Strap On the Hockey Pads: Impressions of the Gotham City Impostors Beta

Strap On the Hockey Pads: Impressions of the Gotham City Impostors Beta

Well folks, I'm a little stunned. The beta for Gotham City Impostors went live on Tuesday for Xbox Live and PSN, and it's... really quite good. I downloaded it almost apathetically, expecting to play a match of this oddly-propositioned DLG just to see what the fuss (if any) was all about before expunging it from my hard drive. Instead, I've come away with a couple of hours under my belt and a firm resolution to continue playing until the beta meets its end. Allow me to share the particulars with you.

Here's the pitch: you are a disgruntled resident of Gotham City. Batman and the Joker have established themselves as the nommes de rigeur of vigilantism and crime, and it's time to grab a piece of the action. Unfortunately, because only Batman and the Joker have access to their respective wealth and insane ingenuity, you and the other like-minded sociopaths must stick to good old-fashioned firearms and homemade gadgets to do battle.

The concept sounds like many things; silly, risky, unnecessary, confusing, unambitious, overambitious, and, again, unnecessary. It takes the impostors scene from The Dark Knight and drives it to its conceptual extreme. Downloadable multiplayer shooters have never fared well, and grafting such an odd perspective of the Batman license onto that framework seems like a recipe for disaster. However, developer Monolith seems to be beating those odds by focusing on humor and deep, customization-friendly gameplay.

Monolith starts the player off with a wisecracking tutorial that introduces the three main elements of Impostors: mobility, weaponry, and gadgetry. Each of these schools functions as its own skillbase and toybox, and the amount of options available stands toe-to-toe with any boxed multiplayer suite out there- and that's before one even considers how unique these elements are. Make no mistake, what it's lacking in technical polish right now, it's making up for in gameplay breadth.

Starting with mobility, players have access to several different utilities that make map traversal easier, each in their own ways. There are Grappling Hooks, which can be fired on any surface, from any distance, to quickly pull the player to their target; Capes, which allow players to soar and glide off of thermal vents placed on the ground, AND THEN DIVEBOMB ONTO ENEMIES BELOW AND STUN THEM; Roller Skates, which make the controls a little floaty, but in turn make the player harder to hit and sprint faster; and Spring Boots, which can be charged for super jumps, clearing buildings in a single bound. All of these devices, and a few more, serve the purpose of getting players into the air and across the terrain as efficiently as possible. It makes for a very kinetic, very spatially-tactical shooter. Thrown together in 6v6 team games makes these mechanics feel like an odd, but invigorating, mix of Team Fortress and Tony Hawk.

When it comes time to kit up, the game provides a great mix of offensive, defensive, and evasive choices. There's a nice selection of guns, skinned as popular firearms like the M14 or the Tek9, but functionally consistent only with standard weapon archetypes like machine-guns, sniper rifles, and shotguns. Each of the weapons packs a good punch, and the damage models feel very balanced (except in a few cases, which I'll touch on later). These guns can also be modified with a wide selection of attachments, some of which are standard, and some of which add useful functions like highlighting scent trails of nearby opponents.

Gadgets and support items run the gamut from standard bombs, grenades, traps, stun items, cloaks, body armor, and pick-me-ups. Together with the above weapons and utilities, each class has two "Fun Facts" which fill the Perk role that we've become so used to in the last few years. When everything is laid out for players to see (I haven't even mentioned the body types, rampages, psych profiles, or costume options), class creation becomes a very daunting prospect. Even in the beta, which allows you to look at every option that will appear in the final game, it's clear that there is a massive amount of content to pour through.

The beta includes two multiplayer modes, "Fumigation," and "Psych Warfare." The former mode plants 3 different "gasblasters" across the map, which act as proximity control points. When a team has 100% control of all three, a wave of deadly gas is unleashed to the controlling team's victory. In "Psych Warfare" players have to capture a battery and attach it to their team's propaganda machine. If they can attach the battery, and protect it long enough for the machine to activate, then it will demoralize the other team into a zombie-like frenzy that deprives them of their weapons, but also grants them uber-powerful melee skills.

Each of these modes is a lot of fun, but mainly for all of the crazy player classes that are on display than for the modes themselves. In simple terms, the beta is a lot of fun so far, and Monolith is very generous with experience rewards and the various ways to acquire them.

However, I need to make one thing clear before tying this up. Much of my enjoyment so far is being subsidized by managed expectations. This is just a beta, and one for a downloadable budget title at that, so while I've stayed very positive so far, I do want to finish the article with some pointed feedback aimed squarely at Monolith. The game comes out a month from now, so hopefully they can clean a good share of the quirks up before launch, which are as follows:

-The framerate chops a lot on the Amusement Mile map. I think this is because it's a lot more visually busy than Crime Alley, but it is very noticeable.

-Iron-sight aiming doesn't feel as smooth as hip-fire. If I'm zoomed-in I should be able to get on target with little interruption, but the guns feel a little jumpier on small movements than they should in order to be effective.

-The initial load time is really long, and the game has frozen twice when trying to locate a game for me. Also, matchmaking can take quite awhile. That might just be due to player volume, so I'll give you the benefit of the doubt for now.

-Players using the Burly or Mighty builds while wearing body armor are nearly impossible to take down with less than 3 or 4 people shooting them. I know that there are class permutations and abilities that should make this easier, but I've been in several matches where advanced players are mopping the floors with this build and no one has access to armor-piercing rounds to stop them, so you might want to consider dialing that down a bit.

-I don't have a problem with the visuals, again, it's a downloadable game, but I've also noticed a lot of pop-in and slow texture loads. Also, the animations can get choppy when a lot of players gather in one area.

-Finally, respawn points are bad. Not initially bad, but on the Crime Alley map especially, it's really easy for opponents to identify an area where most spawns are happening, and then reap the benefits of camp-killing. There needs to be a metric that recognizes when this is happening, and then shift spawns to a safer point.

And that does it for my beta feedback so far. If you're curious about the game, I definitely recommend checking it out, even if just to add a little stress to the servers. What's here isn't perfect, but it's already head and shoulders above other downloadable multiplayer games (here's looking at you, Punisher: No Mercy, and Blacklight: Tango Down). Right now, Gotham City Impostors is funny, chaotic fun, with a HUGE amount of content to dig into, and I hope that the final product can live up to this promise.