Sometimes a game can sound great on paper and then just not be very much fun in practice. The Club is one of those titles. It's something different in the shooter genre which is a welcome happening in the flooded market, but unfortunately the gameplay isn't as gripping as one would hope out of a title that tries to channel the arcade spirit.
The Club seeks to bring something new to the shooter genre by adding some of the racing and style game mechanics Bizarre has become famous for in the Project Gotham Racing series. The game isn't just about taking down as many targets as possible; it's just as important to do it quickly and with flair. Points are given for each kill with more awarded based on where you shoot the enemy, how far away you are from the victim, and how difficult of a take down it is. If that's not enough to think about, there's also a combo multiplier that goes up with each kill but continuously ticks down in between. Each stage lasts no more than a few minutes as you race through a closed course to gun down as many enemies as you can, staying true to the arcade feeling of the game.
If you're not the type of gamer who obsesses over high scores, there really is no reason for you to pick up The Club. The main single player game, called the tournament, can be completed in under three hours and after that there's nothing to do except to replay the stages again and again. Of course, that's the point and you'll have to do it if you want to perfect your game and get the high score, but I can't help but find the game a bit shallow -- a one trick pony. After beating the game and going back to replay some stages, I didn't feel hooked by the game at all.
The Club claims to have five different types of events, but they essentially boil down to just two. Whether you're tasked with reaching an exit, reaching an exit under a certain time, or running several laps around a loop while killing to get extra time, the gameplay is identical. You won't do well in any of them if you don't move quickly to keep your combo up, so who cares if there's also a game clock? The other two events, siege and survivor, are so similar I thought they were the same thing until I was most of the way through the game.
So the game is really all about killing a lot of targets as fast as you can, regardless of the different ways Bizarre wants to present it. The enemies appear in the same places each time through one of the stages, as do the bonus targets hanging on walls that can be used to extend your combo meter, so it's possible to memorize each course and plan out a perfect route for maximum points. In this way, an obsessive person can find hours and hours of gameplay. Learning when to sprint and when to pause to shoot is the first step, but you can take it further. Since some enemy targets are worth more points than others and they often appear in clusters, the order you shoot them can affect your final score. Then if you want to get truly obsessive, you can go back through the levels and search for hidden targets planted in odd places in each stage.
Part of the problem with The Club is that it feels as if the initial idea was never fleshed out into something modern day gamers could get behind. It's racing meets shooting, but the only element of racing that was brought over was speed. There are eight characters, two of which must be unlocked, but the differences between them don't go any farther than speed, strength and defensive prowess. They all have equal skill with each weapon and they all handle identically which is a bit disappointing and makes each one feel generic.
Though style is part of the game in that The Club awards more points based on making tough kills or head shots, Bizarre's attempts to put visual and aural style into the game are a flop. The premise of the game, a club that is so powerful it can hold death tournaments and force contestants to kill hundreds of people in broad daylight, is rather corny. The art direction isn't much better and the characters just don't look appealing, even if there isn't anything technically bad about the look of the game. There's an overall attempt to be edgy and hip that feels contrived. The same goes for the audio prompts that come as you select a character or perform a special kill. These are supposed to be throwbacks but they essentially fall flat.
Visually, The Club on PC beats its console cousins thanks to the ability to run it at a higher resolution on good rigs. The in-engine but not real-time cutscenes were all rendered at a lower resolution and don't look as good as the rest of the game, but they are brief and heavily filtered to the point of it not really being a big deal.
The low-res cutscenes are just one symptom of a larger issue on the PC that might deter some from playing the game. Little work was done in making the PC version of The Club feel like it was made for the platform it is running on. All of the user interfaces are pulled directly from the Xbox 360 version. This works fine if you want to play with an Xbox 360 controller but looks and feels out of place with a keyboard and mouse.
To add some meat onto the game, The Club also features a series of multiplayer events that can be played online or on a local area network with up to eight players. There are eight different modes, but oddly only one of them makes use of the scoring and combo system the offline game is built around. The rest are free for all or team based games the likes of which have been seen numerous times over in other games. Unfortunately, very few people are playing online. It took me numerous attempts over several days to find anybody playing online before finally getting into a game with four others. The game runs smoothly online if you can find anyone to play with, though I did notice an odd spawning glitch that made it seem like I was appearing and then teleporting across the level each time I died and came back.
Perhaps the online community would be alive if SEGA hadn't botched the publishing process by shipping copies without product keys. If you bought the game and didn't get one, you can read about the solution
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