The Good: Creative, innovative combination of FPS and racing. The Bad: That’s wildly fun for about 4 hours, and then becomes very repetitive. The Ugly: Microsoft wants $50/yr for multiplayer.
It’s seriously coming to the point that I see the Microsoft Gaming Live service insignia on the box as something of a warning label, like a skull and crossbones on a bottle of iodine. Warning: Extremely mediocre gaming experience contained within. And while I can appreciate their desire to beef up the roster of games that they offer on their Live service to try and entice more people to buy in, I think they would be better off shooting for a little bit of quality over quantity. Looking back over the Live games that I have reviewed thus far Gears of War, Universe at War, and now The Club none have remained on my hard drive after the review was handed in.
Anyway, The Club Hmm. I predict that parents groups are going to hate it. That in and of itself is not a statement on the quality of the game parents groups hate lots of things that I consider entertaining, and as an adult I can choose to partake of them if I wish, and as a parent it is their job to make certain that their children do not. As a whole, however, it’s easier and more fun to make a big Magilla in front of the cameras and in the newspapers and try to get a game banned from the face of the earth than to tell your own children “no,” so that’s what parents groups do. Give me a moment while I climb down off my soapbox. There, back at ground level.
The Club is about a group of the world’s richest most powerful people who run a sort of underground gladiatorial game for their entertainment. In the single player tournament, you play a man who has been shanghaied into competing in the contest with the promise of freedom if you survive, or death if you don’t. That seems fair. There are eight characters to choose from (all men, so for those of you who like to play silicone enhanced women in up-armored thongs, you’re out of luck) which have different speed, strength, and stamina ratings. The contests take place in eight different locales around the world ghettos, a warehouse, a bunker, an abandoned cruise ship somewhere, that kind of thing (49 contests total) the goal of which is to find the exit or simply survive for a period of time while racking up as many kills and you can as rapidly as you can. When you kill someone a timer starts, and if you commit another kill before the time runs out you have scored a combo. Linking these combos together is where the points really add up. You furthermore get extra points for skill kills long range shots or head shots or performing a diving roll with a kill immediately afterwards. There are also signs that you can shoot to advance your combo and reset the time scattered around if you can find them. In this way, the Club is a game that glorifies, encourages, and actually rewards rapid precision violence, so you can probably understand my comment about the parents groups. At the end of the contest your total score is compared to the other seven contestants (the other seven players you didn’t select) and you are awarded points depending on your rank. After the collection of contests (typically 6) at one location all the points are totaled up and the top three winners are given either a bronze, silver, or gold bullet (just like the Munich Olympics in 1942) plus some other bonuses are unlocked as well as the next contest area.
Sprinting down a hallway, diving into a room, shooting a guy hiding behind some boxes in the head, performing a snap turn and shooting another guy hiding behind the room door, picking off a third guy who pokes his head in through a door in the far wall are you start to head for it, grab a health pack or some ammo, and then you’re running again. You can’t take your time and catch your breath the combo timer is running down (they call it bleeding). It’s a frantic game, with a very high twitch factor, like arcade mayhem in small bites, each contest lasting about three minutes or less. So, provided the killfest doesn’t upset you, what’s the problem with The Club? The big problem is that it’s always the same. Every time you play that same mission you’re going to roll through that same door and find that same guy hiding behind the same boxes. It’s identical from run to run, so unless you’re one of these people who like to try a particular action sequence over and over again to see if you can do better, you’re going to find, as I did, that after the 49 missions are over most of the fun is too.
Which brings you to multiplayer. Right out of the box my copy of the manual didn’t have a CD key printed on it, which has apparently happened quite a lot with this game. Sega emailed me one within seconds after requesting one without any proof that I had an actual legal copy of the game at all I wonder how they plan to keep valid keys out of the hands of warez doodz. I’d also like to give props to the Sega support personnel who got me through difficulties configuring The Club for multiplayer they’re very responsive and knowledgeable. When I actually started playing mulitplayer I found almost no one online to play with. That’s not hyperbole that’s the truth. Today I found two people online. Last night I found no one, nada, singleton online player, me. I’d love to see some stats about how many people have actually joined Live, but can’t seem to locate any specifics on the web. For that matter I’m curious how many people have joined the Gamespy pay service. At any rate, unless you’re willing to pay for the multiplayer experience, and I won’t go into that rant all over again (if you’re curious to read my viewpoints on Live you can read the reviews for either Universe at War or Gears of War), you’re stuck with only a very limited selection of matches which seem to be poorly populated at best. I don’t know how many people are playing the pay service, but I’d hazard a guess that it’s not many. That’s too bad really, because they have some interesting multiplayer variants that I wanted to take a crack at, with enticing names like Fox Hunt and Hunter/Hunted.
The colors in the game as a whole are drab, but the locations are detailed and blood sprays entertainingly and vividly, perhaps more vividly because it’s the only red thing on the screen. Weapons and explosions however sound very flat, even with my subwoofer cranked up. There’s not a ton of voice work, but it’s OK. The music is action-y without becoming overly repetitive, at least not before the game does.
The Club is an interesting concept that’s too short and too simple. It could perhaps be saved by a vibrant multiplayer environment, but I suspect won’t get there, because of the policies of Live. Go ahead, prove me wrong. I might decide to leave this one on my hard drive for awhile and continue to ping the online world and see if more people show up. Until that happens, this is probably one club that’s not worth joining.