If you were to hear me talk for any amount of time you would think that I hate Sega. You'll hear me curse up and down about this once-mighty video game company; it will be an ugly mess of angry words, betrayed feelings and terrible games. Oh those terrible games. But believe it or not, I don't hate Sega; I've been a huge supporter of the company since I first hooked up my Sega Master System. I don't hate Sega; instead I'm just frustrated by their surprising inability to make great games. While Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft and all of their third parties are churning out hit after hit, Sega can't seem to get their act together, and it's really bumming this long-time Sega-phile out.
But lately things have started to look up. Within the last six months Sega has managed to release a solid Virtual Fighter 5 port for the Xbox 360, offer up a competent sequel to NiGHTS into Dreams, and reminded us why Sega Rally was so damn cool all those years ago. As far as I'm concerned Sega is on a roll, those three games alone make up for my time with Alien Syndrome (but just barely). But all of those games came out last year, would Sega's 2008 line-up be as good as Virtua Fighter, Crush and NiGHTS? If The Club is any indication then Sega is a company worth watching this year.
If I were to say that The Club is nothing more than Project Gotham Racing meets Gears of War you would think I was insane. On the surface there's nothing in either of those two games to connect this weird analogy. But rest assured; all it takes is one small play session to see that there is no better way to describe this exciting, arcade-style action game. While the combination may sound weird, in practice it makes for the best third-person shooter Sega has made in years.
The Club was developed by Bizarre Creations, the team that is best known for their Project Gotham Racing and Metropolis Street Racing franchises. In a lot of ways The Club is a huge departure from what we've come to expect from this company, but at the same time Bizarre Creations has managed to take some of the best elements from their racing games and combine them with the twitch mechanics of a Gears or War-style action game. The result is definitely unique, but the game is ultimately undermined by its shallow game modes and repetitive gameplay.
Unlike most modern shooters, The Club isn't trying to tell some epic story or change the way you think about third-person action games. Instead this game is about old school action, sort of like an on-rails shooting range where you have to shoot them before they shoot you. This game isn't about ducking behind protective objects in order to methodically take out your opponents; instead you're rewarded for rushing through the levels as fast as possible trying to kill as many guys as possible without breaking your combo chain.
The Club's one big gimmick is this combo chain mechanic. The way it works is for each character you take down you will earn a score multiplier, so if you take down five characters in a row each addition enemy will be worth five times their value. Of course, you can't just wait around to increase your score, when you don't kill somebody fast enough your combo chain will start to bleed, so you will either have to kill another bad guy or lose your combo all together. While this mechanic is nothing new, the combo chain timer does give the game a sense of urgency that sets this game apart from the rest of the crowd. This isn't a racing game, but you always feel like you're being pushed to kill as many people and complete the level as fast as you possibly can.
The game is split up into eight different levels, each with six to seven events each (in total there are 49 events to play through). The different levels are nice and diverse; they range from an old rundown warehouse to an ocean liner to the dank prison cells to war-torn city. In these levels you will find a number of different events, each of which will take you to different parts of the level. For example, in the prison cells level you may see a whole part of the prison that is off limits to you in one event, but is open and ready to be explored in the next. That's not to say that you won't be seeing a lot of the same area, but like a racing game, you'll find that the various courses are different even if there are some recycled backgrounds.
Each of the 49 individual events in The Club can be beaten in under five minutes, which gives this game a pick-up-and-play feel that you normally only get with portable games or the stuff on the Xbox Live Arcade. The Club is not the kind of game you pick up and play for hours on end, but if you're looking for an action game you can tackle in short bursts, then this may just be the game for you. Either way, all of these different elements fly into the wind of modern shooter mechanics, which is both alienating and intriguing all at the exact same time.
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