Few would argue that the first-person shooter category is the most over-saturated genre in gaming. FPS games are a dime a dozen these days and it is a rare occurrence when something comes along that changes the status quo. As 2012 kicks off, we are about to witness one developer do just that: something different with the genre and that is going to be Monolith Productions’ Gotham City Impostors (GCI) on the PC, Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. The game launches next week but I was fortunate enough to spend the Holidays playing through the beta version of the game and I am happy to report that shooter and Batman fans alike are in for a treat.
Don’t get me wrong, GCI is a shooter through and through, but Monolith’s uncanny approach to both the genre and the Batman universe is something that will set it apart from the rest of the pack. Although the Batman universe is usually a serious one, any and all seriousness has been thrown out of the window in this game. I am sure that you have heard the meme inspired by the Dark Knight films where various people, in a raspy voice, proclaim “I’m Batman”; well, that concept is exactly what this game is built upon. Take that concept and apply Team Fortress 2-styled visuals and you have Gotham City Imposters.
Everybody wants to be Batman; people of different sizes, shape, and backgrounds all striving to be their own version(s) of the Caped Crusader. Monolith has taken it a bit further though and given players a chance to be the Joker as well, or at least a deranged caricature of him (as if Mr. J wasn’t enough of a caricature in his own right). Players join one of two gangs, one loyal to Batman and the other to the Joker and head out into the streets of Gotham to wage war against one another. These aren’t exactly what one would call carbon copies of the respective figures; we are talking about Batman suits made from cardboard and construction paper and thrift-store bought clown costumes styled to the likes of the Joker. These are the kind of costumes that we have ridiculed people for wearing in the past.
It is this concept of personality that makes the game stand out on its own. Everything about the gameplay system is copied from leading games in the FPS genre like the Call of Duty and Battlefield series; this will feel like familiar territory to anyone who has played one of those games. You have your weapon loadouts, classes, perks, experience rankings for unlocking additional equipment, and various tools and gadgets at your disposal. Again though, remember that all seriousness has been taken out of the equation. Sure, you have machine gun, shotgun, and sniper rifle classes of weapons, but they include scoped-hunting-bows as well as vintage muzzle loader rifles. They are as funny to see in action as they are in concept.
The same hilarity spreads to your other tools too; you will earn rollerblades and glider wings to make movement around the maps more efficient and even an awesome, homemade grappling gun, complete with a crank which is required to pull yourself to your destination. Think of the game as a gathering of the craziest and most dedicated fans of the Batman series recreating the battle between good and evil with homemade and scavenged equipment. As funny as that sounds, it describes the game perfectly: over the top, insane, organized chaos... and a ton of fun. The tools of the trade vary with the gangs too; Batman players will use a lot of hi-tech (in theory, not actual build description) gadgets while Joker-fans will use modified Jack-in-the-boxes and dangerous gags and traps. They all make sense and tie in heavily to the gang loyalty that exists with the various teams.
As you play through the game, you earn experience in all of the standard ways: killing opponents, completing objectives and challenges, and assisting your teams. As you rank up with your experience, you will earn access to additional weapons and equipment as well as the ability to earn coins which you can spend to customize your character(s). Personality is as important as the gunplay in GCI so there is a ton of ways to design your character(s) to stand out. As you progress, you can earn more “realistic” looking costumes and props, although they are all laughable in the end. You won’t have to worry about seeing someone overpowered with a real Batsuit in the game; it never takes itself serious enough to get that far. You just end up looking like the person who has too much time at home when it comes to the costume that you have put together; it only strengthens the comical aspect of the game and adds to the abundance of personality behind the title.
The beta build of the game featured 2 different team-based gameplay modes, fumigation and psych warfare, as well as a training grounds. The training grounds was simply a brief tutorial meant to teach players the ins and outs of the various gadgets present in the game. The actual gameplay modes themselves were very similar to one another but had a couple of key differences that helped diversify their experiences. In fumigation, teams fought to take control of machines that gassed the other team, turning them into mindless-zombies for brief moments of time. Once teams managed to secure all of the machines present on a given map, the gasses were released and the opposing team lost their ability to use their weapons and gadgets for a few seconds. During this period of time, bonus points are awarded for kills obtained for either team, including melee kills for the inebriated team. This played a lot like the Domination mode from the Call of Duty series. There are frequent struggles over a few key points on the map but this time around there is an immediate payoff to holding all of them.
In the other mode, psych warfare, players competed in a Capture the Flag style game where you had to obtain a battery from a particular point on the map and return it to a machine which would bombard your opponents with “propaganda” which brainwashes them for a brief period of time. When picked up, the battery leaves behind a trail of acid which shows your enemies the direction you headed off in, so there is almost always someone on your tale. Once a team fires up their propaganda-machines, their opponents won’t be able to use weapons or gadgets for a brief period of time and point bonuses will be awarded for kills earned during this time. Demoralized players won’t be completely defenseless though as they will still have the ability to slap opponents and earning a kill in this manner will earn some major points for their team. They can also slap the active machine to shut it down and gain access to their guns again or simply wait for the battery to run out and respawn. Although both game types are extremely similar, they are both a ton of fun to play.
There beta featured two maps: Crime Alley and Amusement Mile. Crime Alley is a close quarters map set in an urban cityscape. This map is all about finding cover and watching the back of your teammates. There isn’t a lot of ground to cover in the map but is expands vertically which adds a completely different strategic element to the game types. The key here is taking advantage of the rooftops to get a vertical advantage on your opponent(s) and monitoring their movements toward the various objective markers.
Amusement Mile in the other hand is a much larger map filled with distinctive set pieces and locales based on the familiar amusement park from Batman-lore. This one of those maps where individual battles will break out in different places; there were at least three that I experienced which were located in different areas. They all served as chokepoints in the battles that took place. I really liked the visual design of the two maps that I experienced and am interested in seeing what other locales are used in the final version.
Above all else, the biggest selling point and most interesting aspect of the game is the amount of personality and overall fun that it exhumes. Fun factor is a hard thing to measure and this game is just overflowing with it; this is even evident in things such as the menu and loading screens which are designed to make you laugh and entertain you both in and out of the battle(s). Monolith has managed to take a standard formula and paint it with a style different enough to set it apart from the pack. The core game here is based on a proven formula and they do that portion very, very well. It just so happens that everything else that has been added on top of that is so fresh and entertaining that it creates an amazing overall experience. I cannot wait until the final version of the game launches on January 10 so that you can see exactly what I am talking about.