An epic stumble at the finish line
I'm not a big fan of the new, austere, Mr Serious Batman. I'm a huge big stupid fan of 60s Adam West Batman. Gotham City Impostors is a delightful Batman game to me, because it plays with the 60s Batman henchmen idea (catwomen's henchmen all wearing mouse ears for instance) and applies it to the team based first person shooter. As a Batman game, it's funny, charming and honestly a bit of a breath of fresh air in all this serious drabness.
I didn't have big expectations of this game, to be honest. I forgot how funny and sharp Monolith can be when they're in a good mood, considering they spent the past few years depressing the shit out of everyone with FEAR (a great shooter, a shitty horror game) and Condemned (bleak and pointless to a fault). GCI reminded me of Shogo and the NOLF series, games that marry seriousness with silliness in an unusually canny way.
GCI is profoundly silly in the best way. It takes the best parts of Call of Duty (the core shooting gameplay is essentially a carbon copy) and marries it with a set of gadgets and weapons that result in higher mobility and a match flow that can at times feel outright chaotic, but with good players has a kind of sublime "controlled chaos" feel that I find really satisfying. The customisable character classes are fun to play, fun to fight, fun to listen to, and gives the game a real charisma that is rare today. It's a game you want to spend more time with because it's a nice place to be.
The package, at $15, is understandably slim, with 3 game modes across 5 maps. It is a good thing the core gameplay of moving around and shooting dudes is so solid, because it comes with the delightful consequence of a game where the skill ceiling scales with your play. To draw the game out, GCI is all about the progression, and doles out experience points at an uncharacteristically generous rate. It's not uncommon to kill an enemy and receive 4 or 5 bonuses depending on the context, or even receive experience points "for no reason" as a guy you hurt a bit earlier finally bites the bullet. As you reach a certain level, the game's gang mechanic comes into play, where your accomplishments play into values driving a turf-control metagame on the GCI website.
At first, the game may feel a bit stingy with the actual rewards; Unlocks are awarded at a treacle pace, with weapon modifiers offered far more often than actual weapons, making your early choices in gear unlocks feel uncharacteristically "final". The good news is that this fosters an attitude of familiarity, where you grow to learn the quirks of your loadout. At some point, the game clicks into place. It's a great place to be.
So it's a huge shame that the game, at least on PC, struggles so hard out of the gate. Coming from the PS3 beta, I was shocked at how hard it was to get into a game on the PC. Whenever I bumble my way into a game "powered" by GFWL, my heart sinks. I can't tell if it's the fault of the developers or not, but getting into a game of GCI in any mode is a real roll of the dice at this point, with waits between matches beginning at a minute and often stretching over 5 minutes. It's a real test of patience, and as players quit the group and restart matchmaking, chances of getting into a game become progressively slimmer.
It's good news that Monolith are working on drop-in matchmaking, because as of now it's hard to recommend the game in any real fashion; This is a multiplayer only game, and most of your time on the PC is likely spent looking at timers that never seem to run out. It's a tremendous bummer.
It doesn't help that the game bears the scars of a poor console port, with a UI clearly designed around controller buttons. The closest comparison would be Borderlands' equally poor PC interface. "Press 1 to view your party" indeed.
I hope Monolith can work out these issues before the player base completely evaporates, because there is a real gem of a game in here, a game I enjoy playing, and a game that, sadly, actively seems to deny me the ability to play it more.