Name: The Club
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed on the Xbox 360)
A game like The Club is tough to compare to other shooters. While most 3rd and 1st person shooters emphasize strong strategic play, utilization of cover, flanking, stealth and even team mechanics, The Club laughs at these concepts, opting for pure run and gun gameplay. The formula is entirely unique, and in most cases, it works just fine. That being said, some multiplayer issues and an overall lack of depth and content hold this back from being anything more than mindless fun. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.
The Club is an action game that puts you in the shoes of one of eight contestants in a deadly game reminiscent of The Running Man. The eponymous club consists of a clandestine group of millionaires who stage lethal “Most Dangerous Game”-style tournaments between some of the world’s most dangerous hitmen, soldiers, mercenaries and straight-up psychos. These tournaments take place in a variety of locales, from empty warehouses and train yards to abandoned cruise ships and even the streets of Venice, and involve copious amounts of mindless violence. As a setup for action, it works, but there’s not much of a story to be found here. Despite the paper-thin narrative, The Club is well presented, with slick cut scenes and nice-looking, easily navigated menus.
Your job as a contestant is to run through pre-set levels, killing as many opponents as possible. Each kill will get you a certain amount of points, depending on the method of and circumstances surrounding it. For example, a head shot will get you more kills than a torso shot. Likewise, you’ll receive bonuses for long-distance shots, melee kills, double kills, killing with the last bullet in the chamber, etc. Your first kill of each level will also bring up your combo multiplier. Points multiply if you are able to string together multiple kills before your combo meter runs out, forcing you to adopt a strategy of “Kill, run as fast as you can to the next guy, kill him, repeat.” There are also skull markers hidden throughout each environment, and shooting them will score points and continue your combo. It’s a formula that works well for perfectionists who are willing to go back and retry courses, memorizing the location of each opponent and finding the quickest and best way to eliminate them. There are several modes in the single-player campaign, but none stray too far from this formula. One variation has you running laps around a board, killing everyone in your path, while another has you defending a cordoned-off area and, of course, killing everyone in sight. The minor variations help to break up the action a bit, but most of the levels feel pretty similar.
You’ll start the game with a choice of six characters, with two more to be unlocked by playing through the single-player campaign. The characters are a collection of tough guy stereotypes, from the tough–but-honest cop to the African freedom fighter to the Vegas swindler to the escaped lunatic. They are well-defined, if a bit predictable, and each has their own attributes like speed, strength and endurance. The fact that there are no customization options for characters seems like a huge missed opportunity. The ability to run through levels and compete online with a uniquely outfitted bad-ass would have significantly increased the game’s play value for many, and it’s a shame there are no options for this.
All this arcade-style run and gun action sounds like a blast, and for the most part, it’s plenty fun, if a bit unpolished. As you’d imagine, the ability to aim quickly and accurately is of utmost importance in The Club. The problem is that the aiming controls don’t feel as precise as they should. Even in the “down-the-sights” view, lining up your shot can be a muddy, frustrating experience, and in a fast-paced title like this, that’s simply unacceptable. The issue is exacerbated by the multiplayer modes. Often, you’ll find yourself missing opponents completely, though it appears as if you should be hitting headshot after headshot. It’s tough to tell whether it’s an issue of inaccurate weapons or poor hit detection, but when the game’s only mechanic is shooting, it should feel tighter than it does here. It’s not terrible, just not as good as it should be.
While the campaign mode is fun, rewarding perfectionists for re-running courses over and over, the online facet of the game doesn’t match up to the single-player mode, nor does it compare favorably with other online shooters. Matchmaking works well enough and there are several interesting game types, but once in the match, the experience begins to fall apart. The extremely fast-pace of the game just doesn’t lend itself well to online multiplayer, and you’ll often find yourself running past enemies in shaded areas because you just didn’t see them. Even more frustrating is the fact that you’ll often (and I mean often) find yourself spawning directly in the middle of a firefight or in front of two waiting, well-armed opponents. Dying two or three times like this in a match is enough to make you simply turn off the game in abject frustration. Some of the game modes seem unbalanced as well, especially when there is an uneven amount of players on the two teams. Overall, the multiplayer feels unfinished and a bit tacked on, seriously hurting The Club’s overall value.
Visually, The Club is nice enough looking, with big, nicely rendered character models. The character you’re controlling animates well, too, though opponents don’t fare as well in this area. There are some choppy animations and odd movements to be found, though not to a distracting degree. Environments are the real stars in the game, however, with just about every locale featuring tons of interesting and believable textures. The levels are designed well, also, with some areas that are perfect for close-quarters combat and others giving opportunities for interesting long-distance shots. The game is linear, but there are many different paths through each level, with different areas closed off in each level for the different challenges. Even with all these multiple routes, you’ll almost never find yourself lost or confused about where you’re supposed to be going.
With such quality work being done on the visual side, it’s really a shame that the audio isn’t nearly as impressive. The sound of gunfire is underwhelming to say the least, with every machine gun sounding like a popcorn machine. Bigger weapons like the shotgun and rocket launcher sound better, but still not remarkable in any way. Explosions from grenades and explosive barrels are subject to similarly weak sound, bringing the whole experience down a peg or two.
All said, The Club is a fun, if shallow and mindless shooter. For those looking for quick-hit action without worrying about things like story or a sense of purpose, it’s exactly what you’re looking for. If you’re in the market for a more deep, fulfilling shooter, there are plenty of better options out there. It’s still worthy of a rental, if just to see the unique and promising combo mechanic in action, but like most clubs, this one is a purely superficial experience.