- The Washington Times - Friday, February 17, 2012

The Dark Knight’s worst nightmares come to life in Gotham City Impostors (Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Monolith Productions, rated T for teen, reviewed for Xbox 360, 1,200 Microsoft points or $15), a first-person shooter that acts like Call of Duty’s twisted little brother while infusing the game with a “freemium” financial model.

Based on DC Comics’ Batman mythology, adapted from Detective Comics issues 867 through 870, the humorous, hyperrealistic and violent action has no solo campaign, instead offering online cooperative team matches for up to 12 players (six versus six) fighting in the urban sprawl of the Caped Crusader’s home turf.

Teams are composed of either Bats (dressed in homemade costumes, down to duct-tape Bat logos and towel capes with even an assortment of disheveled Batgirls) or Jokerz (pasty-faced rejects often wearing green pompadours and goofy shoes).

The insane warriors battle in locations such as Crime Alley, Amusement Mile (think of a Santa’s Village theme park), Ace Chemical, the Docks and Gotham Power.

The actual online matches are broken into three modes — Team Deathmatch, Psych Warfare and Fumigation — with a suspect matchmaking system that can take time to complete and mixes players of all levels together.

The Deathmatch is pretty obvious (kill the most opposition to win), but Psych Warfare finds teams trying to control and plug a battery into a device that turns the enemy into slap-happy, weaponless sitting ducks.

My favorite is Fumigation, which requires a bit more strategy. Players must hang out by three gas blasters and work to turn the devices to their side. When at least two are primed, a meter starts filling in the team’s favor. When either side reaches 100 percent, the blasters either call a swarm of bloodthirsty bats or release Joker’s deadly toxin on opponents to wipe them out.

Through the use of experience points awarded at the end of matches and character leveling (at least 1,000 levels are available), options such as joining gangs, custom costume slots and Psych Profiles open up to add to the extended fun.

Players can first hone skills with an introductory tutorial and eventually can venture into an ample collection of timed challenges to collect points as they bounce (maps are littered with trampolines), glide and skate through courses to destroy objects or shoot targets.

Now, let’s touch on customization, a common attribute of shooters. Weapon loadouts offer the choice of seven classes (including homemade rocket launchers and a Bear Stalker bow), attachments for the two weapons chosen, a support item (such as an ax or bear trap), a gadget, two Fun Facts (perks such as quick reflexes), paint modifications, and a Rampage (kill streak).

Or just ignore the minutia and select from classes such as Striker, Scout, Defender, Medic and Sniper that already offer pre-selected loadouts.

Success in the frenetic, run-and-gun matches (that top out at about 10 minutes) will award the player some Costume Coins. Those are used to stylize their avatar down to voice, body type and some outrageous clothing.

No one can complain about the generous supply of humor. Help tips are offered at almost every menu screen and mix in some BioShock-style animated introductions with a hint of silly Sergio Aragones-style art. The ramblings of the Joker heard while leading his troops also add to the laughs, as well as costumes that can reach the level of bizarre — how about an angry, fat clown sporting a green mohawk and bikini briefs?

Now let’s discuss the “freemium” reference. Players can slowly accumulate enough coins to buy most of the new costume stuff — or just start dropping Microsoft points with reckless abandon to build up their personalized Imposters experience.

However, if one remembers that a premium price already has been paid for the download ($15 is the high-end cost for a full game on Xbox Live), and that plenty of great titles already exist that don’t pound a relentless “buy” message, it’s a tad aggravating.

With every cosmetic item available, we are reminded at every unlock screen we can get it for a price. It became pretty tempting to buy something after 20 or so matches. I almost dropped 80 points to buy a custom character card pack (displayed to players when you kill them to see who performed the deed) after jealousy set in while watching other players’ fancy comic book illustrated cards.

When the Joker’s deadly gas settles, Gotham City Impostors might hook the Batman fan with quite the slick concept, but won’t maintain the interest of the average shooter connoisseur stuck in an already cluttered world of dynamic franchises.

Note: In March, a free downloadable content pack will be available featuring better matchmaking, a map of the 25th floor of the Gotham Times building, costumes such as a luchador, a new quick-draw pistol and use of a cloud of toxic gas unleashed on players following too close behind you. Feel free to add the punch line.

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