The Club Review
Well, we can't say that action game developers aren't trying to come up with new ideas. Unfortunately, they're running out so much that some of these ideas wind up being really strange and often just don't work. Project Gotham Racing developer Bizarre Creations and Sega have teamed up to bring us The Club, a new brutal action game where players must quickly plow through trashed environments killing hordes of stupid bad guys in various stylish ways. The idea works, but the game has a very frantic, high-pressure tone that the best developers in the genre have usually worked to minimize instead of accentuate.
The Club has you choosing one of several very tough-looking, thuggish and possibly psychotic characters and has you going through a linear series of levels stringing together kills for combos. Pull off accurate shots, move quickly, pop a few hidden targets throughout the level, and keep your combo up, and you can get a solid score. Toss in a pretty standard arsenal of weaponry and a context-sensitive action system (much like the way you can dive over things in, say, Gears of War) and we've got a pretty decent game that might hold your attention for a while - especially if you want to compete for score with your buddies.
Everything's done through a third-person camera, which would be impressive if the characters and graphics looked as good as other recent games, but unfortunately the visuals aren't quite up to par and the host of psychopaths you can control don't really exhibit any personality once you get into a mission. Don't expect anything in the way of a story, either. Once the action starts, though, you'll forget all that as the game's frantic pace generally leads to you dashing through levels making quick kills. Throw away your cover system, as The Club does almost everything it can to make sure you don't need it.
Levels don't always have the same objectives, though. Some of them will have you quickly charging from room to room, wasting people as fast as you can. Others require you to stay inside a small area and simply survive for a few minutes; if you walk out of bounds for more than five seconds, well, an explosive implanted in your neck goes boom. The characters you play as are even called "contestants", so the whole game evokes a theme of the 80s Schwarzenegger flick The Running Man - except here, you play the executioner and the guys you're killing are terminally stupid. AI seems to have hardly been a concern for Bizarre Creations here, as you move around and take out idiot thugs by the dozens. The map design has been more painstakingly worked on, however, and the game's four-dozen-or-so levels are laid out in a way that complements the run-and-gun style. Unfortunately, you can only see so many abandoned steel mills and warehouses before they all sort of run together.
Every level in The Club can be played on four difficulty levels, the toughest of which is only available once you've beaten the game. And all of these are tracked on the 360's leaderboards, too, which will add a lot of replay value for those who want to measure their scores against their friends. And every time you beat a level you unlock it in a single mission mode, which is convenient if you're going for a top score. Unfortunately, there's no way to see recordings of those who have better scores than you; that would have been a nice feature to have.
The whole game's feel is entirely different than the direction that shooters have been going in for the last few years. You're instructed (and sometimes required) to move quickly, tossing aside all of the tactical, plodding action that many recent action titles have pushed you towards. The fact that your combo meter decays when you're not doing anything means that there's no rest in the levels, making for a game that tosses out the idea of changing pace for a more cinematic experience. Here, it's pure action with a score as more of your objective than simple survival (although later in the game health kit pickups are a must), and it kind of reminds me of the old days of beating scores in arcades. Sure, Xbox Live Arcade has had us actually playing for score for a while, but most of those games are retro or retro-styled titles. Bizarre instead has managed to make the score-as-an-objective style of play work in an actual modern game.
Split-screen competitive and online action is included, with up to four players being able to jump in together on the same console and even go online all together for deathmatch and team-based fights. The gameplay modes thrown in are fairly original and don't just include the same old DM and Team DM modes, but I think that the biggest problem with the online play is that only eight players can get together in a single session. With other shooters pushing the 360's online functionality to include 16, 18, and 24 players all at once, The Club's levels are small yet still feel somehow empty with such a low player cap. The action is great and much of what you learn in the single player game does work online, but the gunplay requires little strategy (luckily, the gameplay modes have some built in) and the weapons get a little dull after a while.
Bizarre Creations has done something unique here in trying to get you to actually play through the levels of their shooter multiple times and keep having fun doing it. It's achieved through a scoring system that is pretty rewarding overall, and while dedicated gamers will likely play through these levels quite a few times, casual fans of shooters may not care much for the kind of depth that The Club offers. There's no story and the graphics and sound aren't anything special, but there's plenty to do and lots of ways to improve your scores and fight together online. If you've been looking for depth and replayability in your action games, it's worth giving The Club a shot.