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Gotham City Impostors preview: Batman with guns

"When I started at WB, one of the things I was most excited about was that I was going to get to work with the creative teams behind No One Lives Forever, Shogo and FEAR," Laura Fryer, general manager of WBIE's myriad Seattle studios told an assembled audience of E3 judges this morning. "So when I started, the first thing I did when I got that NDA signed was I went and found that team, and I said 'Okay guys, what are you working on?'"

As it turns out, the team at Monolith Productions was in between projects and wasn't actively working on anything. After some encouraging words from Fryer, the team put some serious thought into what it wanted to work on next and the answer was ... Batman.

"Okay, it's cool," Fryer told them, "but we already have a Batman game. And last time I checked, people really liked it so I'm not sure how that's going to work."

"No, not the Batman," they told her. "We want to work on multiplayer Batman."

Of course, multiplayer Batman presents an obvious problem: Everyone wants to be Bats. Monolith's solution: "Nobody's going to be Batman." A bold concept for a Batman game, to be sure, but with that idea in hand the studio pitched the game to the executive team in Burbank. After the presentation, the president told Fryer it was the most surprising pitch he'd ever seen.

The hook: You're not playing as Batman, or Joker. You're playing as "impostors" of the seminal comic book characters. This of course eliminated another canonical problem for the famous shooter developer. A Batman impostor can use a gun. "It's not every day you get green-lit to subvert a paradigm," Fryer said. But to do that, Fryer and Monolith needed permission from the gatekeeper, comic book publisher (and Warner Bros. subsidiary) DC Comics. Lucky for them, when DC co-publisher Jim Lee visited the studio ... "he loved it." In fact, his only suggestion was to push the already unhinged concept even further; he went back to DC and began the Impostors storyline in the Detective Comics series.

A curiously compelling pastiche of Batman iconography, wrapped around a fast-paced shooter from the seasoned veterans at Monolith.

So what exactly does Gotham City Impostors look like? In short, it's a hyperactive multiplayer shooter, coated in a thick layer of Batman Sauce. Players can pick to be on Team Bats or Team Jokerz (no word on other potential teams yet, WBIE tells us) and, from there, customize their characters, loadouts, individual weapons, and even the "card" that enemies will see after you've killed them. Character customization begins with body type, which ranges from nimble to heavy, all the way through "cowl," where players can pick the type of knock-off Batman mask they want their impostor to wear.

To demonstrate weapon customization, we were shown the "Thunder Dragon" rocket launcher ... But a rocket launcher is old hat, right? How about a purple cheetah-print rocket launcher ... that fires fireworks -- or molotov cocktails? Your loadout includes a "ready" weapon, an assault rifle in our case; a "backup" weapon, the aforementioned Thunder Dragon here; a "support" item, which includes pipe bombs, a jack-in-the-box-style bomb, an axe, a boomerang, and more; and a "gadget," which includes a glider, a grapple gun, roller skates, or a smoke bomb. Like most games in this market, you can either customize everything or pick from defaults, including pre-made loadouts.

On display at the event were only two gametypes -- the mandatory Team Deathmatch and the more atypical "Psychological Warfare," a kind of capture-the-flag done Batman-style. The map on display was the funhouse Amusement Mile, an appropriate setting for the madcap action on display. Littered across the level are trampolines, which players can use to make their way to higher ground, giving the map a distinct verticality. Also helping traverse this vertical environment is the glider which, when coupled with heating ducts, let players fly across the level. Similarly, skate ramps allow players with the roller skates gadget to get a speed boost across the map.

The hook: You're not playing as Batman, or Joker.

Psychological Warfare tasks each team with defending or recovering a battery connected to a brainwashing system. When a team grabs the battery to bring it back to their base, it leaves behind a trail of battery acid, leading the defending team directly to the stolen battery. Once back at the base, it must be defended for 30 seconds before the attacking team can activate its brainwashing machine. Once activated, your team members will hear a motivational speech, while the enemy will be brainwashed and temporarily lose access to its weapons, relying solely on "panic attacks."

From a mechanical standpoint, Gotham City Impostors plays much like other shooters: run is mapped to the left analog stick's clicky button; left trigger pulls up your iron sights; right trigger fires. Killing enemies earns you XP (conveniently posted above enemies every time you land a shot); though, strangely, Monolith isn't talking about what other actions will net players XP. Successfully snagging a battery? No sign of XP in the demo session.

Despite its conventional mechanics, Impostors unsurprisingly distinguishes itself in its setting, a curiously compelling pastiche of Batman iconography, wrapped around a fast-paced shooter from the seasoned veterans at Monolith.

Gotham City Impostors will be released on Xbox Live Arcade, PSN and PC.

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