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Gotham City Impostors Beta Impressions (PS3): Soar like a chubby eagle

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Who would have thought that a first person shooter loosely based on the Batman license would have been any good? Despite my lack of faith, Gotham City Impostors may just be the surprise of the year. You can dismiss this as hyperbole – it is early February after all – but the time that I've spent with the beta trial has me buzzing. Try this on for size: Impostors has so far been more enjoyable than the entirety of Batman: Arkham City.

On the surface, this first person shooter looks like a Call of Duty clone complete with perks (dubbed: Fun Facts), sidearms and kill streaks. Dig a little deeper and you'll find a shooter that puts an emphasis on movement. Jumping, sliding and soaring throughout the two available maps is a joy comparable to the Mandalorian Wars mod for Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight. For anyone who knows me and my habit well, this is high praise.

Impostors is a team-based shooter that pits the Bats against the Jokerz (no points for guessing who is the influence for each faction, or what moral orientation they follow). The premise doesn't sound too promising, but developer Monolith has given these vigilantes and criminals a believable purpose and rationale. During the tutorial, you're briefed by two Bats members who seem very much aware that their actions aren't sanctioned by the police or Batman himself: they just want to help. You aren't given much of an introduction to the Jokerz, but the first bleep-laden cutscene humorously paints these villains as murderous hell raisers: just as you'd expect. The presentation is unbelievably charming to anyone with an interest in the Dark Knight.   

As previously mentioned, there's a tutorial (dubbed: Initiation) and two match types available in the beta. I'd strongly suggest that you go through the training; if only to give yourself a taste of some of the methods of transportation that'll eventually be at your disposal:

  • Glider Rig: This is by far my favourite gadget. After propelling yourself into the air using trampolines, air vents or simply jumping, players can slow their descent and glide to points of interest below. You can also perform dive bomb attacks to kill your enemies or simply get about faster. Gliding over air vents will also allow you to regain altitude, meaning that you can buzz about between control points quickly and with a minimum of fuss. You can't fire while gliding, which is just as well, as any sense of balance would have been nullified if you could perform both vital actions concurrently. 
  • Grapple Gun: I went with this for my first few matches because… well, it's a grappling hook gun. You can reach just about any point on any map with this device, however, it's slower going than with the glider. It's also worth noting that you can't hang from the hook and shoot like you could with the Mandalorian Wars mod. It's unfair for me to expect as much, but it would have made the nostalgia complete.
  • Rollerskates: Move faster at the expense of maneuverability. You can launch yourself a great distance by using ramps that are peppered across each map. I haven't used it outside of the tutorial, and I did note that I've seen very few opponents and teammates employing this gadget either. Fast strafing and being able to take to the skies are a key to victory in the matches I've played so far and skates don't help achieve either. For now, they'll stay in the closet.   
  • Spring Boots: Jump a two story building in a single bound! Apparently there is a cool-down time after each use, but this wasn't apparent from my experience in the tutorial environment. I'll opt to unlock these next for further testing.
  • Inflatable Insoles: This gadget apparently allows players to double jump and grants a passive bonus to your jump height. I haven't had any time with these shoes, so I can't provide any further comment. I am keen to get my hands on them at some point, though.
  • Targeting Goggles: With this gadget you can reveal enemy locations and tag them for your team. Any kills on tagged enemies will grant you assist points. Yet to try this as well.
  • Ninja Smoke Bomb: This is very popular with the kids at the moment. The smoke bomb allows you to become virtually invisible provided that you don't open fire or use support items. You do emit a feint blue outline while using this device, so don't get too comfortable.

Joyous, game-changing movement mechanics won't mean much in the grand scheme of things if a first person shooter can't get the shooting right. Thankfully, Gotham City Impostors delivers with solid gunplay and a vast arsenal of firearms and support items. Assault rifles, shotguns, LMGs, sniper rifles, even the humble bow and arrow are available to aid in dispatching your foes. You can carry two weapons of any size, however, this can slow you down depending on your weight class (more on that later). Weapons can be fitted with attachments that do anything from steadying your aim to detecting your opponent's body odor. Support items range from standard grenades to proximity mines and anti-air devices. Even with all of these wonderful toys, you won't feel overwhelmed: you'll do just fine by aiming and pulling the trigger if that's all you want to do. In my experience, players are more than willing to experiment with all the trappings available. No one weapon seems to be favoured by the community, and I seem to be the only person with a predilection for the Jackhammer (a LMG with a fair bit of kick). Hit detection seems about right, and I haven't suffered anything reminiscent of a cheap death yet. Impostors' gunplay is a deft match for the movement-centric approach to the FPS.

Choice of body type has tactical applications (speed, melee strength, how big a target you are, encumberment), but it also has implications for what may be Impostors' biggest draw card: costume customization. Each body type has some unique hair styles, but the range of clothes available to those that I've unlocked doesn't appear to differ (presumably, women can't go topless?). You earn Costume Coins upon completing matches to buy more wares for your avatar, and this has proved to be an absorbing distraction to say the least. Those coins do not come cheaply either, each item of clothing you see on your opponents will have been the result of a substantial time investment. You'll have a hard time making a character that looks intimidating: best opt for as wacky as possible! 

Of the two match types available, Fumigation will probably allow for hardcore FPS players to feel most at home. Playing similar to your average game of Domination (from every Call of Duty since Modern Warfare 4), teams vie for three control points to increase their gas supply. Depending on your team, the gas has a different effect: if the Bats have control, a bat pheromone is released and all the Jokerz will be chased away; if the Jokerz win, a deadly toxin is released into the air effectively killing the do-gooders. Unlike your average game of Domination, Fumigation doesn't end when the match clock strikes zero: it's overtime until one side wins! Psych Warfare plays somewhat like Capture the Flag in that players must escort a battery to their mind control device and defend it until it's fully charged. This is where things get hilarious: the fully-charged device emits a track that disorients the opposing team and renders them unable to use their equipment. They can however slap for a one hit kill and disable the other team's device with repeated slaps. Slap kills grant you extra points, but lacking equipment also makes you easy prey for your enemies. Team scores are determined by how many times each side activates their device (you'll still score even if your device is disabled before your track finishes). I won't spoil the aural comedic surprises that each track delivers, but it should suffice to report that I was in stitches during my first few matches. 

Two maps are on rotation in the beta trial: Crime Alley and Amusement Mile. Crime Alley is probably the most balanced – primarily due to vent distribution and control point placement – but both offer up sufficiently different experiences. Amusement Mile offers a clear guide path between mind-control devices in Psych Warfare and the control points are far too close together in Fumigation. Crime Alley is more open and that means that attacking objectives carries greater risk. Matches tend to be more lopsided in Crime Alley, but wins on that map tend to be far more satisfying. I'm hoping that the maps in the full release encourage greater use of other gadgets (like the rollerskates, for example), but I still found what was on offer to be quite promising. 

I could go on about the experience and levelling system (which isn't at all dissimilar to that found in the Call of Duty games), but I'll wait to see the finished product before I discuss that in any great detail. I will say, however, that it seems to reward those who play the objective far more than those with a higher kill count; which is very much appreciated and something that I wish was the norm. In any case, Gotham City Impostors is shaping up to be one of the sleeper hits of this year. With the right community, this game may just have some staying power. It's worth playing solely on the strength of its unique movement mechanics, but the gunplay and progression system should act as a carrot for shooters fans to give it a go. I am very much looking forward to playing the full game towards the end of this week. Get excited, Batmen and Batwomen!


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