nce upon a time, gamers didn't seek closure from their games. Think about it: no one ever played Asteroids or Dig Dug to find out what happens at the end. Back in the day, one played for hours striving only to attain the top score on the leader board. Throughout the nineties and the first half of this decade, the "point-minded" gamer had very little to look forward to, finding solace in aging titles and the shadows of movie theater arcades. Modern consoles and online services like Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, however, are starting to change all that — players are now competing to be champion of the world rather than the local pizza parlor.
To succeed in The Club is to
do things quickly.Few games sum up this resurgence more for me than Bizarre Creations' recent release The Club. Bizarre has taken everything they learned in working on the Project Gotham Racing series of games and applied it to an entirely new genre. Third person shooters don't share much in common with traditional racing titles, but PGR's kudos-based points system seems to fit oh so well into the framework of a traditional shoot em' up. In the same way PGR3 kept me up for hours trying to reach a particular challenge's point requirement, I could easily spend two or three hours at a time trying to make it to the top of The Club's leaderboards.
At its core, The Club is a basic enough game — the controls should be pretty straightforward to anyone who's played a third person shooter since Syphon Filter. Despite this familiarity, one can't help but be amazed by the smoothness and precision that's inherent in The Club's physics engine. Shots connect with the predictability that's required for a game of this ilk — skill separates headshots from everything else, not luck or shoddy hit detection. Seeing as how Bizarre's only other experience in this genre was the 2000 Sega Dreamcast release Fur Fighters, the level of precision present in The Club's gameplay is downright stunning.
The Club's enemies may not be
bright, but they make for
great targets.I realize that some players are going to have a hard time getting past The Club's presentation. With its non-existent story and ridiculously generic character models, this game isn't destined to win any design awards in the foreseeable future. If you manage to make it past that plain brown wrapper, though, you're bound to become addicted to The Club's frenetic pace as you lust for ever higher scores. Though any challenges can be tackled individually once they've been unlocked, the bulk of the game's single player experience comes from its tournament mode. Around eight tournaments of roughly six levels each await you. Some levels are governed by a strict time limit while others let you sit back and examine your surroundings a bit more tactically. What ties these gametypes together (and is the key to scoring big in The Club) is the combo system I alluded to earlier. You'll have to pace your progression through each environment carefully — go too long without taking down an enemy and the score multiplier you've been earning through kills begins to tick away. To this end, it doesn't really matter if a level is timed or not — speed is rewarded, as it tends to generate the highest scores in the end.
Navigating those levels can be a mixed bag (particularly for the uninitiated). Although there are plenty of visual cues to point players in the right direction, beginners are bound to get lost a few times (and lose the combos they've earned in the process). It's not necessarily the size of the levels, but their verticality that can prove challenging — miss the cue that you're supposed to climb a stairway to a catwalk and you may end up running circles around a warehouse's floor for a few minutes. Rest assured: experience will greatly limit the number of "detours" you end up taking, but this does make one wonder if The Club might have benefited from a few more rounds of playtesting. Level structure varies depending on the gametype it plays host to. Timed levels tend to force the player to cover lots of ground, while the "defend the point" challenges (my personal favorites) constrained you to a relatively small area. Bizarre did a great job varying level design within each tournament — though some may share scenery, every one feels unique in its own right.
The Club does offer a variety of online modes to engage in, but these aren't where the game's true merits reside. For those with the wherewithal to overlook ho-hum art direction and a repetitive stream of generic adversaries, there exists within the The Club one of the most Zen-like arcade experiences to yet grace the Xbox 360 (and I presume the PS3 and PC). No one will ever tout its AI or its script, but more should certainly laud the polish of The Club's controls and the speed of its play. I spent two hours last night clawing my way to number seventeen on one level's leader board. What's your high score?