The Club (PlayStation 3) review
"From the opening cinema to the final curtain, The Club is designed to disturb you. Soldiers shower you with bullets and profanity. Men sag against the architecture as crimson stains spatter dreary concrete barricades and crumbling stone walls. Through it all, a monotone voice growls “Head Shot” every time a bullet turns a brain to mush, or “Fight!” whenever the carnage begins anew. The dreariness is relentless, even emotionally draining."
Take a moment to picture the typical third-person shooter, something like Uncharted: Drake's Fortune or maybe Gears of War. Envision the moment you pop up from some cover, fire a few shots at your opponent and he crumples to the ground. Now imagine that there are more soldiers coming--enough that they should be able to overwhelm you with a well-placed volley of shots--but that you don't duck back behind a stone wall or similar structure because you're glad to see the resistance coming. That's what it's like to play The Club.
Developed by Bizarre Creations, The Club is a real change of pace. There are none of the blue skies you might expect, no brightly colored squares and triangles floating across a black expanse. Instead you'll find harsh environments where eight hardened warriors are locked in bloodsport for the amusement of a clandestine organization known simply as “The Club.” Clouds roil. Moss trailers creep. Oppressive fog blankets the streets. In short, things are screwed up pretty bad.
From the opening cinema to the final curtain, The Club is designed to disturb you. Soldiers shower you with bullets and profanity. Men sag against the architecture as crimson stains spatter dreary concrete barricades and crumbling stone walls. Through it all, a monotone voice growls “Head Shot” every time a bullet turns a brain to mush, or “Fight!” whenever the carnage begins anew. The dreariness is relentless, even emotionally draining. If you had time to stop and take in the scenery, from the mucky canals of Venice to the haunting corridors of an English asylum, you'd surely be depressed.
The Club keeps you too busy for that, though, with three main flavors of mayhem. The most common objective--let's call it generic and ignore the negative connotations for just a moment--is one where you rush from start to finish in search of an exit. You can take as long as you like. A second diversion is the 'survival' stage where you have to fend off a stream of enemy soldiers for a few minutes without leaving a specific area. Then there are the races against the clock, where you must run laps or just get from one point to another before time expires. Slight variations further divide those three general play styles, but for the most part the differences are minor enough that they hardly warrant discussion.
Three modes of play might not sound like a whole lot, but it really doesn't need to be. It also might not sound all that different from other titles you've played. Again, it doesn't need to be. What it needs to be is fun, and that's precisely what The Club is thanks to its combo system. Instead of developing another title where the gamer need only worry about outsmarting AI drones or a few vicious bosses, Bizarre Creations switched things up entirely. The result is a game where a memory, precision run 'n gun shooting and even a certain sense of rhythm are the qualities that will carry you through to the end.
Suppose you're running along an iron catwalk that overlooks a clutered warehouse. Ahead, a goon steps out from behind a column, guns blazing. You snap quickly into your aiming mode, squeeze off a round that pops his head like a grape, then continue your forward charge. Your hasty dash takes you to the top of a staircase and you begin your descent as a meter at the top of the screen drains. Soldiers run out from the right and you turn, fire off a few shots and drop two of them as your multiplier increases. You turn then, take the last few steps and start toward an open bay door. When you're halfway there, you pivot quickly and fire at some windows above and to your left. A gunman with a laser scope crumples to the floor, lost from sight while you automatically slip another magazine into your weapon's chamber.
The Club plays out like that not occasionally, but constantly. If you're working things right, there's hardly a moment where someone else isn't popping out of the landscape and looking to pepper you with live ammunition. If there's not a slacker soldier to gun down or a shield-bearing mercenary, there's either a target on the wall somewhere that you can hit to keep your multiplier going or you're flat out doing something wrong. Often, you can zig-zag your way through entire stages without your multiplier ever reseting.
That's partly true because most stages are so short, though. A few barely even seem to exceed the 20-second load times that bookend them. Given the length of the typical stage, you might expect a little bit more in the graphical department than what you actually get, too. You'd be surprised how much the Venice canals and an English manor and a warehouse resemble one another, what with the unrelenting focus on grim landscapes. Only the final areas really impress, with explosions and shattering glass bursting all around you. Why couldn't there have been more stuff like that? It's hard to be sure if the similarity between most areas is the result of technical or artistic limitations, but sometimes it's enough to get a person temporarily lost. That's definitely frustrating when it leads to a reset combo meter or to death by time expiration.
Something else that doesn't really work in the game's favor is its overall length. There are 48 stages, sure, but it's not difficult to work your way through a given character's adventure in around 4 hours. After that you can of course go through with one of the other eight--each with slight differences in stamina, attack power and speed--but the experience isn't going to differ enough to make you care (nor will the various ending sequences, for that matter). A challenging fourth difficulty level also is unlocked when you clear things once and you can always go back through to locate hidden targets you might not have shot, but a lot of that simply feels superfluous.
Concerns about brevity always seem to dog good games, though, and there's definitely a sense by the time The Club reaches its conclusion that it wouldn't necessarily have benefited from a bunch of extra stages. Besides, there are online matches available to keep you busy when the single-player experience wears thin. Even without that, though, what's here would make for a fantastic weekend of gaming. Some people are bound to play it much longer than that as they master things completely. If you can find the title on sale--or if you can borrow it from a buddy or a video store--make sure that you do. It's probably an iffy investment at full price, but you'll be missing out on something pretty cool if you don't look into it once the discounts start coming.
Staff review by Jason Venter (February 29, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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