If you have a long memory, you may remember the last shooter Bizarre Creations put out, Fur Fighters... on the SEGA Dreamcast. In the time since they made cute-cartoon animals shoot each other, they've become a dependable studio for great looking racing games. With this kind of pedigree, it's no surprise to me that they'd mix the two genres when creating The Club.
The result is equal parts of "gotta get my lap time down" and "stylish turning equals points" from Project Gotham Racing mixed with the carnage of a straight-up shooter – and it works. Sure the story is the umpteenth rip-off of Enter the Dragon's "secret tournament of death" setup. But what could you expect from a game that has you running through abandoned buildings shooting dozens of interchangeable goons for points while a timer counts down?
After sitting though the (somewhat lengthy) loading screen, I started shooting enemies who popped out from behind crates, next to exploding barrels, and just around corners. The AI isn't very bright, and the shooting-range nature of the gameplay doesn't give you or them a chance to do much more than aim and fire at each other. The limp sound design and weakest explosions I've witness since Doom don't help punch up the kill-to-kill shooting that is the foundation of a good shooter.
Where The Club sets itself apart from past shooters is the kill-combo system that rewards great aiming, timing, trick shots, and memorization of routes. If you can keep your combo meter alive you can rack up some serious scores, which in turn puts you higher on the leaderboards. It's as old-school as you can get in this day and age.
The core gameplay concept is presented in five single-player modes: Sprint, race to the exit trying to rack up as many points as possible; Time attack, where you do the same thing as Sprint but you complete laps and points earn you extra time; Siege, defend yourself against nigh-endless streams of baddies until time runs out; Survivor, where you do the same thing as Siege, but you have to survive in an arena until the time runs out; And finally Run The Gauntlet, which is just like Sprint except there's a time limit.
After my first hour I couldn't have told you what the difference between these modes was. Even now I'm referring to the manual to help me define them for this review. In every mode the foes are brain dead, weak, and you're doing the same thing with the same limited arsenal. There's no real sandbox of toys to play with here in terms of weapons, equipment, or environment.
Playing the single-player tournament became boring rather quickly. Mostly because of the redundant feeling to all the modes (and the lame enemies), but also because there's no story progression to speak of… there isn't even much in terms of unlockables to keep completionists around between levels.
I'm sorry, that's not true. You do unlock stuff… to use in the Single Event mode. Find and finish a challenge with a weapon? That gun is now available in the Single Event setup menu. From there you can craft a custom challenge by choosing the starting conditions, but only using the locations, weapons, and modes you've unlocked in the single-player mode. This is a far cry from the level editors that ship with most modern games.
In an age when even fighting games are starting to offer character customization, The Club goes old-school by offering just a preset roster. I never really cared about any of them nor cared for the designs, and while they have different stats, the difference between one gun toting lunatic and the next wasn't distinctly discernable. The only thing that seemed to make my experience change noticeably was the weapon I selected.
This port is a bare-bones dumping of the Xbox 360 version. On every menu screen you'll see prompts for the 360's controller buttons. The floaty feel to the default keyboard and mouse combo controls doesn't inspire that the game was tuned for PC gamers. Oh, and its one of those "Games for Windows Live" titles. That means crippled online gaming and an extra layer of installing before you can play.
I don't dislike The Club, but like their racing games (pick one already: sim or arcade-style handling!), I feel Bizarre has trouble coloring within the lines. Can you remember the last shooter you played that rewarded memorization and reflexes over your ability to react to dynamic AI? Can you imagine a racing game that focused on just time-attack modes? I feel like they took the two most boring elements of their respective genres and created a boring game with them.
If you're not into the challenge of doing something over and over trying to get your name higher on a leaderboard there won't be much here for you. Which makes it a shame that SEGA has positioned this as a full priced game to be put on shelves next to titles like Crysis. Released as a budget priced game or as a download on Steam I'd have an easier time recommending this game as a great appetizer to your normal gaming cuisine.