- Nifty gadgets
- Fun if wasted premise
- Five small maps? In a game designed for grind?! I'm out.
Depressingly cynicalBreathtakingly audacious paid-freemium model
- 'Just another' FPS... with less content than most
- Horrendous matchmaking (patch incoming)
The Short Version: Gotham City Impostors would have been a brilliant free-to-play FPS. In fact, it basically is one. The experience is solid if generic to the extreme, but the insulting dearth of genuine content provides truly horrendous value for money.
Still undeniably fun and worth playing... if (and only if) you can find a decent deal first.