Gotham City Impostors Preview

Freak chic.

Gotham City Impostors is all about obsessive fans. Obsessive fans who, as is so often the case, happen to be both slightly unstable and very heavily armed.

It's a multiplayer-only online shooter set in the Batman universe - but because Batman doesn't actually like to shoot people in his universe, Monolith, the game's developer, has had to get creative. The solution it's come up with is to offer players the choice between two opposing teams of cut-price vigilantes decked out in cheap costumes and weighed down with home-made gadgets and weapons.

Drawing inspiration from the real superheroes and villains, these gangs have called themselves the Bats and the Jokerz, and they spend their weekends blasting each other to pieces. This, in case you haven't noticed, is the set-up for one of the weirdest licensed games you'll have seen in quite a while.

Whether you choose to fight for good or evil, then, you're going to end up looking like a member of a very strange dodgeball team. Monolith has created a world of endlessly customisable idiocy; even if you go for the most basic outfits and character builds, you're unlikely to be mistaken for a real superhero any time soon. Instead, the tights are stretched to breaking point, the cowls and face-paint jobs are all wonderfully amateurish and the jutting chins are covered in stubble and poorly-healed flesh wounds. If you ever wondered how Batman would fare in the hands of Mad Magazine's artists, this is the game you've been waiting for.

When it comes to modes, Monolith is keeping things simple: three main events will compete for your attention alongside a series of challenge levels that are mainly in place to teach you the basics. The first of these events is Death Match, which pretty much speaks for itself. The remaining two, Psyche Warfare and Fumigation, are also fairly straightforward, the former being a Capture The Flag variant, while the latter is a twist on control points.

Both have their anarchic DC Comics elements, however. Psyche Warfare has you fighting for ownership of a battery that you'll need to power up a mind control device that, if fully charged, with demoralise the other side and force them to drop their guns and resort to melee attacks for a few minutes. Fumigation sees you capturing and holding a range of gas blasters that steadily pump the air with nerve toxins.

The maps unveiled so far are small but intricate. They mix indoor and outdoor spaces with a good deal of verticality, and they're built around gentle, looping designs that make for a nice quick churn once the killing and respawning kicks off.

Ace Chemicals feels like the better of the two, with a split-level factory building to hide in and streams of luminous toxic gunk puddling up outside. That said, Docks isn't bad either, a congregation of warehouses and alleyways perfect for ambushes.

Crucially, the shooting itself is a lot of fun: aiming can be a little jerky in close quarters, but hit boxes tend to be a touch larger than normal to compensate for that and the weapons all come with a nice kick. It's not a game that asks you to be precise and measured in your approach, and the slight scrappiness of the handling works well with the chaotic run-and-gun ethos.

If the game's modes seem rather tightly focused, the XP you earn while playing feeds into some wonderfully expansive unlocks and character-tweaking options. Impostors is theoretically class-based, but it's really about self-expression. While there are a range of pre-made load-outs to choose between, they feel like jumping off points for your own custom jobs - and this is where Monolith starts to have fun with the bizarre premise.

After selecting a body type - the bigger you are, the slower you'll be, but you'll also take more damage before dying - and picking standard and secondary weapons, you also get to choose both a gadget and a support item. Gadgets can really change the way you play, with a grapple gun letting you zip from point to point, say, while inflatable insoles allow for double jumps and roller-skates boost your speed.

The voiceover announcer is more Adam West that Christian Bale. (The best Batman was Keaton, obv.)

With the likes of glider packs and spring shoes thrown into the mix, it must have been hellish for the developers to balance, which is probably why every gadget has its weaknesses as well as its strengths. Smoke bombs may grant you invisibility, for example, but you can't shoot while you're using them, and you'll also be vulnerable for a few vital seconds as you become uncloaked. Support items aren't quite as game-changing as gadgets, but they'll still allow you to store a nasty trick up your sleeve, offering everything from impact grenades and shuriken to a boomerang - it disorientates players if it strikes them - and a bear trap.

Your standard weapons, meanwhile, tend to be pretty interesting too. In this world of homebrew vigilantes, RPGs are cobbled together from piping and can be fitted to shoot fireworks, while grenade launchers look like children's catapults. Basics such as shotguns and assault rifles are all present, but even they can be modded, allowing you to attach things like scopes, red dot sights and silencers. You can change the paint jobs, too.

More on Gotham City Impostors

Clothing rounds out your character creation, adding some nice cosmetic decisions to sit alongside your tactical choices. Whichever team you're playing for, you'll be able to customise shirts, gloves, and shoes; Bats players can also mess with cowls, capes and logos, while Jokerz can trick out haircuts, face paint and "flair" items like squirty flowers. The options are pretty dizzying, ranging from knitwear bat ears and beach towel capes to leopard print underpants and pizza delivery company shirts. It's not City of Heroes, perhaps, but this isn't a city of heroes. It's a city of knockabout bumpkins, and you shouldn't have a hard time ensuring that your bumpkin looks unique.

Gotham City Impostors is a weird mix of the familiar and the unexpected, in other words: a licensed shooter with XP unlocks and realistic environments, in which you can wade into battle armed with a bullhorn and a Jack-in-the-Box, wearing a pair of cardboard bat ears. Its levels are riddled with strange little gimmicks - exercise trampolines that behave like jump pads, nicely wrapped gift boxes that bestow perks and buffs - but they're also tightly designed multiplayer arenas that will reward the committed player who's willing to put in the time to learn their secrets.

A shooter based on the Batman license was always going to be odd. This, at least, looks like it's the fun kind of odd.

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