The RPS Verdict: The Club

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

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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. Alarik says:

    So I guess Mercenaries from Resident Evil 4 are still way better? .-) I like ‘Waterworld’ map especially.

  2. Alex Hopkinson says:

    PleasingFungus: I was referring to the PC port of Geometry Wars that Bizzare sell over Steam, not Grid Wars. Both Geometry Wars and Grid Wars are great games but the PC port of Geometry Wars is pretty bad.

  3. skillian says:

    As mentioned regarding Resident Evil and Sin Episodes, this sort of thing would work better as a bonus to an existing game than as a standalone. Call of Duty 4 has a similar thing too with the unlockable Arcade mode.

    When I got the hacked Crysis demo, me and a friend spent ages competing for most kills with 40 sniper bullets. These sorts of challenges should be included in games more – even in Perfect Dark, I spent more time downstairs hitting targets in record times than I did in the actual game.

  4. Jason O says:

    When The Club launched it was receiving pretty high reviews. I liked the demo but I was frustrated by the score combo mechanic style of gameplay. I liked the way it controlled, I liked the weapons, and I liked the environments but I hated being rushed through the level.

    I wouldn’t say memorization is key, but it’s more of an old school “pattern recognition” style game like what we’re used to from the 8 and 16 bit days. It’s an incredible throwback to an older style of gaming but using modern visuals. That in of itself is weird.

    I understand the high review scores but I’m also disappointed because a lot of the reviewers did not cover the downsides of this gameplay style like RPS did. I suspect someone is going to read a review of The Club and then find themselves disappointed.

    I can see the appeal to a certain type of player, but it does not strike me as a game with broad appeal. I suppose we’ll wait and see what the sales numbers say.

  5. terry says:

    I enjoy this review style a lot – it really forces getting to the pros and cons far more quickly and its always fun to see the intellectual cut and thrust of instant messaging (er). The scores remind me of the old “HIT/MISS” system in Your Spectrum which can only be a good thing.

    As for The Club, I don’t think I am in the target market, being of the opinion that the rail shooter lost its way since the mighty Cabal.

  6. Crispy says:

    I’ve seen The Club in GAME for £20 already and I think the same is true of the obvious online retailers. It’s not my bag but I’m sure a quick price check at the time of publication would have slightly undermined one of your main points that it’s ‘entertainment of a sort but not worth the asking price’.

  7. nabeel says:

    Great idea, looking forward to more “reviews”. Podcast would be awesome; it’s really too bad that PC Gamer UK does their podcast MONTHLY (wtf??), and some of you guys only appear on it occasionally. An RPS podcast would be awesome.
    nabeel

  8. Alec Meer says:

    Y’all really are better off with our STRONG WORDS than our snivelling voices, trust me.

  9. Matthew says:

    (didnt check if someone else posted this so sorry if they have…)

    Geometry Wars has a really nice punchy feel to it; when things get hot they get shit hot, and this is all down to the visual and aural output.

    So we know Bizarre have an understanding of this kind of thing, have they deliberately chosen to leave it out of The Club?

  10. Kieron Gillen says:

    I suspect it may be down to commercial realities: Quasi-realism is believed to interest more people than abstractation or cartooning.

    KG

  11. Jack says:

    Love this review style, all I really want to know from a review is ‘buy’ or ‘don’t buy’ :)

  12. Alex says:

    I quite like the One-Sentence Review of The Club over at Something Awful (eventhough it’s about the 360 version):

    Play through the same levels again and again to top your high score, or play through a better shooter and give yourself a billion points and a pat on the back at the end.

  13. Joshua says:

    Totally disagree with this. The Club is some hot shit. Shooting action is great, the timing and rhythm that Kieron alludes to is what makes it so tight and exciting. Getting a nice strong run is totally awesome, and every misstep here or there is one’s own fault. There are also plenty of levels, no shortage of stuff to learn.

    The logic used to say Guitar Hero is superior is outright bizarre, by the way. Sure… your reward for playing well is ROCK MUSIC. But I could also listen to that ROCK MUSIC on my iPod with no problem whatsoever. You had nothing to do with the music’s creation as you play. You’re just fiddling around on a plastic guitar.

    I mean, don’t get me wrong, GH is a fun game, but so is The Club. If you don’t like the aesthetic, that’s fine, I don’t necessarily blame anyone for that but aesthetic isn’t really the point now is it?