The Club (PlayStation 3) review
"3rd person shooter focused on points and multipliers and tournament standings"
The Club is a 3rd person shooter with an unusual focus. It's levels are organized into multi-event tournaments. You are scored on each level and given points toward the tournament standings (10 points for the highest scorer, 8 for the 2nd, etc.), and your goal is to have the most points at the end. Beating the levels is only a small part of the game's flow; you must beat them with as many points as possible to succeed in the tournaments.
Fluff-wise, your are a competitor in the titular “The Club,” a competitive underground bloodsport that makes its main competitors run gauntlet-like levels full of mooks and see who can kill the most the fastest. Each of the main characters has a little snippet of a story shown in the intro movie and in their individual endings. These are just short little tastes of a theme for each of the characters and not a full-fledged tale, which actually works great for this kind of mechanically-based game. You just know a tiny bit about each of the characters so that you kind of understand how they ended up in The Club, whether it's a guy whose daughter is being held hostage to make him compete, a Russian criminal, an adrenaline junkie, a gambler who's in debt, or a guy who has a mysterious secret.
There are generally 6 levels in a tournament and there are about 8 tournaments to compete in. Levels usually only take a few minutes to complete, and they fall into a few categories. Sprint levels have you make your way from point A to point B scoring as many points as you can along the way. An alternate version of this type of level has you running from point A to point B before a timer counts down or you explode. Survival levels have you running around a small area and scoring as many points as you can in a set period of time. If you wander outside of the boundaries of the area, you have 5 seconds to run back in or you explode. Of course, the health pickups you are going to need to get through those levels are outside the boundaries, so time your mad dashes well. An alternate version of these levels sees you holed up in claustrophobically small areas you can't leave as you get assaulted. My favorite type of level has you running laps around set areas of a level a la a racing game with a very tight timer that you can extend by getting kills and picking up clock power-ups.
In all of theses various set-ups, your goal is to score as many points as possible by keeping your combo meter up. Every kill you get ups your combo multiplier by 1 level. Each kill is graded on its difficulty. Shooting someone in the head from far away after you just quick-turned around or rolled is worth a lot more points then shooting a nearby enemy in the chest. The score of each kill is then multiplied by your multiplier. So your first kill is worth face value, the 2nd is worth x2, the third x3, and on up and up. Once the multiplier gets high, each kill is worth a boatload of points. However, the combo meter constantly ticks down and ticks down faster the higher your multiplier. If it empties before you get another kill, your combo will start “bleeding.” It will rapidly drain down through the numbers, stopping only when you get another kill. Both of these effects have very clever audible indicators; the meter ticks down like a clock, and when it starts bleeding, each multiplier level disappears in a panic inducing “whoosh.” Hearing your multiplier rapidly whoosh away as you frantically search for an enemy to kill is quite upsetting. Levels are also scattered with skull icons you can shoot to stop the drain and increase your multiplier by one. You also score nice bonus points at the end of levels for having high accuracy, finishing with a high multiplier, and finishing with high health.
The game's gunplay is pretty nice, especially once you get used to it. Coming from the extremely fast aiming of Lovely Planet, I was a little put off by the slow turning speeds in The Club, but after awhile I was learning to snap headshots and move into good firing lanes in a satisfactory fashion. Firing from the hip is possible, but it is much, much easier to hit someone, especially in the head, if you hold down R2 to go into aiming mode, which zooms in considerably and slows your aiming down for more precision. It also slows you to a walk, and since this game is all about getting from one target to the next asap, you'll have to balance using aiming mode to snap off a few rounds and then quickly running in normal mode to the next spot you want to fire from. The arsenal includes... everything. You usually start with a pistol and a sub-machine gun or a shotgun, and pick up a bunch as you go. I preferred sub-machine guns and assault rifles, and given the choice would use pistols over shotguns. Timing your reloads in this game is an art form as you don't want to be stuck reloading just as your multiplier starts to whoosh away, causing you to loose precious points.
Enemies come in a few different AI patterns, and are totally disposable. You'll mow them down by the dozens in most levels, whether they charge right at you, run away while shooting, or camping out in a nest and trying to snipe you (with a bazooka). A few enemies types have heavier armor or a combat shield and are a little tougher to kill, but generally the enemies have real short life spans. The game has a weird feel in a way, as it feature realistic graphics but is totally, totally unrealistic in the way that your body can absorb hundreds of bullets (especially if you park yourself on a spot where a health pack continually re-spawns) and everyone else drops like flies as you shoot them. But it makes sense for this kind of game where it's all about the score, not survival. I can imagine a game with this same theme where your goal is just to survive the game, not score high, but this game is all about the score; enemies are disposable mooks and you are an unnatural engine of destruction just trying to score big points.
The game's balance leans toward quite hard. At least in the sense that the tournaments are hard to win. Most levels are easy to beat (with a handful of exceptions), especially as many feature re-spawning health packs that make you feel all but invincible, but beating them with high scores is another thing. The tournaments actually feel a little unfair in a way, as all of the AI opponents (whose scores you get to see before you take your turn in the arena) always score in the same positions. This means that even if you score in 2nd place in every event, you have zero chance of winning as the same guy will be in 1st every time. In real life sports competitions and such, this generally wouldn't happen and you could come in very high or even first overall just by doing consistently pretty well in the individual events, but here you will almost never be able to catch the leader if you don't jump out to a big lead in the beginning. In fact, I never won a tournament. After two playthroughs of each one, I managed with a lot of effort to come in 2nd in all of them, but never came in first. It's quite a bad design decision, I think, as it makes you feel like you are just trying to beat a set goal score and not actually competing with other individuals. You never feel like if you just keep scoring points maybe you can pull ahead, and that is kind of the point of points based competitions like this. You either finish first in almost every event or you have no shot at winning overall.
The Club features a few other gameplay modes, but they are mostly superfluous as they feature the exact same levels as those in the main tournament mode. Each of the eight characters also feature stats, but the majority of them feel identical. You can only tell a difference between characters if one has a maxed out stat and the other has the minimum. It's a shame, as each character seems to be carrying interesting gear and items, but these are purely cosmetic; you never get to use the adrenaline junkie's rope or the cop's baton, which would have been awesome. The level design is somewhat samey between some of the locations too, so there is this general feeling to a lot of the game that everything it tells you is different is actually the same, which stinks as the game could use some more longevity.
The Club is a great experience despite these flaws though as it is a shooter with unique goals and design. Shooters are typically cookie cutter, and this one at it's core is the same as every other shooter you've played. But because the goal of this game is to score points, keep that multiplier up at any cost, and win tournaments based solely on your score, it feels really unique and fun, especially when you are compelled to make a mad dash for the exit before you explode or are literally running laps around the level like you are playing a racing game. It's a 3 out of 5.
Community review by Robotic_Attack (March 25, 2016)
Robotic Attack reviews every game he plays... almost.
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