Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blew the other guy’s brains out.
Lovers of golf and of gold digging alike have clubs they can bludgeon fools with. The Irish have their shillelagh. The Zulu have their knobkierie. And the shifty-eyed cutpurses of the world have their sinister blackjacks. Seemingly anyone can find a club perfectly suited to their every need.
The club in The Club is simply called “The Club”. Apparently, it’s so hardcore that it doesn’t need any fancy description in its name. So, the assumption is that after spending “The Night” having “The Dinner” or seeing “The Movie” or maybe even reading “The Book”, it might be nice to unwind a bit and have “The Drink” and play “The Game” called “The Club”. Now that’s hardcore.
The Club’s premise is simple. You’re one of eight men (no women allowed) who has chosen to take part in a deadly shoot-out tournament. There are a series of different events for each tournament that test in turn your speed, your shooting accuracy, and your survival skills. It’s an unusual approach best described as a mash-up of Tekken’s tournament structure, Burnout’s frenetic racing modes, and Time Crisis’s arcade shooter gameplay.
In single-player mode, you’ll compete in one of eight different tournaments, each set in a different location around the world. Each tournament is further divided into a handful of different events, and at the end of each event, you receive a certain number of tournament points depending on your ranking. Once you finish the tournament, your points are tallied and you’re given a rank according to how well you scored overall.
But where this game stands out from the third-person shooter crowd isn’t in its tournament structure; it’s all about the gameplay. The core mechanic throughout all of the events is an innovative score multiplier, which increases for each enemy that you shoot. The catch is that your multiplier drains over time, so you have to kill another enemy quickly to keep your multiplier alive. It’s a great concept that makes you kill quickly and run through the courses at a break-neck speed. It’s the run-and-gun game to end all run-and-gun games.
Events include many different time-sensitive tasks that mix sprinting with shooting. In one event, you’ll race through a preset course in one of the urban-industrial settings, trying to complete a certain number of laps in a given time, all while shooting guys to keep your multiplier going. There are also events where you will stay in one place as enemies come to you; again, the key is always keeping a steady killing pace going in order to keep your multiplier up.
The rest of the events are just variations on this same theme of either running quickly through a course or staying put and killing quickly as more and more guys rush at you. While simple, it’s a surprisingly innovative and compelling concept, and it quickly becomes evident that this is what happens when a development studio mostly known for a car racing series (Project Gotham Racing) and a score-oriented shmup (Geometry Wars) makes a third-person shooter.
While the core concept is golden, especially if you’re a fan of speed runs and leaderboards, it does hit some bumps in the bloody road. The single-player game is very short. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to fly through all of the tournaments in just a few short hours. But just as with a racing game, “beating” the game isn’t the same as “winning”. The problem, however, is that there are no real incentives to win the tournaments unless you’re a leaderboard junkie.
That this is a weird genre hybrid lends to making it hard to tell what the real goal of the game is. In every other first- and third-person shooter, the goal is generally to beat the last boss, which is relatively easy here, even on the higher difficulties. The only worthwhile goal you’re left with is improving your standing in the leaderboards. Either this appeals to you or it doesn’t, so there’s a good chance that the single-player mode will leave you cold.
Once you’ve spent some time with the intriguing - though short - single-player mode, multiplayer gives you some added features. Unfortunately, most of what makes the single-player game so unique and appealing doesn’t translate well to multiplayer. Instead of competing in speed runs or fast-paced shoot-outs, the multiplayer modes are pretty standard fare. You’ll find the typical assortment of team and solo deathmatch modes, with a few minor variations thrown in for good measure.
Yes, the multiplier system is in effect in many of the multiplayer games, but it doesn’t disguise the fact that pretty much every game mode is directly influenced by the N64 version of Goldeneye. The level layouts, the weapon pickups, and the game modes are so strongly reminiscent of Goldeneye and its spiritual successor Perfect Dark that I kept getting college flashbacks. All that was missing was a collection of cast-off couches and a years-in-the-making wall of beer cans.
Don’t get me wrong, Goldeneye provided some fantastic multiplayer shootouts back in the day. But as you can probably imagine, fragging has come a long way since that decade, way back in the 20th century. Like the countless college lectures I slept through, it’s an inadvertently retro experience that leaves me feeling bored and unsatisfied.
After spending time in The Club, I realized that what really bothers me is that something is missing. It isn’t just that the single-player game is so short or that the multiplayer game is so conventional; it’s that I kept expecting to find a full game somewhere. The single-player mode ultimately feels like the unlockable extra modes and training modes that accompany a fully fleshed story mode rather than feeling like a full game in its own right. Those modes are enormous fun, but when it comes down to it, they just feel like extra material to a nonextant campaign mode.
As much as the game attempts to attach some sort of story to the single-player game, it doesn’t quite fit. You get tiny little cinematic snippets here and there, but it never coheres into anything like an actual story. The game looks great, and even in the multiplayer game, everything runs smoothly. But I can’t shake the feeling that somewhere there’s a fantastic single-player adventure in The Club. The single-player modes are like a fast, fun, wild rollercoaster, but I’m not running back to get in line and ride it all over again.