WHAT AND WHY You can show off your skill here, but what’s the point?
“Why am I doing this?” That’s the question Gerard Talbot, of game developer Bizarre Creations, asked in a recent feature in Edge magazine. He was speaking rhetorically about racing games, but he might as well have been talking about his company’s new shooter, The Club. This one aims to take the ethos of games that value skill and economical gameplay, like Bizarre’s own Project Gotham Racing, and apply it to the more freewheeling action genre. Which is all well and good, but one trick The Club never pulls off is answering the question of why you’re playing it.
The eponymous club is an ultra-secret, worldwide organization that gathers the most violent and dangerous international criminals and pits them in a blood sport against — well, not against one another. That would be too interesting! Instead, you choose to play as one of eight colorful miscreants and mow down wave after wave of anonymous cannon fodder. The catch: you’re judged not on how many foes you kill but on how stylishly you kill them.
The scoring system is a little complex, but it comes down to killing quickly and killing skillfully. Each time you dispatch an opponent, your score multiplier increases by one — and then starts ticking down until your next kill. You have to move fast in order to keep building your multiplier. The skill component lies in making difficult shots: there’s a premium on headshots, long-distance marksmanship, and other such feats. Not everything involves real skill — you can increase your point total by doing a pointless forward roll before shooting somebody, or by bursting through a boarded-up doorway. That last one is cool the first couple of times you do it. But you smash through one boarded-up doorway and you’ve kind of smashed through them all, you know?
The emphasis on skill and style sets The Club apart, but it’s also the game’s Achilles’ heel. There are, after all, two basic types of gamers. The skill type plays in order to excel — to master the inner workings of a game and exploit it to his or her advantage. This type will likely have a great time with The Club. The rest of us are looking for interactive experiences. We want a reason to care. There’s nothing here for us: no story line, no sense of drama. When you finish a level, you get to see where you rank on the leaderboard. After completing the last level, you see a perfunctory ending cinema for your character. Games have moved beyond this by now.
And some of the game modes are just silly. The main one, “Sprint,” is the best: your object is to rack up as many points as possible on your way to the level exit. But the indistinguishable “Siege” and “Survivor” modes confine you to a small space and compel you to hold out against endless attackers for a set period of time. This might be more acceptable if the controls were a little swifter, but even after turning the sensitivity all the way up, I felt my characters were slogging through a viscous liquid. And after even a short time of bursting through the same doors, shooting the same characters in the face, and running laps in “Time Attack” mode, you may be tempted to ask: why am I doing this, again?