The RPS Verdict: The Club

By RPS on February 25th, 2008 at 9:33 pm.

Join Our Club.

We’ve been trying to work out a way to do something a little more like reviews on RPS for a while, without actually doing anything as boring as that. We’ve come up with this: The RPS Verdict. The idea is simple. We take a recently released game that most of us have played and just have a little chat about it. Those who haven’t played it act like an interested party, asking whatever questions come to mind. Then, at the end, we pose a single question to the panel: Would you buy it? Also, add jokes to season, as is our wont, and lob up here.

We thought we’d start this new tradition with the recently-released shooter, The Club.


Kieron: Right – the Club: It’s from Bizarre Creations, who we mainly know for Geometry Wars and Project Gotham Racing. This is them doing their own “thing”. It’s basically the shooter as reconcieved by a racing team, with a splash of 1-on-1 fighters (and Rockstar’s art direction). Levels are short. They’re basically you in an enclosed area, trying to get from one end to the other while scoring points. You get more points for more impressive kills, like headshots, doing a forward roll before taking the bullet and at a distance. But the real points are scored by chaining kills. If you manage to kill someone else within a time from the last kill, your multiplier increases. Fail, and the multiplier bleeds away. So the heart of the game is moving as fast as you can to keep that hot, while offing everyone. Chasing pinball-game high scores. And, basically, that’s it.
John: For this conversation, I will be playing the role of QT3′s Worm. [John hasn't played The Club, so acts as moderator for this discussion, abstaining from the final vote - Exposition Ed]
Jim: I think the chaining thing is where I want to get off The Club immediately, it’s a third person shooter, not R-Type I don’t want to be rushed. It’s too much like a conveyor belt. Perhaps the real problem for me, though, is that it lacks bombast. All the kills are weak and pudding-like. My interest in these shooters is usually whether a seat-of-the-pants defeat of enemies is possible, or not. In The Club I don’t feel like I command a fight, like I can in, say, Max Payne. Yeah, it’s not without a skill challenge, it just never seems very fun. Especially when you can have a superficially similar superficial shooter experience with, say, Stranglehold
Kieron: I agree with the latter point, but not the former. I mean, I see no problem with a third person shooter following its own rules.
Jim: Sure, but these rules don’t seem to add up to a game that satisfies in anyway, especially when it becomes about learning the spawns as you do a level.
Kieron: Now, that is a reservation for me, but… how is that any difference from any of the brilliant chain-shooters or even stuff like Guitar Hero? The biggest problem is the second half – it lacks character and the kills just aren’t fun enough.
Alec: I think the memorisation aspect is overstated by some people. Some people being Kieron and Jim. It’s more about reflex, the flow of the thing. I mean, you have to learn the level layout, but killing the baddies is more about reaction times…
Kieron: But it’s not though. You know where the bads are coming from every time, so you have your target their waiting.
Alec: there’s a baddie around every corner/. Memorisation almost seems irrelevant. you have to have your cursor at headshot level at all times. Though I’d agree there are certain pop-up-in-the-far-distance wretches you do need to have some forewarning of…

I wonder how many British games journalists did a Choclatey-biscuit based gag?.

John: Why is it a bad thing to learn a path in this game, whereas you might spend 300 hours learning a song in GH, or a dance in Dance, Dance, My Feet Are On Fire VII?
Kieron: Dance, Dance, My Feet Are On Fire VII was such a disappointment.
Kieron: The problem isn’t the memorisation really. Guitar hero is just memorisation, far more than the Club is, but gives an amazing pay out. The Club’s payout is weak.
Alec: I’m fine with predictable or repetitious in that way, but you need reward for it. The Club doesn’t give it. It just gives a number at the top-right of the screen.
John Why doesn’t the Club give reward for learning routes?
Alec: I’ll default, as I always do, to talking about Peggle. It uses sonic and visual cues to a) let you know you’re doing well and b) make you feel good about it. The Club doesn’t bother. Its world and its cues are all entirely perfunctory. If you’re not excited by the mere fact of the big number getting bigger, it doesn’t do anything else to lend a sense of thrill
Jim: Alec is right. The output from The Club isn’t enough. Numbers aside, in Guitar Hero the reward for pressing buttons is ROCK MUSIC, in The Club it’s just goons falling down.
John: But we LOVE goons falling over!
Alec: But they’re not goons. Goons suggests big-faced nincompoop. These are just somebody’s action figure digitised. They barely even react to being shot.
John: So, Jim, you were saying that GH offers rock, whereas The Club offers falling goons. Why isn’t that enough?
Jim: There’s something pretty important going on with how people think about the output in a game. The very first session at GDC was about this…
Kieron: Ooh. Fancy.
Jim: Where the Everyday Shooter guy basically demonstrated how graphics do effect how we feel about the game we’re playing. EveryDay shooter without the lovely visuals is no fun. He thinks it’s about “owning” the output, and our relationship to it. So me “owning” infinite, similar goon deaths is less interesting than being a rock star, for example but it’s going to be more complex than that, clearly. Since there’s all this stuff about how we react towards the stuff we’re interacting with on screen
John: Kieron – why does the repeated goon killing fail in The Club when it works in Max Payne?
Kieron: I actually agree with Jim here, which is annoying, as I like to hate him.
Alec: I actually hate him.
Kieron: In the case of Max Payne, it’s worth remembering it was a long time ago and the mechanics were more interesting – the bullet time, etc. But for me, the failure of the Club to give a decent output is also tied to another general aesthetic failing. That Rock Star quasi-realistic look to the whole thing. I think it was Alec who said that the game really needed something that made a bigger deal when you fucked shit up in a more dramatic way – the ULTRO KILLL of UT3 or equivalent is sorely missed.
Alec: Hey, it’s cheating to just quote my Gamer review!
Kieron: As it is, I was often running a 20x bonus and the game didn’t really care. It’s a ludicrous arcade game concept and it treats it like Max Payne. I mean, if ever a game should have ripped off Team Fortress 2, it’s this one.

I bet it was most of them. And who can blame them? Clubs were tasty..

John: So Alec, does it get being a shooter right, and then falls short on the embellishments? Or is it a crappy shooter too?
Alec: Crappy’s the wrong word. ‘Adequate’ would be a better one.
Kieron: I’d play Adequate Shooter in a heartbeat.
John: I might sell it on my planned “Bath’s Most Mediocre Cakes” stand.
Alec: Thing is you don’t actually notice that it’s fairly sub-par in terms of character response and weapon feel when you’re busy chasing the high score. Try out the multiplayer and it’s abundantly obvious. The AI drones fall in one headshot, but get two players in it and you can have two guys stood face-to-face unloading pistols directly at each other, and neither falls over for ages. It’s like Stormtrooper versus Baddie from the A-Team.
John: So it gets fundamentals wrong too? It’s not simply a case of our being weary with third-person action without frills?
Jim: Yeah, i think if it had been a more bombastic shooter, with flair both in the physics and the visuals, it might have succeeded. The key criticism is in what Gillen said: it’s an arcade game that isn’t arcade enough. It needs a touch of Time Crisis or something.
John: So yeah, The Club’s big hook is the high score chasing. Something that you could argue has been woefully absent in action games of late.
Kieron: Okay – this, for me, is absolutely the Club’s saving grace. As a mechanism, it’s very clean and – when it works – very rewarding. Yeah, the AI is rubbish – as it should be. They’re not actually competitors – they’re targets. The game litters the courses with actual targets which keep your combo bonus up – in practice, on the standard difficulty levels, the real soldiers are as little threat as those things pasted to the walls. So, when you know the course, actually trying to maximise your score works really well. Trying to decide when you should shoot that guard – you end up farming them, realising that if you shoot them immediately, by the time you reach the next bad guy, you’ll have lost your combo… so you wait untli you’re nearer to take the shot. And when you’re doing the compare-score thing… well, the real multiplayer for me is the taking turns one. Your mate has a run at a course. Then you do. Who can get the highest score? The levels are short enough to treat it like that. Basically, at its core, it’s a good idea for a game. I just wish they had more actual belief in that idea.

The Problem with The Club is that you do tend to gravitate back to Groucho-Marx gags and similar.

John: Jim, what number am I thinking of?
Jim: 37
John: Wrong.
Kieron: 69?
John: I was only thinking of it for Jim. Mr Meer – what are the game’s saving graces in your opinion? Why does it score above mediocre?
Alec: By way of response, I shall present an exciting opportunity to defame someone we all know.
Kieron: Is it John? I hope it’s John.
Alec: And for once, I’m not talking about John and his predeliction for young, hairless boys.
John: Ah, an insinuation of paedophilia!
Alec: Whenever I meet up with PC Format‘s Mike Channell, he excitedly informs me where he’s gotten to on the leaderboards, even hitting a wordwide number seven spot for one of the maps – and that really, really excites him.
John: He too is a young, hairless boy.
Alec: It’s anathema to me, but I’m fully cognisant that the competitive thing is exactly what some people want from a game, and all the stuff we’re bitching about in The Club is entirely irrelevant to them. They just want to be the best – the game world could be a wireframe with dancing spots in it for all they care.

I mean, look at Join Our Club. You may as well do the Elton John gag when talking about Sacrifice. I mean, man!.

John: Go ahead Kieron, say something wanky about the game.
Kieron: I suspect we all know which way the voting’s going to go for this – but, for me, it’s still a brave and worthwhile game. I also suspect much of what was said above is gonna make us look like Hypocrites when we do Audiosurf. But! Worry about that when we get there. It’s basically a game with one good idea – which is all that a game really needs. But a game really needs to follow that idea to its full conclusion to sell it. Imagine Guitar Hero which only included tunes no-one knew, with no cheers or whatever. That’s basically, The Club. And while I get the urge to play it a few times, it’s not one which anyone should run out and throw down full price for.

Kieron: VOTE!
Jim: I wouldn’t spend money on it.
Kieron: I wouldn’t spend the money they’re charging for it. So No.
Alec: I vote no, whilst wholly appreciating why someone else might vote yes.
John: Geometry Wars is great! [Abstains].
Kieron: In conclusion: Buy Geometry Wars and give them money to give to charity too.

And so, our scores, with help from our special guest thumb, Optimus Prime. Your votes, gentlemen please:


Our verdict: No sale.

John: And finally folks, where is Phil Harrison going to work next?
John: The correct answer is Atari. But that’s boring.
Kieron: Guest columnist on UK:Resistance, I heard.
Alec: Maybe he’s off to oversee the inexplicable Gizmondo relaunch. In the same way one of the dudes who made and launched the Xbox went and worked on that preposterous Phantom console.
John: Are you directly stating that Phil Harrison is an embezzler, Alec?
Kieron: Isn’t that a little like “Let’s relaunch smallpox”?
Kieron: That Smallpox thing is probably libelous, yeah?
John: And: scene.

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63 Comments »

  1. Homunculus says:

    Bravo! More of this sort of thing, please.

    You know it’s a hearty un-recommendation when even Optimus Prime struggles to have anything nice to say about it.

  2. Alex says:

    Nice new feature. Couldn’t you do something like this on classic PC games, too? I’d like to hear a panel review of this on, say, something like Thief, too.

    Isn’t Geometry Wars supposed to be kind of shit on the PC?

  3. dzy says:

    i played this game for maybe 10 mins, have not touched it since.
    says it all.

  4. John Walker says:

    It’s brilliant on 360 and DS though. – Geo Wars I mean.

  5. fearian says:

    I cant get over optimus primes thumb… its so… wrong.

    I completely agree with the feedback from this game. Its terrible. When I heard about it a while ago I envisioned a UT killing spree on E. When I played the demo, It was like… crap.. on a shit… I dont know. it didnt make me feel special at all, you know? This needs to be an Unreal mod. :(

    EDIT: Its just as shit on the 360, dont let anyone fool you.

  6. Janek says:

    As Homunculus says, more of this sort of thing.

    Just the right balance of playful silliness and actual critical debate of a game.

  7. Rook says:

    I like it, but can we have it in audio format please?

  8. Matthew Gallant says:

    Great review style, thank you Optimus Prime.

  9. alco75 says:

    Finally, reviews/verdicts on the only scale I’ve ever really cared about: a) worth playing or b) not worth playing.

  10. Cigol says:

    @Rook – an embedded podcast would be coolness personified

    I was actually contemplating a purchase of this game on Steam but had my reservations reading reactions on forums. The concept is something I’d definitely like to see more of though – tapping into that gaming culture that was once commonplace but for some reason practically disappeared.

  11. Nick says:

    Great format, I agree with the “more of this sort of thing” please. Thank you.

  12. HasbroLawyerGuy says:

    Excellent article, but are you suggesting actual un-endorsement of the product by Optimus Prime (TM)?

  13. Fumarole says:

    As Janek said Homunculus says, more please. This kind of review is much better than an arbitrary numbering system.

  14. K says:

    I think they missed out by not adding a little depth to the game characters. I would have liked to have seen a bit of back story after completing each tournament, showing me the motivations of the character I’m playing, a bit of their history, and such.

    I think the trailer revealed more about the characters than the entire game did. Sad.

  15. derFeef says:

    Good review, I like that. But somehow I am enjoying The Club. Its something new and i fully support devs making such things. Its just a little bit too expensive.

  16. Benjamin Barker says:

    On DS you say? They probably pump up the arcadey visuals for its little screen(s), right? Which might be good; I was just playing a little Ouendan… So feel free to elaborate on the DS version. (I could just try and look up a review, but like you said: boring.)

  17. Jon says:

    Coolest bit for me was that you used Optimus Prime’s hand for the thumbs up/down

  18. StolenName says:

    “I see no problem with a third person shooter following its own rules.” Touche

  19. Optimaximal says:

    Masterpiece Optimus Prime FTW :)

    Good ‘debate’ there lads.

  20. Wickedashtray says:

    To the few who bought Sin II when it was released on Steam, you might have stuck around long enough to remember a great little bit of downloadable content called “Arena Mode”. It was a timed survival thing with constantly respawning AI, some of which would drop health, ammo etc. It had several levels drawn out from the single player campaign. To this day whenever I reinstall Steam its always the first thing I download because it was so damned fun. At the end of a round it would show you your stats (ie; accuracy, reloads, headshots, etc)

    The reason I mention it is that not only is it similar to The Club, but, Ritual addressed one of the complaints mentioned in the review and my biggest complaint in the game, they made it FUN to kill opponents. When you shot an opponent in Arena Mode you could hear the ammo impact the enemy which then jerked backwards giving one that little “bite” of satisfaction which was addictive. The Club, well, you may as well be shooting the cardboard cut-outs from the training level.

    Had Bizarre taken a few lessons from Ritual’s Arena Mode, the game would’ve fared much better IMO.

  21. Satsuz says:

    Ditto on all of the “More of this sort of thing” comments.

    I’m personally not in favor of audio format. I prefer to read it at my own speed rather than try to keep up with an actual conversation between multiple people.

  22. MeestaNob! says:

    This game seems like a super purchase come bargain bin time, but for now its just too shallow and, dare I say it, consoley.

    (awaits abuse)

  23. Leeks! says:

    Great new feature, RPS team. Looking forward to more of the same.

    One humble criticism, though– you almost lost me at the beginning of the discussion, as it seemed like everyone had taken their stance, no one was willing to be convinced of anyone else’s opinion, and Moderating Superstar John wasn’t telling anyone to move on. Of course it did move along to a deeper discussion about four lines later, so all’s well.

  24. Chris R says:

    This is great, I really liked the format. It seemed like you guys had all gathered for a pint and just started saying what was on your mind. Good stuff.

    Also…. MOAR PLAESEE!

  25. Alex Hopkinson says:

    Regarding Geometry Wars on the PC, I can confirm that it is a pretty terrible port – I bought it on Steam when my 360 went in for repair last august. There’s slowdown quite early on, despite my PC being capable of enjoying Bioshock and ETQW at full settings. Changing the resolution was quite the challenge as well, with god knows how many restarts of the game before it finally stuck. Unless there’s been a patch I’ve not spotted since then, of course (I’m pretty sure there hasn’t been).

  26. Will Tomas says:

    Bravo! Great stuff, exactly what RPS is all about. More please!

  27. Zeno, Internetographer says:

    Fun fact: Making something new != making something good.

    In reference to the game, not to your Verdict, of which I wholeheartedly approve.

  28. PleasingFungus says:

    Fairly interesting. I could see more of this.

    Alex (commenter): Grid Wars was brilliant, and I shan’t hear a word said against it.

  29. BrokenSymmetry says:

    Great feature, this. I love The Club, though. Most shooters (Halo, GeoW, HL2, etc.) leave me pretty cold, as they always feel as if I’m just being channeled from one set piece to another. But The Club, especially in its Siege and Time Attack modes, adds a sense of urgency that feels pretty innovative to me. I also get pretty excited when I improve my lap time by 1/100th of a second in PGR after 50 laps, so it’s true that The Club may appeal most to those kind of high-scoring gamers.

  30. caesarbear says:

    This is exactly the kind of “review” feature I’ve been looking for. Keep it up.

  31. Gnarl says:

    This is exactly the type of article to read while mildly drunk and listening to Barenaked Ladies. More, if you would.

  32. Stromko says:

    Very fun article. I feel like I would’ve respected the verdict whether I agreed with it or not, all the reasons for either camp were kind of parsed out and disassembled nicely but quickly.

    In this case I do agree, it might be a good game in the 10 – 20$ price range but there’s no way it’ll get the time investment and fun output with me that would at all rationalize a 40 – 50$ purchase.

    In technical aspects, I felt the controls felt too sluggish, the camera was way too close to my character, and there wasn’t really a difficulty to headshots. In other words, it makes way way more sense on a console. Getting it on a console completely nullifies the point of buying it even in the 10- 20$ range though, because one rent for me would get all the fun out of it.

    But yeah, I’m not the type of person who vies for lap time on PGR. There may well be a market for The Club at full price that I’m just not a member of.

  33. Andrew says:

    More of this sort of thing.

  34. MisterBritish says:

    Did the RPS Overmind split itself into seperate, quivering masses for this discussion, or did it dedicate it’s combined intellect to simulating four distinct personalities?

    More to the point; will I survive the night now I’ve revealed the horrible truth?

  35. Muzman says:

    I like this format also fellas, and the idea that if you guys talk together as well as you write together it’d be a great podcast sort of thing too.

    Shame about The Club; I was hoping it’d be more stunt based, sounds like it’s not though. Like there’s special bonuses for emptying an entire clip into one guy, kills with flying furniture or limbs, falling etc. Mayhem bonuses, Clinician bonuses.
    It’d all make things a bit more open ended and hard to keep the ‘track’ concept fair, so maybe I’m dreaming of a different sort of game entirely.

  36. Will says:

    THIS TIME.

    “If you like, a loot of chocolate on your biscuit; join our

    CLUB!”

    Also, have my babies, RPS.

  37. malkav11 says:

    Hmm. Clearly not my sort of game. I have absolutely zero interest in chasing high scores without any other sort of positive reinforcement. I don’t play Guitar Hero games or Rock Band to get high scores, I play them for the rock music and the satisfaction of nailing complicated note sections. I don’t play Audiosurf to get high scores, I play it to experience my music as a game. Etc.

    This is why I tend not to get anything out of the shmup genre.

  38. Johnny Go-Time says:

    Holy crap, what an excellent feature you guys!
    Having read only one of these articles, I’m willing to say that this is as significant for the thoughtful analysis of games as Zero Punctuation is for the (equally-important) job of keeping us all grounded!

    PS: So please make sure you provide an easy way to get at a list of links to your “Verdicts” from the front page…

  39. lalahsghost says:

    I approve of:
    *The format of this talk-session review
    *Geometry Wars
    *Everyday Shooter
    *Peggle Reward stimulatory devices
    *Optimus Prime’s Hand
    5/5 100 :)

  40. marxeil says:

    Wow, great feature. You guys make reading about games much more interesting and fun then playing them.
    Also, another vote for having this on audio.

  41. Joonas says:

    Nice feature, could’ve cut down on some of the chatter. Gotta agree with the review. I like The Club as a high-score game, but it could really use that Time Crisis vibe. It’s just not worth the full asking price.

  42. UncleLou says:

    Great feature, and very useful – more so than reviews generally are. More of it, please!

  43. Meat Circus says:

    Is this review, commentary or criticism?

    Maybe it’s all three. RPS: willfully mashing the boundaries of narrative games journalism, as and when they can be arsed.

    Good jorb.

  44. Rasmus says:

    Funny how no one mentions the beloved bonus mode of Resident Evil 4, which put you in a contained area full of spawning baddies and had you rack up points via kill-combos… And is damn fun, especially if you take turns with a friend! Too bad The Club seems so generic and soulless in it’s art direction and lacking in it’s feedback, but it sure sounds like that’s where the idea came from. One could also draw parallells to that much-hated old Gamecube goodie PN 03 (initially part of the same Capcom series until RE4 got delayed, if I remember correctly), which was a 3rd person action game based entirely on combos and memoriziation of enemy locations – and contrary to public opinion, actually enjoyable, if in a very painful way :)

    Anyway, good feature! Bring it on.

  45. beeber says:

    This was fun. What you could do is record it for audio format, host it on the blog, and then include it as a regular weekly feature for One Life Left, thus plugging the blog (and giving OLL some kind of games content).

    I should be your business manager.

  46. Lu-Tze says:

    Off at a tangent… but I don’t find Guitar Hero to be a case of memorizing every section of a song by playing it hundreds of times, if I can’t do a song then I go away and either complete some Bonus Tracks or try to get another song up to 5 stars. (Exception : Guitar Battles have to be played repeatedly, until the random weapon generator graces you)

    Of course, if you are chasing the highest scores ever or some of the harder achievements then learning the song by rote is required, but that is true of almost every game. Guitar Hero in it’s “casual” form though is a matter of improving your pattern recognition, dexterity and timing.

  47. Meat Circus says:

    I think RPS should get at least one female brain involved in such discussions in the interests of roundedness. You know, other than John Walker.

  48. Alec Meer says:

    I don’t think any of the Arcee figures have thumbs, sadly.

  49. kwyjibo says:

    When’s your next “should have been a podcast” review?

  50. Kieron Gillen says:

    Meat: And we don’t know any women. (Apart from Walker.)

    kwyjibo: Er… we’re going to try and do ‘em weekly. And, as you correctly analyse, this is us trying to do something a bit podcasty without doing a podcast. Yet, anyway.

    KG