Real shooting with Gotham City Impostors

There's a thing that most licensed games just don't get. The license association, the premise, really, is the bait, but it's the gameplay that's the hook. The game is the thing. For just a few minutes, let's strip away the goofy exterior surrounding Gotham City Impostors. Take away the Batman references, the Joker allusions, the bright colors, the bonkers aesthetic. Dress it all the way down to the only thing that matters: the game.

When you do that, you've got something more surprising than a weird Batman game without Batman, with lots of guns: a candidate for the best downloadable console shooter since Battlefield 1943.%Gallery-130941%
Of course, it'll take more than the hour or so I had with Gotham City Impostors to know that for sure, but my time with it so far has me impressed. On a fundamental level, Impostors nails the elusive feel factor inherent in great shooters. The controls are quick and responsive, refined in a way that escapes a number of retail releases, to say nothing of the downloadable competition. Controller latency (that delay between controller input and screen response) is at a minimum.

But more than that, characters move the way it seems like they should. Appearances establish certain expectations for the way things work, and navigating the world of Gotham City Impostors works how it looks like it would. Shy of a few invisible walls here and there (if there's a roof, shouldn't I be able to get up there as my pseudo-Batman?), a visible nook is a nook you can occupy, a second story of a building somewhere you can cut through.

But just as important are the guns. The guns are powerful and diverse. It seems silly, being surprised that guns in a shooter would do the damage you expect them to, but it's screwed up so often that to see it done well (and in a game with guys running around in clown make-up or rubber Bat-masks) is... refreshing. Combat in Gotham City Impostors isn't twitchy, but it is fast, and satisfying. More specialized weapons also make things interesting – I used one of my unlock points to secure an absurd looking hunting bow capable of one-shotting the opposition after a full draw and with a little finesse (and, admittedly, some luck).

Gotham City Impostors's gunplay dynamic resembles the aforementioned Battlefield 1943. Enemies take enough damage to make one player dominating a clustered group of the other gang unlikely, minimizing the effectiveness of lone wolves. The classes available lean more towards Team Fortress 2, however, right down to the medic-type "uber-ing" the tank class into a more effective meat shield for their team.

I do have some concerns though. There's a heavy emphasis on character customization in Gotham City Impostors, which makes sense – you're playing the part of a deranged gang member obsessed with Batman or the Joker, who, let's be honest, are deranged in their own way. Wacky accoutrement is part of the package. But part of Team Fortress 2's class based magic is the easily identifiable silhouettes, which let you know what you're dealing with. It's an important aspect of this kind of shooter, that expectation.

The customizations available to each character can drastically change the silhouette of each combat class. And to add to the possible confusion, equipment types that effect mobility, like the grappling hook, glider, or (seriously) roller skates aren't limited to particular classes. Part of the balancing act of great shooters involves a just-right combination of the known and unknown – specifically, I should know what someone can do by looking at them, but not what they'll do.

The question is whether that fragile compromise can be maintained by Gotham City Impostors when it releases on January 10th. I'm excited to find out.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.