MMO Burnout: Revisiting Gotham City Impostors

MMO Burnout - Gotham City Impostors
Remember that scene in 2008's The Dark Knight where those nerdling Batman-wannabes were running around in imitation capes and cowls shooting at criminals with shotguns? That's pretty much what you get when you log into Gotham City Impostors, Monolith's garish, goofy first-person shooter set against the sprawling backdrop of DC Comics' legendary mythos.

And for all you MMO historians in the crowd, yes, that's the same Monolith that originally developed the late, great Matrix Online.
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Gotham City Impostors - post-match lineup screen
GCI debuted in February of 2012 on PCs and consoles before dropping its client fee and landing on Steam as a free-to-play title late last summer. While my Bat-obsession compelled me to log into the Xbox 360 version at launch, I didn't stay long, and I figured it would be worth revisiting on the PC since it's no longer behind a paywall and I was itching for a disposable shooter. As it turns out, I found a title that's pretty hard to put down.

Unlike Monolith's MxO, Impostors doesn't have any virtual world leanings. This is a loud, lobby-based game that's pretty much a one-trick pony. That said, it's very well-executed and frankly a ton of fun in small doses. It's got a mischievous sense of humor a mile wide, and it's a refreshing change of pace from the why-so-serious stylings of the genre's Battlefield and Call of Duty staples.

If you've any sort of affinity for Batman, I daresay it's required playing (did I mention that it won't cost you anything?). Heck, DC even canonized it (sorta) via an inspired-by story arc that starts in Detective Comics 867. Story setups in multiplayer shooters are pretty unnecessary, I know, but this one is great fun and good for plenty of chuckles when pared with the title's frenetic action and tongue-in-cheek violence.

Gotham City Impostors - East End deathmatch
Monolith's Gotham is a madcap funhouse, and the general ambiance is much closer to Tim Burton (possibly even Adam West) than Christopher Nolan. Even though this is a smallish lobby title, there's plenty of space on most of the maps. There has to be since you can hang-glide, use trampolines, and rollerskate up ramps that fling you across great swaths of cityscape with reckless abandon.

Sniper perches abound, as do choke points and narrow corridors. When they're combined with the dynamic movement modes and the weapon variety, there are a lot of gameplay choices and a lot to love for casual shooter fans and jaded aficionados.

You'll find yourself doing battle in and around Arkham Asylum, Gotham's East End, Ace Chemicals, Crime Alley, and other iconic locations ripped from the pages of Batman's rich backstory. There's also a skyscraper map that I particularly enjoyed, though there's never enough time to skulk around and perch on the gargoyles, brooding over your parents' untimely demise and practicing your best "I'm Batman" voice.

Game types are standard shooter fare, but fortunately there are a few twists, again infused with GCI's irreverent sense of humor. Team Deathmatch is exactly what it sounds like. The game's answer to capture-the-flag is called Psych Warfare, only instead of a flag, you're holding a battery. If your team can hang onto it long enough, you get to brainwash the other team with propaganda and leave them basically defenseless. Bounty Hunter involves picking up dropped coins after killing enemies (and preventing others from picking them up), while Fumigation tasks players with capping and holding three command points.

Finally, there's a tutorial mode called Initiation, which susses out GCI's particular control quirks, as well as a Challenge mode that's effectively a single-player obstacle course. If you don't feel like getting your arse shot off while you learn the maps, Challenge is your friend.

Gotham City Impostors - Harley rollergirl CGI
The game's PC controls are pretty solid. It might take you a few minutes to get the hang of dive-bombing from your glider or timing a skate jump, but there's no sloppiness here. Movements are precise and responsive, and the weapons I've sampled so far feature enough recoil to make it challenging without venturing into simulation territory.

Gotham City Impostors - Batz brawlerGCI's avatars are hi-larious, as Monolith abandons realism and gives us burly linebackers with cardboard Bat helmets and bathroom towel capes, crazy-cute Harley Quinn rollergirl analogues, and more crusty costume options than you could collect in a lifetime.

There are so many unlocks that I don't really know where to start. Weapons, gadgets, biography text and calling cards (which display to your victims before they respawn) are all here, as are hundreds of costume parts and customization tweaks. Most of these are also available in the cash shop, which seems to be completely optional given that I've unlocked a ton of both gameplay and fluff items without spending a dime thus far.

Character progression is similarly deep. My first project is a melee build that features a samurai sword, a sword damage passive ability, a grappling gun, and various other niceties. And if all that is somehow not enough to keep you busy, the game features over 400 Steam achievements as of this writing.

GCI's sense of humor is worth mentioning one more time, both because it's one of the game's greatest assets and because it's a major differentiator from the rest of the genre. Loading screens and lobbies rarely resonate in these games, but here the animated characters, grungy backdrops, and tongue-in-cheek hint popups are legion and lulz-worthy. If you're a pilot, one of them deadpans, you can invert your aim in help and options. Genius!

If I had to find something to pick on, it would be GCI's matchmaker. Most of my games have featured that one guy who is level 389 or whatever, while the rest of us were sub-20s still learning the ropes. You'll get plenty of kills regardless, especially if you've played a few shooters before, and the XP goes pretty fast if you've got an hour or two to dedicate. Topping the leaderboards is nigh impossible when you're thrown in with folks who've been upgrading their characters for months, though.

Ultimately, Gotham City Impostors is taking up a lot more of my gaming time than I thought it would. It's certainly not what I expected from the company that gave us the aforementioned MxO as well as the serious-business F.E.A.R. franchise, and it's one of the more enjoyable lobby shooters I've ever played. The IP has something to do with that, of course, but so does the tight gameplay and pro presentation. You may not be Batman in this game, but you do get to have an awful lot of fun wearing hockey pads.

Gotham City Impostors - Airborne Batz CGI
Burned out on MMOs? That's OK; there are tons of other titles out there featuring MMOish open worlds, progression, RPG mechanics, or a combination of all three. Massively's MMO Burnout turns a critical eye toward everything from AAA blockbusters to obscure indie gems, not to mention a healthy dose of the best mods.

This article was originally published on Massively.