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Every shooter ever made shares a set of common principles: Moving from point A to point B, trying not to get shot, and placing the sight at the center of the screen over various targets as quickly as your eyes and thumbs will allow. The only real difference between them all is how they’re dressed up with story and graphics. In The Club, however, things are different.
Taking place in a handful of different locations, from an ocean liner, to warehouses, steel mills and prison blocks - The Club puts you into a series of tournaments and sets you different types of challenges, none of which last longer than a few minutes at most. Your task for each is to rack up as many points as you possibly can to improve your standing against the other competitors - something achievable by taking into account some simple rules.
Every kill gives you a few precious seconds to kill again, and killing inside this window will increase your score multiplier. Keep killing and killing without too big a gap between enemies, and your combo will continue to increase - giving access to higher and higher scores. Speed is of utmost importance, but this is balanced against the kind of kills you execute. For example, a kill over distance is worth far more than a kill up close. Likewise, a single bullet to the face is going to be far more valuable a kill than if you emptied your entire clip into an enemy’s elbow or kneecap.
This (with the exception of each individual challenge’s specific rules) is pretty much The Club’s core concept: be as accurate as you can, as quickly as you can. Developer Bizarre has crystallized all the good bits, stripped the humble shooter back to its essential components and then chucked away all the pointless bolted-on bits - what’s left is a barrage of short, neat hits of tightly designed action. The result, it’s safe to say, is surprisingly compelling.
For example, that feeling you get when you shave milliseconds off a corner on a time trial in a racing game is the same in The Club - the only difference is that the delicate balance between tapping the break and slamming down the accelerator has been replaced by a couple of well-placed headshots capping sporadic sprints down short, sharp stretches of corridor. In fact, the driving analogy is actually very apt (in some cases you even have to do three laps of the same ‘course’) and every time you attempt a run the elements are always identical - enemy placement and behaviour as well as weapon and health pickups are exactly the same.
There’s no ‘emergent AI’ here, no ‘pack mentality’, no ‘team dynamics.’ This is a good old fashioned shooting gallery - arcade style. If a man jumps off a balcony at a specific point once, he’ll do it again, regular as clockwork. As a result, a good memory is as equally a powerful a weapon as a keen aim and quick trigger finger. On paper, this might not sound particularly exciting - and stretched out over 20 hours of traditional plot-driven blasting, it wouldn’t be. But The Club’s strengths only start becoming apparent once it’s really got its claws into you.
Because it’s so unique, and its trials so short and bite-sized, we’ve found ourselves playing a game in a way we’ve not done for years - sitting around a screen with a load of mates and actually taking it in turns to play the same challenge over and over again, well into the night.
The Club is dirty and gritty, and has definite charisma - helped in no small part by some mean character design and the filthy industrial beats laid down by Richard Jacques. Likewise, all the extra presentational touches are well implemented - like the satisfyingly chunky lettering and score data puncturing the screen with every kill, or the booming voice of the announcer accompanying every award. It gives the whole package a certain energy that you don’t often find these days. So… it’s a crying shame that some aspects of The Club, unfortunately, fall a little short - the main offender being the game’s woefully unimaginative level dressing.
Without exception, every stage in The Club looks dull, bland and bleak. Last time we checked there were a couple of million different colours out there - and apparently people are inventing new ones all the time. So why does every single bloody surface have to be coloured in new and uninteresting shades of brown?
The problem is, while every area is different, thematically speaking, they’re just not distinctive enough; they’re not memorable enough and they don’t provide any real feeling of variety. The consequence of all this is that The Club can, at times, feel dour and drearily unspectacular - and given the repetitive structure of the game itself, some people are going to find it tough going to motivate themselves, particularly if agonising over leaderboard standings isn’t their idea of fun.
The Club feels unlike anything else. Neither Halo, nor even BioShock, has the ability to make you feel like this game does. But you’ll either love it for the adrenaline rush or hate it for the lack of compelling story and boring brown levels. For those wanting something new, it's definitely worth a go.
Feb 7, 2008