Gotham City Impostors: Review

As you may remember from my half of our review of Batman: Arkham City, I took the piss out of the game for trying to shoehorn such a blatantly silly concept into such a dark and serious setting (an accusation that I am happy to level at anything produced in the Dark Knight timeline).

Therefore I obviously had to play Gotham City Impostors. This game takes the Batman universe and makes it as silly as it should be: hoards of what I can only assume to be severely delusional ex-convicts shooting the ever-living shit out of each other with an insane mix of military hardware and homemade munitions whilst rollerskating, trampolining and gliding around a bunch of cartoon Call of Duty offcut maps.

“So”, you’re probably thinking. “You’ve got your silly Batman game now, Spann, so surely you’re happy? I mean, that all sounds too silly if anything.” And I’d forgive you for thinking that. Unfortunately GCI doesn’t quite live up to its promise.

I’m going to tell you about why I played the demo and then forked out my own money for the game: its charm.

The tutorial cutscene features some of the best in-game acting you’re going to see in a multiplayer FPS and, whilst I admit that’s not much of a plaudit, it’s actually some of the best characterisation I’ve seen in a game for some time. The opening dialogue contains genuinely laugh-out-loud moments, so it’s a shame that the tutorial it leads in to doesn’t properly explain things. Yes, you’re shown how to use the various movement enhancers and weapon types, but the game doesn’t explain their use within the game: are they temporary boosts or part of a load-out? It might just be my general ignorance of the world of persistent unlock manshoot explode-a-thons, but this remained an unanswered question going into my first game.

This lack of preparation defines your first moments in-game, as you’re dumped onto the map and given about ten seconds to run through the list of classes, work out what each character is about, and then fathom whether you’ll be any bloody use to your team playing as that class. The answer to this question is easy: if you’re me, it is almost certainly ‘no’.

After a few rounds of Team Deathmatch, however, you’ll have your finger on the game’s pulse – hell, if you’re a capable FPS player you might even have a positive K/D ratio. And then that’s when the game confuses things even further: by slowly (and I mean slooooooooowly) allowing you to customise your character.

This is something that really winds me up about GCI – the frankly miserly way it goes about handing out unlocks. Every level you’re given an unlock key or two, allowing you to add a new ready weapon, backup weapon, weapon mod, gadget, support item, loadout slot, character shape, voice, face, fun fact (you’ll know them as perks), rampage (kill/deathstreak special ability) or psychological profile (XP modifier). This is a truly mammoth range of options to tinker with, but the game tells you which option you’re allowed to update each time.

Your choices matter enormously, but quite often those choices are made blind. Unlock a weapon that turns out to be useless to you or your character class and you’re stuck with it for Dog knows how long, despite the fact that, outside of using the weapon as part of the default class loadouts, all you have to base your choices on are some arbitrary stats.

This results in you persevering with some hilariously messy, ineffective loadouts for the first hour or so. My character class of choice, for example, is essentially the heavy from TF2: the biggest (and slowest) body shape, perks chosen in the name of bullet-sponginess, etc. It took me a good few hours of gameplay to get to this point in GCI and, because of the game’s insistence on pushing unlock categories, I now have a body unlock that I have no intention of using because all of my chosen weapons slow down the smaller classes (removing their main advantage over the heavier body shapes). I don’t have the unlocks to create an effective second class. Instead what I have is a second loadout that is virtually identical to the first except for one weapon mod, because the game won’t let you edit loadouts whilst you’re playing. This is, incidentally, incredibly infuriating if you’d rather have a scope instead of a bigger magazine for this round.

Aside from the upsettingly slow and directed unlock system the customisation options are pretty great – allowing you to essentially break the game in a number of highly effective ways. For example, do you remember the Medic from TF2? Well, imagine if he was a Heavy, walking around keeping another Heavy alive whilst he sprays leaden Communist pain rain on the other team. How broken would the game be? To find out, try teaming my character with another Mighty body shape armed with the Motivator. This is an especially fun (or cheap if you’re on the receiving end) tactic considering that the maps are small enough for even the most inaccurate weapon to have a decent crack at taking down a sniper so long as it’s got the red-dot scope attached.

This is indicative of the game’s general issues with balance. The bigger characters are slower than the small characters, but certainly not slow enough; I can’t see why anyone would use anything but the biggest body shape combined with the damage soaking modifiers since the grappling hook allows you to move in any direction at great speeds. Certainly anecdotally I see comparatively more Mighty body shape players topping the scoreboards, and GCI is the only multiplayer FPS I have played for any prolonged period of time and managed to maintain a positive K/D ratio.

I have heard a number of complaints about the matchmaking but these have mainly been from PC players (this review is of the PS3 version), and whilst I can’t honestly say that getting into a game is as easy as it should be it certainly didn’t upset me as much as it has others. A little perseverance will usually get you a game and the developers have promised to fix the matchmaking issues in the next patch anyway. The system is not perfect but I genuinely haven’t experienced the severe, game-breaking problems that others have described.

One thing I am surprised not to have seen, however, is any discussion of sexism in the game, especially after the row that Arkham City caused (SHOCK: dangerous criminals aren’t nice people). If you want to play as a female character then there is only one body shape for you: a size-10 slinky seductress who can be decked out in just lingerie should you so wish, and who blows the player a kiss when she reaches the top of the scoreboard. Apparently Gotham City is populated exclusively by ugly men and gorgeous, perfectly-proportioned women who aren’t above flirting with anything and everything. This seems even more incongruous when one of the obviously female voices talks about nothing but hurting everyone else.

This complaint might seem silly about a game whose cast are all so deranged, which actually brings me back around to the game’s charm.

Playing as the Jokers you actually feel like a good guy… well, maybe not a good guy in the strictest sense of the term, but… at least you have a purpose when you’re on the purple team. Whilst the head fake Joker urges you to capture points and perform evil deeds on his behalf, the curmudgeon in charge of team Bat simply shouts at you that the Jokers have taken something that doesn’t belong to them and that it’s time to get it back. There’s probably an essay to be written about the psychology behind the Batz being the good guys based purely on the fact that they think they’re the good guys.

Basically, everyone’s a dickhead in this game: in the non-deathmatch modes of the game each side is trying to either poison or brainwash the other. The Batz aren’t just trying to stop the Jokers, they’re trying to wage chemical warfare, which is something they justify by telling you they can’t afford non-lethal weaponry. The whole thing makes no sense whatsoever; everyone thinks that not only is what they’re doing morally fine it’s also perfectly normal (which is difficult to imagine when one of the costume choices is a Batman mask made from a cardboard box).

It’s the charm of this game that keeps me playing: it’s fun to bounce around the map firing DIY freeze rays at scantily clad Bat-strippers, and I challenge anyone reading that sentence not to at least be a little bit interested in the title. Yes, it’s just Call of Duty with a stingy unlock system and Batman sellotaped to the side of it, but it’s enjoyable, and no matter how much your character can break the game, you can (and will) be caught out and flattened more often than not.

The newest Call of Duty will cost you over £40 whereas GCI costs £12, and for that money it’s worth your time. I just hope they fix the matchmaking issues, that have drawn so many negative criticisms from elsewhere, before the game glides to an early grave.