Gotham City Impostors is a new XBLA Batman themed shooter from Warner Brothers, selling for 1200MSP. It’s Batman ‘themed’ because Batman and his many villains never appear themselves, instead you play in a team of sad, delusional vigilante wanna-bes, either as Bats or Jokers.

The game is multi-player only and is heavily inspired by a certain big brand retail shooter on the XBox. Anybody that has played any of those multiple versions of that franchise will feel right at home here. However while GCI feels a lot like that other shooter in terms of play, it also packs enough differences to make it a pretty unique experience. You can snag a 60 minute time limited trial to give it a crack. Although with only an hour to play you’ll be missing out on a  ton of content to unlock and experiment with as you rank up your character – there’s up to 500 XP levels to earn!

First up your vigilante’s appearance is highly customisable using costume unlocks you can purchase in-game with ‘costume coins’, or if you’re flush with cash, real life MSP. The costumes are entirely cosmetic but do give you a lot of options for making your Joker and Batman team character unique.

Next up, GCI borrows an idea from Brink here and you have up to five un-lockable body types, from a bantam weight character with fast sprint, up to the freakishly massive tank. Your body type naturally modifies how fast you move in game, how much damage you can take, and dish out (with melee attacks), how big a target you present, as well as how much lugging heavy weaponry around slows you down. The body types definitely lend themselves to different play styles and their speeds and abilities are noticeable in-game. There’s also something funny about facing down a huge angry clown with fluro-green hair and a machine gun while you’re playing a scrawny Batguy in his garbage bag cape and tighty whiteys.

Naturally there’s a bunch of weapon unlocks in predictable categories: pistols, shotguns, SMGs, rifles, heavy weapons a sniper weapons. The sniper weapons seem particularly overpowered in GCI and you’ll get one-shot killed a fair amount by a sniper ‘sports bow’, which can get a little tiresome – hopefully they’ll be a little nerfed in the next update. The weapons have a bunch of perks you can unlock in the form of different scopes, barrels and extended magazines. Of course there’s also a bunch of challenges for each weapon that will give you XP if you complete them. Nothing terribly innovative here and the weapon unlock system is probably the most cookie cutter, ‘CODesque’ part of GCI.

Fortunately you’ve also got support unlocks for your characters which is really where GCI gets interesting. You start out with a great support unlock with is a Batman style grapnel gun. Using this gun correctly really lets you explore the vertical space of each map and get the drop on opponents from above, or fight them across the rooftops which ties in nicely with the Batman theme. In fact a lot of support unlocks you can earn encourage you to travel the maps in three dimensions: there’s a glider rig which lets you fly with the help of in-map air vents, spring shoes which let you power jump with a cool down, inflatable insoles which give you a double jump, and a set of roller skates that give you a massive speed boost and let you hit skate ramps laid around the levels. Other unlocks include several options for laying booby traps, as well as tossed explosives and body armor and one particularly annoying unlock that renders you invisible for a short time. There’s a set of ‘fun facts’ you can unlock for your character as well, which are essentially COD-style perks, including death perks.

The five bright, daylight maps that come with the game have also been designed as tight, three dimensional arenas. Each map is a mix of indoor and outdoor spaces, with doorways and windows to travel through, and a lot of room to move vertically over roofs, or onto stacked containers, vehicles etc. Just be careful while you’re racing around though because many of the maps also have built-in traps that will kill the unwary. The maps work very well with the support unlocks and you’ll find yourself grappling, gliding or roller skating around them quite happily. It’s this ‘full 3d fighting space’ that really makes GCI different from your average shooter and it took me a little while to notice how rich it makes the levels if you get off the ground and start lurking on rooftops, behind the water towers and billboards – just like a certain angry millionaire vigilante! There’s quite a few in-jokes scattered around the maps too if you take the time to stop and look.

You can play on these maps in one of three modes: Team Deathmatch, ‘Fumigation’ which is basically COD’s Domination mode  and finally a CTF mode where you have to capture and carry a very leaky battery to your team’s propaganda machine to temporarily cripple the enemy.

As the game is multi-player only, the matchmaking is pretty important. Fortunately there seem to be a lot of people playing GCI on the Xbox which is great because you’ll generally get a match pretty quickly. I notice it’s also at the top of Major Nelson’s Live Activity report this week which is nice to see. However I have to say playing from New Zealand will penalise you somewhat – I assume because most servers will be US or European since this is an XBLA title and not full retail. There are definitely lag issues both during matchmaking and occasionally in-game, and I’ve noticed I consistently seem to have a red connection speed marker in the player list. I’ve also been dropped repeatedly during matchmaking with ‘Lost Connection’ messages, although this could be attributed to launch week jitters rather than lag as it seems to have settled down a bit.

I’m hoping GCI has some staying power because it’s definitely a rich game for a multi-player XBLA title. In fact it’s probably a richer experience than some retail FPS titles from last year (yes Brink I’m looking at you). I should also mention that there’s an extensive stats tracking website and ‘turf war’ meta game that supports GCI through the use of a mandatory ‘Warner ID’. This is mildly annoying to set up when you first play the game, but I do love a good stats site and that’s unusual to see in an XBLA title like this.

There’s more good news too because the first DLC pack for GCI will be free and will contain a new map to battle on as well as a bunch of other bits and bobs, and what sounds like some changes to matchmaking so hopefully the experience will only improve.

So to wrap it up, if you’ve got a faded Batman or Joker t-shirt in your closet, and you’re looking for a cheap multi-player FPS that’s rich in quirky unlocks and colourful game play with some definitely unique twists, Gotham City Impostors is worth checking out.

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