I’m having a hard time getting my head around The Club. Not because I haven’t enjoyed the demo, far from it: I’ve had a blast. No, I’ve had a hard time getting my head around it because The Club takes everything you think you know about shooter games, puts them in a box and seals it shut. Then shoots it up. Then sets it on fire.
No, really. Forget everything you’ve learned about shooters. Forget even their most basic premise: shoot everything that moves as soon as you see it move and before it can shoot you. Forget about pausing behind cover. Forget about exploring a map. Forget fretting over health packs, forget quicksaves, forget cross-level sniping.
Because none of that matters.
The Club is a Tony Hawks trick. It’s a Max Payne “New York Minute” level. It’s, fittingly considering Bizarre are developing, a Project Gotham Racing 4 Kudos chain. It’s not a level full of enemies that you clear out, it’s a time-attack course, full of tricks and opportunities. A level in The Club is not something you can “complete” on your first attempt, it’s something you want to play 100 times over, each new run a chance to squeeze out a few more points, string together the ultimate daisy chain of indiscriminate death.
How’s this all work, then? In this demo, you get one character to choose from. Dragov, a burly Russian. You get one level to choose from. A derelict prison. And you have to get from one end of the prison to the other, scoring as many points as you can. Points are scored by killing bad guys. More points are scored by chaining your kills together. To complete the level, it’s not enough to simply “finish”. You’ve got to get to the other end and score enough points. And to score enough points, you’ve got to chain a whole lot of kills together.
Which is why this game isn’t a shooter. Or, at least isn’t a shooter as far as we know them. Because chaining those kills together feels, initially at least, “wrong”. After countless shooters, we’ve been trained to kill every enemy we see, and kill them quickly. Take cover, preserve your health. But in The Club, it’s different. If you enter a large room and there’s five targets, you don’t kill all five. At least not right away.
Instead, you kill the first one, the one closest to you. Your combo meter starts ticking down. So you run. You don’t duck, you don’t hide, you run. Then, as you approach the next, you kill him. Your combo meter increases a notch, then starts ticking down again. Sure, the other three are still shooting at you, and you’re taking damage, but if you kill them all now, there’ll be nothing to recharge your combo meter by the time you get to the other side. So you pick them off, one at a time, timing their deaths by the state of your combo meter, more concerned with your chain and it’s score than your health or ammo.
It’s a fascinating take on the genre, albeit an unsurprising one when you consider Bizarre’s PGR heritage. It’s also, when you stop thinking of it as a shooter – something to be completed – and start thinking of it as what it is – something to be replayed and perfected – super-great fun. If you don’t have a PAL PSN account (sorry, no idea when/if 360 and PC demos are showing up), go get one. Then get this.