Gotham City Impostors is one of those ideas just stupid enough to work. The general premise is that Batman has ditched his crime fighting duties for some reason, leaving an army of costumed idiots with delusions of grandeur to take his place. An opposing force of Joker fans stand in their way, and everybody has guns.
Utterly ridiculous, yet suitably audacious.
Audacity, however, is a running theme in Gotham City Impostors that extends to every corner of the game.
Gotham City Impostors (PC, PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade [reviewed])
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment
Released: February 7, 2012
MSRP: $14.99 (PC, PSN) / 1200 Microsoft Points (XBLA)
Gotham City Impostors is a team-based first-person-shooter in which groups of "Bats" face off against "Jokerz" with a variety of conventional and exotic weapons. While the premise is certainly unique and more than capable of raising an eyebrow, the meat of the game is as typical as you can get. Impostors liberally pinches elements from Team Fortress 2 and Call of Duty to create a fairly traditional first-person shooter underneath a layer of mostly cosmetic innovation.
There are five maps and a handful of game modes, including deathmatch, capture-and-hold and capture-the-flag -- the latter of which features a slightly unique twist. Called "Psychological Warfare," this mode has teams carrying a battery to a mind control device. If one team succeeds in powering their device, the opposing team will be rendered helpless, unable to fire weapons and view their surroundings properly while a voice tells them how useless they are. Little twists like this permeate the experience and go some way toward obscuring how derivative the basic action is.
Would-be heroes and villains will find a range of weapons to unlock, from standard assault rifles and shotguns to more exotic items such as bows and explosive slingshots. In addition, players can pick one support item from a selection of throwing stars, grenades and axes, as well as one gadget. Gadgets represent the most inventive aspect of Monolith's shooter, allowing players to use grappling hooks to zip around a map, roller skates to move faster, rubber soles to jump higher, or scanners to mark enemy opponents on the map. Picking the right gadget is an integral part of creating a successful character, as it can have a significant influence on one's play style.
As players earn XP and level up, they'll be able to select perks and killstreaks (known as "fun facts" and "rampages") as well as new body types to alter their physical stats. After a few levels, players can also join online gangs and fight for territory, which is determined by each member's success in battle. At the end of each round, costume coins are awarded to purchase new cosmetic items and create a personalized avatar. This focus on personalization is the game's biggest draw, but the implementation proves to be its biggest problem.
A single item of clothing, for example, can cost anywhere between 100 and 400 costume coins, and the average player will typically gain between twenty and thirty coins at the end of every game. Bearing in mind that Bats and Jokerz both have their own unique costume pieces, and that it can take over five games to earn a single item, one can imagine just how long it takes for a player to feel like their character is truly their character.
The same can be said for leveling up in general. Each level gained usually awards a single unlock point for one item category, be it weapons, mods, rampages, or body types. These unlock points aren't universal, meaning that you can only spend weapon points on weapons, mod unlocks on weapon modifications, etcetera. Again, this means that it can take quite some time to craft a character that a player is comfortable with -- longer than it takes for a player to become bored of the five maps and limited game modes on offer.
Now, there's a very "good" reason why it takes so long. Impostors has copied a free-to-play model, meaning that it's been designed specifically to make regular progress excruciatingly time consuming, while offering ways to speed up the process for a price. There are over 150 items of downloadable content available for purchase, ranging from costume pieces to XP boosts and unlockable "mascots" that follow players around the map. It's a blatant and transparent attempt at aping a freemium game, with the added caveat that Gotham City Impostors isn't actually free to play.
Yes, it's true that most of the DLC is available for free in the game, but the whole operation has slyly been developed in order to make unpaying gamers struggle uphill to get their goods. The whole point of Gotham City Impostors is to not-so-subtly encourage the player to pay a little extra and unlock stuff early, ostensibly buying their way to completion. It would be underhanded if it wasn't so shamelessly blatant.
The trouble is, Gotham City Impostors barely struggles to justify the admission fee, let alone its ancillary prices. It's not a bad game, by any stretch of the imagination, and can in fact provide an hour or two of genuine entertainment, but it's as threadbare as a shooter can get. Even with the added gadgetry and cartoon atmosphere, Impostors is a fairly bland shooter in a market crammed full of more exciting ones. It feels like the kind of obligatory multiplayer mode tacked onto a predominantly single-player game, rather than its own title geared entirely toward online play. Rather than, say, Call of Duty or Team Fortress, this title evokes memories of the forgettable modes found in F.E.A.R or BioShock 2.
The small amount of maps are hard to distinguish from one another and are all fairly straightforward, the combat is the kind of simplistic run-and-gun action we've been playing for years, and you can more or less see everything that the core gameplay has to offer within an hour. The only thing to keep playing for is more aesthetic loot, but most gamers will grow weary of the same old levels and the same old action long before they're satisfied.
Gotham City Impostors desperately wants to be a freemium game, that much is evident. The gameplay is functional without being exceptional, and the focus is placed entirely on personalization at a price -- be it time or money. The limited range of maps, game modes and weapons seems to indicate that a whole slew of premium DLC will soon be arriving as well. It's unquestionably clear that Monolith and Warner Bros. conspired to make a Batman-flavored Farmville, but console restrictions on such a business model prevented them from going all the way.
That's a fine excuse to carry an initial price tag, but not an excuse to charge the full fifteen dollars for a game designed around microtransactions. This is a case of a game maker attempting to have its cake and eat it too -- charging the maximum price for a downloadable title while trying every trick in the book to squeeze extra cash along the way. And for a game that isn't even all that great in the first place, Gotham City's sheer gall boasts a level of ballsiness that almost demands respect.
Not enough respect to save this game from the weight of its own mediocrity, however.