A few months ago, The Club looked a mess - a great idea (a shooter that plays like a driving game, focusing on speed and Tony Hawk-style score chasing) buried under confusing gameplay and mediocre visuals. And the sad news is, despite some radical tightening and a graphical overhaul, the more time we spend with Sega's ambitious run-and-gun shooter, the more we're starting to feel our first impressions were correct.
We don't mind The Club's vaguely ridiculous premise; a shady organisation that holds bloodthirsty tournaments for select members, which take place in abandoned English manors, rusty old ships and even in the middle of a military conflict. But no matter which setting you engage in, the action is always the same. And this is where the problems start.
There are various modes, (more on these later) but your ultimate goal is always to grab the highest score, which you do by chaining kills before your combo meter drains. To achieve this, you have to blast the chumps that pop out from behind scenery - in a way not too dissimilar to the training level at the beginning of CoD4. Take down three blokes consecutively and you'll get a x3 bonus for your next kill points, nail a fourth and you'll get a x4 bonus, and so on. It's a simple formula, and one that's instantly entertaining - but it kneecaps The Club's diversity level; this is how the game plays from start to finish.
To encourage high-scoring in each stage, bad guys pop up in the same sequence so you can memorise where to point your gun when playing a level for the second time. This doesn't do The Club any favours in terms of repetition, though. And sadly, the AI is dumber than a Jade Goody with a lobotomy - they might be armed with the weediest of pistols, but they'll charge out even if you're carrying, say, a minigun.
But you're nicely rewarded for being creative with your kills. Perform a forward somersault (q) and then shoot a man (i) and you'll get a Death Roll bonus. Boot a door off its hinges and blast everyone inside the room and you'll get the Gate Crasher bonus, and there's even some kudos points for a Rico-slay (read: ricochet), where a bullet bounces off a surface and into a target. But these aren't integral to the action, and should have been expanded on - this might have created more excitement and variety. Games like Chili Con Carnage and Stranglehold already do this sort of combo system better - without focusing the entire game around it - plus they've got superior plots and gravity-defying acrobatics. The Club just has you killing men for sport; a sport you're not entirely sure why you entered.
Racing up to the facts
On more than one occasion we've been told to treat The Club as a racing game, but the execution betrays the concept. True, you can bomb around levels without hiding behind cover - once you recalibrate your brain for such high-speed shooting - but it doesn't feel like a racing game. Further evidence of this is the fact that, even though there's a timer for most matches, your lap times aren't recorded -meaning you don't get any related bonuses at the end.
Levels are split into five modes. Sprint sees you legging it to an exit while grabbing as many kills as possible. Time Attack is similar, but you have a timer ticking down too, and Run The Gauntlet is where the toughest blokes are stationed around the level to provide a harder route.
The two modes that aren't about running are Siege and Survivor - two identical options that task you to survive in one area until the timer hits zero. Step outside the marked zone and a micro-explosive implanted in your head - a device placed in all members - will explode after five seconds and kill you. This means desperately fending off enemies in a claustrophobic environment and trying desperately not to die. This is far more difficult than it sounds, and is one of the rare moments in The Club where you get a sense of achievement following victory.