If you like a lot of chocolate on your biscuit.
Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Following on from huge success with the Project Gotham franchise and classic 2-D shooter Geometry Wars, Bizarre Creations teamed up with Sega to bring us their new 3rd person shooter, The Club. Using combo multipliers which PGR and Geometry Wars fans will be very familiar with, The Club manages to bring something fresh to the 360's most overpopulated genre. It's a shame then that this new scoring system is the only trick The Club's has to offer.
The paper-thin story that wraps up a colourful collection of psychopathic playable characters is hardly anything new - a group of extremely wealthy sadists have formed the Club for their own amusement. The Club holds a series of events held where mindless killers try their best to kill more hired henchmen in ever greater style for their faceless sponsors amusement. Eli Roth's Hostel had a similar premise, however the storyline could have been ripped entirely from 2000 AD's 1992 comic strip 'Button Man', which had much more depth than the short introductions to levels we are treated to in The Club.
It's a simple story which fits makes a perfect excuse to shoot people (something at the top of all 360 owner's agenda) however the lack of depth leaves playing the game a rather one dimensional experience. It's always an addictive experience to score more points than your previous best, however had this been coupled with a storyline that held any interest The Club could have been truly great.
The many characters drawn into the Club each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and the opening roster of characters would do well in any wrestling federations stable. Extreme sports fanatics, professional assassins, ex-KGB and an American policeman are all prepared to lay their own lives on the line for hard cash. While most ethnic backgrounds are represented, unfortunately it's still an old schools boy's Club, and the fairer sex are sadly missed. They obviously don't know some of the scarier women I do who would happily go on a killing frenzy for cash if there was no fear of reprisal.
While each character varies in their strengths, unfortunately they only have a very basic background description. Playing through the game doesn't reveal much more of their personalities either. The 'story' doesn't change for any of them as you progress through the game, although each character has his own ending. Unfortunately, the endings for the characters in Street Fighter 2 had more depth.
So, a lack of story to tie everything together lets me down. But how does the game play? It's certainly a fast paced affair, as you race to splatter your next victims brains across the arena before your combo bar runs down. You'll constantly be shifting between sprinting through corridors, pausing to shoot the Skull shot signs to refresh your combo bar, before rolling into the next enemy infested room and rapid firing 3 of them to death for maximum style and bonus multipliers. Learning the routes through the levels will take a few play throughs to achieve maximum points, but it is extremely rewarding when you beat your previous best score.
Unfortunately the levels are all very similar, if not in appearance then certainly in lay out. There are also only 2 real missions types. The first involve either sprinting round the level taking out opponents as quickly as possible, sometimes doing laps of the complex you‘re in or simply trying to find the exit. Having a variation where you gain time for each baddie you kill doesn't change the gameplay in any way; The Club's combo nature means even without a time limit you need to complete the levels as quickly as possible to ensure you build up your combo and maintain a high score.
The second game type is an opposite of the first, where you are forced to defend an area for a fixed time as waves of attackers pile in intent to destroy you. Fitted with a Running Man/Battle Royal style explosive devise, should you leave your zone you have 5 seconds to return before your brains as reduced to a creamy pink soup. Invariably there are health packs outside of the zone, so a quick sprint out and back in when you're near to death means you can carry on the killing and build up your score.
Sadly, the controls themselves and the 3rd person view can be a bug bear for gameplay. Turning is slow, to the point where Bizarre developers decided to include a turn around button. Twists and turns in the corridors can often lead to your character getting stuck on the corners corridors and doors, stopping your run and costing you valuable points. Melee attacks with the butt of your gun never feel like they are connecting properly and worst of all the crosshair aiming from the hip is as accurate as a government estimate of how much running an Olympic Games will cost, so the many shotguns in the game end up being as useful in a gunfight as a powerful magnet with a neon target attached to your forehead.
Although The Club's many levels suit the grim tone of the game, they do all feel incredibly similar due to the limited nature of the events being played across them. There are no boss battles or puzzles to give the player a change of pace, no chance to give the shadowy conglomerate running The Club a taste of their own medicine. Online play does offer a few game types which will give the game some extra life for those with Xbox Live gold accounts, and it plays very smoothly. Weapon balancing is an issue on the online maps however and players are advised to spend the start of bouts ducking and running until they can pick up a powerful automatic weapon to make opponents pay.
The Club is a rather bland shooter over all which relies far too heavily on the one fresh idea it brought to the genre. However, that idea is one which should not be forgotten when it actually manages to raise the Club above some of its less refined moments. Getting stuck on the door frame and missing your combo simply has you retrying the level to be quicker to nail your run (and enemies) perfectly the next time through. In injecting the initial hit, Bizarre have made a junkie of me who's always looking for just one more fix. That feeling is gaming gold.