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...
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.
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.
John: Jim, what number am I thinking of?
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.