What do you do on a Friday night? Watch a movie, go to dinner with friends, perhaps hit up a few bars on the way home? If so, you’re clearly unaware of the new in-thing for lowlifes and adventure-seekers looking for something to do. The Club is an exclusive joint for people who enjoy traveling to exotic locales, meeting foreigners, and friendly competition. Oh, they enjoy blowing the crap out of things, too.
“Is it style over substance? Perhaps, but in some ways, style is substance.”Bizarre Creations, the developers behind the widely acclaimed Project Gotham Racing series, has tried something new with The Club. While it retains the same focus on high scores that their previous games feature – Project Gotham and Geometry Wars, respectively – The Club is neither here nor there when it comes to modern genre definition. While it is technically a shooter, it handles more like a racing game, with a simplistic control scheme that feels like a step backwards from popular modern fare like Rainbow Six Vegas or Gears of War. That doesn’t make it any less entertaining, though. The Club proves that old-school gameplay can still work well enough against today’s blockbuster action games, provided they’re polished enough. Is it style over substance? Perhaps, but in some ways, style is substance.
“It’s suggested that the brain should be ignored when it starts asking things like “where do all of these generic enemies come from?” “Why does nobody living around these arenas notice a loud competition featuring murder and mayhem?” or “How can the officials keep score on random destruction?” It doesn’t matter.”The Club features eight different characters to choose from. While they all control in the same way, they have subtle nuances in their design. Some run faster than others, some are more powerful when it comes to blows. Like any arcade game, players will probably settle for one particular avatar, depending on their personal preference. Each of the eight members of The Club are visually distinct, drawing from action-movie stereotypes; for example, Kuro looks suspiciously like a young Chow-Yun Fat, whereas Killen (great name, eh?) would fit in perfectly in any modern mobster movie. The story is no more than a vague explanation for why all of these people are running around shooting things: elite gunmen from around the world are captured and brought together to compete in various trials of speed, strength, and endurance. It’s suggested that the brain should be ignored when it starts asking things like “where do all of these generic enemies come from?” “Why does nobody living around these arenas notice a loud competition featuring murder and mayhem?” or “How can the officials keep score on random destruction?” It doesn’t matter. The Club revels in arcade simplicity, and any attempted rationalization of the story would suck all the fun out of it.
Gameplay in The Club consists of running fast and shooting everything in sight. Points are awarded for kills, explosions, and the destruction of “Skull Shots”. These are signs that, when hit, fill your combo bar up one full number. Keeping a large combo running is the core mechanic to all of the events in The Club, as a higher combo means that more points will be awarded. Most events, except Siege rounds, revolve around getting from point A to point B, creating as much destruction as possible. If Burnout and Robotron 2084 had some obscene lovechild, the result would be The Club, provided that Gears of War helped out a little. Racing events, time trials, and simple score runs dominate the playlist in each level. Levels are divided up into events, and the top three overall scorers receive medals for their effort. Each level has its own online leaderboard, so comparing scores is easy and intuitive. It’s fun to check these highscores, and the system adds another layer to the old-school feel of The Club. Surprisingly, as well as competitive Xbox Live play, The Club sports a four-player splitscreen mode. This mode is just as fast-paced and addictive as the main singleplayer game, as the maps are small and easy to navigate.
The presentation in The Club is, unfortunately, not as colorful as the story and gameplay. The Club opts for the same grungy, bland color scheme that fits in some ways, but soon gets old. By the time the fourth tournament rolls around, players will be pretty bored with the rusty reds, dull browns, and pale grays. Even though this color pallete fits with the theme of destruction, it clashes with the over-the-top scenario and gameplay. The character models are the only visually interesting setpieces. Admittedly, everything looks fantastic. The Club is a technical powerhouse, but the artistic direction is certainly questionable. The sound design, on the other hand, is excellent across the board. Featuring a brilliant electronic soundtrack, appropriately cheesy voice action, and thunderous gunfire, The Club is a game worth playing on an expensive sound setup. The announcer is reminiscent of old shooters like Quake, with his cries of “HEAD SHOT!” and other score-related outcries.
The Club is an excellent arcade game. While it doesn’t touch the depth or scope of more complicated shooters, it provides a nostalgic experience for anyone who was raised on Space Invaders. Bizarre’s trademark emphasis on score fits well in a shooter model, and the singleplayer mode is addictive enough to keep players coming back for high scores and achievements. The multiplayer mode works well too, especially the inclusion of a split-screen mode – something that is sorely missing in many games these days. Anyone with an appreciation for old school arcade games will have a blast with The Club. Just remember to leave your brain with the doorman.