The Club Review
The Club is a game that I've been looking forward to for some time now. We first heard of it early on in 2007, and then got to play it at E3. Sega has also dropped a demo on the PlayStation Network, but now the full thing has arrived, and we're glad that it has. The Club marks Bizarre's first Sega game since Metropolis Street Racer for the Dreamcast. Time has flown, hasn't it? It makes use of the action genre like no game has before, and fans of action titles should find themselves quite content with this solid entry.
In past previews, I've stated many times that The Club is nothing but mayhem; it is Twisted Metal and Project Gotham Racing without the wheels. Why Project Gotham Racing? Bizarre has thrown its own well known 'kudos' twist and signature style into the game, and so the combo system feels very much like what you've seen in the PGR games. While it isn't called Kudos here, The Club does have a huge focus on chaining your kills and progression so that your score multiplies faster. The system comes together very well, and you'll quickly find yourself finding more and more ways to keep your multipliers piling on. One way to multiply is with each kill, the other way is to shoot down Skull emblems that are hung around the location, each worth one multiplier.
Bizarre calls each stage in The Club a "track" and with good reason; The Club is a linear, borderline on on-rails shooter, so it doesn't feature the freedom of Twisted Metal. Its linear paths make the game feel like Namco's kill.switch, and there are even arrows indicating where you should go. Depending on which mode you're playing, you'll either have to get from point-A to point-B, or circle the track a few times in a time-attack fashion, where every kill and crossing a segment of the stage nets you additional seconds.
The styles of gameplay are Sprint, Time Attack, Run the Gauntlet, Siege and Survivor. Sprint and Time Attack are the basic modes, which I described above. Siege is a mode that places you in a squared off location that you can only step out of for five seconds. The goal is to survive a flock of enemies that are spawning non-stop, within an allotted time, and this makes for a great mode to really rack up some crazy multipliers. Run the Gauntlet is a point-to-point sprint, also with hordes of enemies, but unlike the regular Sprint mode, there is a time limit here, too. Finally, Survivor is a mode similar to Siege, but it gives you far more space to utilize, as opposed to being confined to a tiny area. You're still limited to where you go, with lines indicating borders, but much less so than Siege.
There are eight characters to choose from, all with their own individual stories, and attributes. The game's story is very similar to Twisted Metal games, as there is an organization (The Club) and its ringleader, who calls himself The Secretary. As mentioned before, all of the characters have their own backgrounds, which mean an ending for every character. This makes The Club one of the few games out there that you'll want to go through and complete numerous times. Progression works by entering the Tournament mode, as you have to go through a series of eight tournaments, spanning across all of the game's locales.
Now, fair warning, your initial dabble with the game will likely result with little flair, perhaps you'll even fail. But after sometime, the game begins to click, and your score will jump from an amateur 40,000 to 250,000, then to 600,000 and onward to surpass 1,000,000. There are four levels of varying difficulty: Casual, Reckless, Insane, and Real. A Casual score is something even a first timer can achieve (score example: 30,000). The Reckless score will require experienced chain linking (score example: 800,000 million). The Insane score will require precision, speed, and solid linking (score example: 2 million). And the Real score will require flat out perfection (score example: 6 million).
Now, scores vary between each event, so they're not set in stone. But, I do think that the game is missing a proper middle-ground in-between the Casual and Reckless difficulties. And perhaps the higher difficulties are a bit too hard to get acquainted with, so you'll really have to grind at it. With the auto-aim enabled, the task is a bit easier, but playing with auto-aim kills the fun somewhat. I should mention how superbly tight the controls are, as firing feels impactful, and killing an enemy doesn't require anymore than one to three well placed shots. Head-shots are especially awesome to pull off, and their proximity seems to be quite accurate. Moreover, you shot accuracy is rewarded, as a headshot will yield more points than another shot. And the less the bullets you use per kill the better.
Speaking of bullets, there's a solid selection of guns to choose from, everything from sniper rifles, to a double barrel and automatic shotgun, to various automatic rifles, to pistols, grenades, a shoulder strapped minigun, and even a rocket launcher - there is no shortage of firepower when it comes down to The Club. And every gun is a blast (no pun) to use, with terrific recoil, and feel.
My final quirk with the game is that perhaps it can feel a bit repetitive, and some extra variation would've been nice. But ultimately, The Club makes for a very addictive experience, one that you'll likely keep coming back to often.
As far as multiplayer goes, The Club offers a number of really solid multiplayer modes, such as: Kill Match (Deathmatch), Score Match (self-explanatory), Hunter Hunted, Team Fox Hunt, Team Capture, Team Kill Match, Team Siege (team version of single-player mode), and Team Skullshot. In Hunter Hunted mode, the first person to score a kill is tagged as the 'hunted', and the person who kills the 'hunter' in turn becomes the hunted. When you're tagged as the 'hunted' that's when you rack up all the points. Team Capture is a base capture mode, where you and a "fox" player have to infiltrate a team's base and stand near it for 30-seconds. Team Skullshot is a hunting game where you'll have to scour the stage looking for the enemy's Skull plates and shoot them down. Team Fox Hunt features two teams, each with a "fox" player. The teams are responsible for protecting their "fox", thus, first team to kill a "fox" wins.
Multiplayer is limited to only 8 players, unfortunately, unlike the 16-player norm expected. But, unlike games that feature smaller multiplayer counts, The Club still has a solid online experience, with great modes, and we can only hope that gamers flock to the The Club in order for it to amass a solid online herd. On top of that, the game also features 4-player split-screen multiplayer, which is a solid plus.
Visually, Bizarre Creations has done a fine job with the game. The Club runs at the standard 30 frames per second, while outputting a 720p picture. Texture detail is acceptable, but it won't blow you away. On the other hand, picture clarity is precise and sharp, which means there weren't any apparent aliasing issues, so jaggies are minimal. The stages are well done, and feature lots of objects, structures, among other details. Parts of the environments are also destructible, which adds a nice visual touch - especially when those destructions occur on a grand scale involving heavy explosions. On that note, the explosions definitely look great, igniting the entire screen with blistering fire - a very nice sight to see.
Character detail seems to have been toned down a bit compared to the earlier screenshots of the game, but it still does the job. In addition, it seems as if texture detail may have been toned down, as well. And even though the game runs at 30 frames per second, the game does tend to slow down here and there; it isn't awful, nor does it occur long enough to remove you from the experience, but it does occur from time to time and it should be mentioned. Still, The Club is a good looking game; it won't win any awards, but it certainly won't leave anyone in disgust.
The Club's audio presentation exceeded my expectations considerably. It not only features terrific sound effects, such as gun shots and explosions, but it also features a fantastic soundtrack, and trash talking enemies. Actually, I should note that the profanity level of this game is pretty high, so if you're sensitive to that kind of material, you may want to turn the sound down. Then again, if you were sensitive to profanity, you wouldn't be reading about a game that deals with guns and blood. In any case, profanity here exists in more than one language, as Bizarre has gone through the trouble of recording obscenities and cries in more than one language, Russian being one of them. And I have to give credit, the Russian vocals are dead-on, which leads me to believe they had native speakers do the recording. Finally, the soundtrack is another superb audio trait, but we're not surprised, seeing as how Bizarre has always done solid work in that respect.
Ultimately, The Club is a great action game that you'll find yourself coming back to very often. It features explosive action elements that are rather addictive and extremely fun. Once you get a feel for the game it only becomes more fun, and so replaying it and attempting to beat your previous records becomes common practice. With eight different characters, that means The Club features eight different endings for you to see. And when you're done with the single-player stuff, the multiplayer is just as much fun. The game may not be visually spectacular, but it's still got its share of solid moments. Likewise, you should also find yourself enjoying the audio, as the soundtrack and sound effects are quite satisfying. The Club is a winner, a must have for action fans.
2/19/2008 Arnold Katayev