Welcome. You’re the newest participant in The Club, a secret underground organization that recruits outsiders to fight in an underground bloodsport. There is no escape, you must kill or be killed.
This sums up the entire plot of The Club, the latest creatively titled shooter from Bizzare Creations. Then again, playing this game for the story would be like eating a bird for its singing – entirely irrational. Instead of creating a compelling narrative, Bizarre sought to produce a unique experience by fusing high production values with arcade-style gameplay. The end result is undoubtedly enjoyable but marred by the downfalls of the arcade shooter genre.
There are eight playable combatants within The Club. From American gambling man Finn to Nemo, a psychopathic man from England who only lives to kill, there’s a little something for everyone in The Club. Kuro, a Japanese double-agent posing as a Triad Society assassin, is our personal favorite. Each character is rated on a one to five star scale regarding three different categories; stamina, strength and speed. They’re all fairly self-explanatory and make for a well balanced cast of characters. Once again, there’s somebody for everyone, it just depends on your play style and personal preferences.
The gameplay within The Club is fairly straightforward. Its combo-building and maintaining is generally unseen in full retail titles, typically relegated to downloadable games seen on the PlayStation Network or XBL Arcade. As you partake in any offline mode, you must sequentially kill enemies to build your Kill Bar — a standard combo meter — which then multiplies the value of each subsequent kill. Think Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater with less skateboarding and more shooting. The higher your combo gets, the faster the bar diminishes. When the bar is gone, your combo will begin to “bleed.” If you aren’t able to procure a kill within the appropriate amount of time, your combo will “bleed out,” and you must begin another anew. It’s a fantastic feeling to build up a massive combo and preserve it throughout the entirety of a level.
The various values of a kill depend upon the aspects of the particular situation. The most basic and most imperative characteristic of a high kill value is time. Take too long between kills, and the worth will be dropped to nearly nil. On the other hand, kill two foes during the same second or even millisecond, and the value of the second kill will skyrocket. Everything else depends wholly on style. A head shot is worth more than a shot to the torso or foot, while consecutive head shots are rated even higher. Other maneuvers such as the death roll, coming out of a defensive roll and making an instant kill, or gatecrashing, busting through a door an making a quick kill, will gross you even higher scores. These and the other five stylish kill methods help add some depth to the central combo system. Finally, little skullshots are littered across the map, which you can shoot as an equivalent to killing an enemy – your Kill Bar will fill and increase by one.
Bizarre really nailed down The Club’s control scheme, as it fits the game surprisingly well. L2 zooms in on your crosshair, drawing the camera into the now-archetypal over-the-shoulder view, and R2 fires. R1 has your character sprint – an utterly essential function to succeed in this title, while L1 performs a rather underwhelming melee attack. The rest is fairly standard; reload your weapon with square, roll with X, throw grenades with circle, crouch with L3 and so on. The only true qualm we have with the controls is in regard to aim speed. Even at its highest setting, it still felt a tad too slow for us. Everything else is golden however.
The primary single player mode within The Club, Tournament, contains eight different environments, ranging from Venice to an Ocean Liner (a massive boat), each with six or so events tied to that particular arena. The purported five offline game modes are more accurately between four and two modes depending on how you look at them.
Sprint, Time Attack and Run the Gauntlet are the first three candidates. Sprint is a race to an exit without being timed, but whilst Running the Gauntlet you’re on a clock. In Time Attack, you must complete laps and earn extra time from shooting time markers and killing enemies. The only dissimilarity from the other two modes in gameplay style here is that shooting the time markers gives you an extra three seconds and you’re running the same path more than once. This isn’t what we’d call a diverse lineup of modes. As regrettably, you must keep to one gameplay style lest you wish to fail. Due to the fact that even in Sprint, you’re obligated to rush due to your ever-decreasing Kill Bar, you’re forced to play the same in each of these modes, making all three feel nearly identical. Even worse, due to the fact that there’s never time to slow down, the environments begin to blend together whilst playing any of these three modes. Bluntly, besides for the aesthetic variations, they all play alike.
The last two offline modes, while the best of the bunch, are honest to God a single mode. After completing the Tournament, we still fail to see a difference between Siege and Survivor. Honestly, Siege is described by the manual as “defend your ground against waves of enemies until the timer winds down,” while Survivor is expressed as “stay alive in the survivor arena until the timer winds down.” There’s no difference as far as we know. Luckily, both of these modes rock. You’re confined to a small area where you must survive while dozens of baddies attempt to push forward and eliminate you. The combo system works naturally here – if you play the mode, excuse us, “modes” well, the points sort themselves out. You don’t have to think about rushing and finding another enemy to keep your combo alive, everything just happens naturally. The environment also plays a much greater role here, as you’ll remain relatively stationary throughout the event and must use the area to your advantage.
The Tournament takes a grand total of about three to four hours to complete, and you’ll be glad it’s over with. Once you’re done slogging through the Tournament, it is a bit more enjoyable to go back and play Gunplay mode. This lets you play The Club without the rigid rules of the Tournament. It’s better to pick and choose your favorites than to be required to play everything. Play an individual level or create a personalized playlist of any level on any mode. For example, if you’re a Siege fanatic, create a playlist of every arena’s Siege level. With a game based around score, it’s expected but still pleasant that The Club features heavy stat tracking and leaderboard implementation.
The Club’s multiplayer efforts are entertaining, but quite bizarre for a few reasons. Play offline with up to four player splitscreen, or take the fight online for up to eight players. Online play provides plenty of modes to satiate your every whim (eight to be exact), from standard modes like Kill Match (Death Match) and Hunter/Hunted (King of the Hill) to more unique modes such as Team Skullshots and Team Siege. Online play is a little more slower-paced than the frantic single player, but the eight excellent maps help keep the game up to speed. What we can’t understand is why Bizarre would provide us with a plethora of cool team games and then give us no way to communicate with our teammates at all. That’s right, there’s no headset support. In addition to that, there is no stat tracking for online play that we are aware of. It’s frustrating; The Club’s multiplayer was never destined to be on par with Gears of War or Call of Duty 4, but it could have been close with the addition of these two sorely missing elements.
As far as presentation goes, this is the area where The Club shines. It may not be Uncharted, but the game still looks brilliant. The framerate is always rock solid when the action gets intense, the animation is spot on and the texture work is great. All the subtle effects from reflections in a puddle to soft lighting to the cinematic camera bounce while sprinting separate this game from the masses. Bizzare has also managed to implement assorted aspects of the visuals into the gameplay. For example, sniper rifles — which are awesome in The Club by the way — emit a visible laser trail where they’re being aimed. Essentially, if you see one near you, get the hell out of the way. It’s aspects like this that really enhance the multiplayer experience.
Even facets of the audio give some telltale warnings of when you’ve got to bolt. When you hear that metal grind of a chaingun warming up, it’s time to leave. The rest of the sound is acceptable. Music keeps the intensity up, but some gunshots seem underpowered. Overall, it’s a mixed bag.
The Club seeks to be original. It is, but that doesn’t mean it’s a masterpiece. What accounts for that originality is a system, which in and of itself is well-executed, but often generates recurring experiences throughout the majority of the game. If you’re a gamer that always seeks to have the highest score, this game is definitely for you. If not, The Club is still fun, but lacks enough freshness outside of its combo system to warrant greatness.