The Club is very nearly awesome. Very, very nearly. But close only counts in horshoes and hand grenades, and in leaping for the balustrade of amazing it ends up falling face-first into the rosebushes of mediocre, badly hurting itself in the process.
Ostensibly The Club is a first-person shooter, but it's developed by Bizarre Creations, the people behind Project Gotham Racing and Geometry Wars, and it's got far more in common with those games than it does something like Gears of War.
The game's actually structured a lot like a racing game. The game's broken down into eight "tournaments", each set in a different international location, and each tournament has six or seven courses. The aim of each course is to complete the course with the highest score possible. The premise of the game is that you're involved in some kind of underground deathsport, so you'll find the way to build points is to make kills. Each successive kill notches up your kill multiplier, which makes the points come in even faster, but if you can't keep your kill rate both high and steady your multiplier will gradually drain away.
This means to get the high scores not only do you have to kill quickly and accurately, but you have to stay on the move, progressing forward down the course and bringing new targets into your sights. Some game modes really go all out on this aspect by subjecting you to punishing time limits as you sprint for the level exit.
Completing the eight tournaments isn't particularly challenging, and you can do it within a day if you're so inclined. The real meat of the game is intended to come from revisiting past levels to try and beat your high scores.
That's fun to a point. As anyone who's played Geometry Wars, Guitar Hero or anything made in the 1980s knows, there's real satisfaction to be had in seeing your skills improve. Unfortunately, The Club provides very little in the way of structure or incentives to motivate you to seek those high scores. You can watch yourself work your way up the leaderboards, but other than that there's no real sense of progression once you've finished the basic single player experience. Tossing in a bunch of unlockables and providing a few more sub-goals would have really helped flesh out the score-hunting aspect of the game.
There's also a multiplayer mode, which is best described as "decent". In the unlikely event you find anyone online playing the thing, you'll be treated to some of the deathmatch antics that we've all seen in ever first person shooter ever. It's not an awful experience, and if you're lucky enough to be matched against someone over the age of 14 it can even be a barrel of fun, but I'm of the personal opinion that everything there is to say about deathmatches has already been covered by the combined works of iD Software and Epic, and there's certainly nothing new here.
For me, probably the biggest sadness is that the game doesn't have more story flavouring. It opens with a cutscene introducing each of the eight selectable characters, and does a great job of making them seem like genuinely interesting people. And that's really the last you see of the plot, other than a ten-second outro at the conclusion of story mode.
Also, the levels could have used a bit more variety. About half the game has a "ghetto industrial" feeling, while the other half has a "European city" theme, and that's pretty much the extent of what's on offer. So it's great that bland now comes in two flavours, but on the whole the artistic ball was very definitely dropped.
The Club isn't a bad game. It's a pretty decent one, and it certainly has incredibly unique gameplay. But it's not a special game, either, and even genre enthusiasts aren't likely to find room for it in their top ten or twenty games of last year. Keep an eye out for it in the bargain bin, because if you spot it for around $30 AUD you'll find it perfectly priced to please.