Would a licensed game be appealing if they removed the more iconic pieces? That's a hard question to answer because that hasn't been done before. After all, the whole point of a license is to use the familiar characters and settings to get fans to take a look at your title. The team at Monolith and WB Games decided to try and answer that question anyway with Gotham City Impostors, a game where you don't play as iconic characters like The Joker or Batman. Instead, you play as a member of a team that either emulates The Crown Prince of Crime (The Jokerz) and The Caped Crusader (The Batmen). The game's beta phase let interested parties take a sneak peek of what's in store when the full game launches digitally.
The beta features two gameplay types, each featuring two maps, and a training mode to get you up to speed with the various tools at your disposal. The first mode, Fumigation, is a twisted version of Territories, where you have to take control of three different gas canisters and ensure that the map is completely saturated with your gas type. Filling up this as The Batmen causes a swarm of bats to invade the area while doing this as The Jokerz kills everyone else with nerve gas. The second mode, Psychological Warfare, is a twist on Capture the Flag where players have to capture one car battery and take it to their propaganda machine. Doing so not only scores points but also reduces the opponent arsenal to nothing more than melee attacks until the battery is stolen back or it runs out of energy. Of the two modes, only one is playable at the moment, as the community seems to be shunning Psychological Warfare in favor of Fumigation. After playing a few quick rounds of Fumigation, it's not hard to see why. Even with both sides swapping control over one or two gas dispensers often, games go quicker than other games of this type, ensuring more matches within the same amount of time.
Oddly, the maps on both of the game modes feel both open and claustrophobic. When you're moving on foot, the maps feel a bit small, and you can easily get from one end to the other in a short amount of time. However, what it lacks in area, it makes up for in height, as both of the levels encourage movement between the first and second floors, making you worry about attacking or being attacked from above instead of just straight ahead. While you can certainly run through the level, the developers threw in a few tools to make things interesting.
The tools really help in making sure you quickly reach your destination, and each one is beneficial, even if you can't go around combining them all. The cloaking serum is actually the most benign since it renders you mostly invisible until you shoot or are shot. Skates let you run around the map faster and let you use ramps to quickly reach upper floors. Gliders let you take advantage of updrafts to go to higher floors and initiate a diving attack. The grappling hook, your most commonly used tool since you start out with it, not only lets you pull yourself up to the upper floors but also lets you zip toward any wall or object. It all makes for a game that relies on speed to gain an advantage; it's useful since it only takes a few well-placed shots to take down anyone.
Like all other multiplayer games, Gotham City Imposters features a great deal of experience and customization options. Completing matches gets you a base amount of experience, and winning giving you more XP than losing. Completing extra objectives, such as scoring kills or assists, gives you bonus experience and other things, like unlock keys for equipment and costume coins for costume sets and pieces. As you level up, you'll slowly gain access to things like weapon loadout customization, calling cards that appear on the screens of those you've killed, and pieces you can use to craft a custom costume. Some of these are practical, such as better aiming scopes, different paint designs for your guns, and increased ammo clips. Others are more off the wall, such as a megaphone that boosts the stats of nearby allies and an attachment that makes enemy scents visible, regardless of whether you can actually see him. Most of the unlocks open more slowly than in other games, but although it can be initially infuriating, it encourages constant play in order to grab everything you can. You can actually buy some of the upgrades with real money if you don't want to grind for unlock keys and costume coins. The beta didn't provide hints as to how much items will cost, but it will be fascinating to see if the gaming public pays for this sort of stuff or decides to unlock things the old-fashioned way.
The concept is interesting in that it's a bunch of loonies running around in costume blasting each other to bits, but beyond the name, there's nothing to connect this to Gotham City. You never hear about the Joker, and after the opening video, you don't see Batman either. There's also nothing memorable in the environments to remind you of the city. All you have going for the license is that the characters are able to use Joker colors and Batman insignias instead of crudely made replicas. In this respect, it feels like the license was barely used at all.
With both Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 still fresh in people's minds and consoles, it remains to be seen if a game that's completely dependent on multiplayer will be able to find an audience this time of year. With its various gadgets, humor and customization options, Gotham City Impostors is a pretty good shooter, but it needs a gaming populace. Check it out for 1,200 Microsoft points ($15) when it arrives in February.
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