If you've caught a nasty case of first-person-shooter fatigue, you might be wondering what the genre needs to do to reignite your interest. Gotham City Impostors, a downloadable offering developed by the people responsible for the F.E.A.R. franchise, has one potential answer: add obsessed Batman and Joker admirers who can grapple, glide and roller-skate around arenas with aplomb. It's an unusual solution that produces a memorable game.
Gotham City Impostors doesn't star Batman himself or any of the traditional antagonists from the DC canon. Rather, the experience focuses on two rival gangs that are vying for control over Gotham City. They call themselves the Jokerz and the Bats, but they're not nearly as sophisticated as the hero and villain who inspire them. The differences can be explained by financial limitations; one of the Bats will inform you if you wisely choose to complete the Initiation mode. Batman can afford to be noble--to beat the stuffing out of a bad guy and let him limp home--but these gang members don't have that luxury. Death and dismemberment are their only options.
Apart from the brief tutorial and a more extended Challenges mode that turns the game's available arenas into demanding obstacle courses (consider this mode your boot camp; a chance to acquaint yourself with area layouts without needing to constantly look over your shoulder), the entire experience takes place online. You are randomly assigned to one of the two gangs at the start of a given round. You and as many as five allies try to demolish the rival team in one of three primary modes: Team Deathmatch, Fumigation, and Psych Warfare.
Team Deathmatch offers the least structure of any mode. The first team to score 50 kills within the time limit wins, or the gang in the lead when the timer reaches zero snags the victory. Fumigation plays out more like a round of Conquest in the Battlefield games. Gang members try to secure and hold three objectives that gradually add percentage points to the team's overall total. A constant tug-of-war ensues as both sides race to reach 100 percent, which is a difficult undertaking when the other side can steal points by claiming control points. Finally, Psych Warfare is Capture the Flag with a twist: the team that finds and holds a battery for a certain period of time can then start broadcasting propaganda that leaves rival team members defenseless except for hilariously effective slaps.
While the general descriptions of the three modes may sound like they could just as easily apply to nearly any recent FPS of note, Gotham City Impostors stands apart from its peers because of the lengths it goes to encourage controlled chaos. On one level, it's a standard shooter. Players choose from a variety of weapons that include machine guns, grenade launchers, sniping rifles, and so forth. That's only the start, though. Each standard character is also equipped with special gear that determines how he or she moves around the map. There are roller skates that make speedy movement a breeze, along with ramps that can send a skating warrior flying through the air as a lethal blur. There are gliding suits that allow gang members to catch updrafts and then dive-bomb their foes into submission. It's even possible to use cloaking skills, double jumps, and charged leaps that allow even the bulkiest of thugs to bound up to the highest platforms. Fast-paced combat practically requires constant movement.
The five available arenas are arranged in a manner that truly capitalizes on the potential that the various gadgets provide. Whether you're ducking around crates stacked along the docks, negotiating the confined amusement park hallways, gunning down rivals in the open city streets, sailing through the air as you circle the chemical treatment plant, or sniping from rooftops along the edge of a nuclear power plant, you can find options that suit your style of play and equipment. Players who want to keep to the ground and play Gotham City Impostors like a standard corridor shooter can certainly do so. But open rooftops and streets provide a sniper's paradise while also allowing you to spend most of your time in the air if that's what you prefer. The freedom is exhilarating.
Because each arena can be experienced in so many different ways, the limited number of venues remains entertaining for much longer than you might expect. The developers also included a robust system for character customization. You receive experience points based on your performance each round. As you gain levels, you unlock custom characters that you can then outfit with two weapons, a gadget, and a support device. You can also access "fun facts" that work like perks in the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games. You can boost health, resistance to headshots, strength against explosives or traps, knife effectiveness, and so forth. Once you hit level 30, which won't happen soon unless you're actively completing feats that award hefty experience bonuses, you can also change your psych profile and earn more points for taking certain approaches. There are ample incentives to play as the different character types, which in turn often keeps you playing "just a little bit longer" to unlock a new weapon mod so that you can add a laser scope to your favorite gun or perhaps unlock a camouflage kit.
Though Gotham City Impostors goes through the motions with surprising finesse, it also remembers not to take itself too seriously. Practical modifications are joined by tweaks that fit the game's comic presentation. You can customize the pitch of your voice, for instance, and your smack talk when defeating opponents. You also earn virtual coins to spend on costume pieces. The game is extremely stingy about doling out its currency, so you may have to play a few dozen rounds if you want your lady warrior to rock some skimpy attire. Alternatively, you can spend real-world currency to speed up the process if you prefer. There are about 100 different virtual clothing articles for sale and none of them impact your stats, but it's nice to have options.
Unfortunately, the developers don't seem to have spent as much effort on their net code. Between rounds, you have to wait most of three minutes (about as long as a commercial break on television) before you can return to battle. You can spend that time reviewing your performance in the previous battle or choosing content to unlock, but sometimes, you just have to wait on a timer. In other instances, you might return to the lobby after a heated match and find it completely empty. Even when a lobby is full, there can be lengthy delays as the game decides which player to assign to which team and then shuffles the lineup repeatedly to accommodate distressingly common lost connections. You or a couple of your teammates might spend three or four minutes waiting through all of the menus and then get kicked just as a match is about to start. Lost connections in the middle of a match are no better, plus anyone who is kicked doesn't receive experience bonuses and character coins. Poor matchmaking is a big problem when online team play is the heart and soul of the game.
Gotham City Impostors is available on a variety of platforms, but its strengths and flaws are consistent no matter which version you choose to play. The game looks sharpest on a good PC setup, but visual differences across the board are insubstantial compared to the advantages offered by the version that features a control setup you find comfortable. Movement and actions are mapped similarly to a Call of Duty or Halo game, which should allow console owners to jump right into the thick of things. The PC build supports only a mouse and keyboard, as well as maps special movement to the middle button or track wheel on your mouse. Keep that in mind because gliding and grappling are important. Key inputs can be customized as you see fit, at least, but it may take a while to find a satisfactory setup until you've played long enough to understand the game's unique style.
Technical issues aside, Gotham City Impostors is a consistently thrilling experience that's easy to recommend. The limited arena count isn't nearly the flaw that it would be in most other shooters, thanks to the surprising number of ways you can experience each of them. And the deep class and cosmetic customization options may keep you up for some late nights even when you've already spent dozens of hours with the game. Some players might find all the options overwhelming or the combat too fast paced, but anyone looking for something different within the genre should find a lot to like.