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The Club

Review: Want mindless violence and a biscuit? Join Steve Hill's club

Most of us have probably been a member of a club at some point in our lives, be it Youth, Tufty, Groucho or Conservative. However, there can't be many clubs where membership carries the considerable risk of a brutally violent death within seconds of joining (although chess clubs can get quite lively).

Imagine the membership form for The Club. Do you have any medical conditions that may impair your performance? Have you ever been involved in moral turpitude? Do you have any objection to being shot in the face, neck, chest and genitals by a succession of heavily armed mercenaries on a near-constant basis?

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This is a risible premise, as vaguely brushed over in an intro by 'The Club secretary,' his clipped upper class English intonation suggesting a clandestine society somewhere between The Avengers and Fight Club.

In reality, it's not nearly as interesting as either, the game consisting of a succession of wholly linear levels whereby you run like hell, shooting everyone in your path until you either succumb to your injuries or successfully reach the end. Imagine a James Bond training level with the subtlety, ingenuity and humour replaced by a gallon of blood and a cavalcade of twisted corpses.

The Club is about more than simply racking up a body count though, as it's not about how many people you kill, but how you kill them, with points effectively awarded for artistic merit. Simply unloading into someone's midriff may be effective, but the judges will be more generous if you dive through a window, perform a forward roll and shoot him in the temple from range.

The score count is constantly running on screen, and can be boosted by linking kills together in combos - imagine Tony Hawk going postal. If you fail to take a human life for five seconds, your combo starts bleeding out and you may have to start another. Points make prizes, and some levels require a certain score to ensure your progress. Timed levels are also common, some literally involving doing laps around the level, with a three-second boost given as a reward for each kill.

Certainly this is an original approach to what is ostensibly a third-person shooter, although closer inspection of the developer's heritage may betray its genesis. Liverpool-based Bizarre Creations are best known for the excellent Xbox arcade driving series Project Gotham Racing, whereby Kudos points are awarded for stylish driving.

The plot thins when you consider that game also spawned the Robotron-inspired Geometry Wars, the 2D shooter that puts you in the centre of a relentless barrage of attacks from geometrical shapes.

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Replace Kudos points with manslaughter points, and geometrical shapes with crazed assassins, and you essentially have The Club, your honour. And given Bizarre's console history, it's no surprise that this is a straight port of the Xbox 360 version, replete with contemptuous instructions to 'press A' and so on. In fact, it almost demands investing in a 360 pad, as with mouse and keyboard you always seem to need an extra finger (so it should sell well in Wales).

The antithesis of a stealth game, The Club is an unashamedly unsophisticated affair that scoffs at such notions as taking cover or assuming any kind of tactic other than running and gunning.

And in the short term at least, it's mildly compelling fare that certainly keeps you on your toes. Failing a level by a matter of seconds or points will have you frustratedly slapping the keyboard for another go, and - like a driving game - you do eventually learn the levels, knowing where each baddie is going to appear, where the health and ammo is stashed, and ultimately the most effective way to stay alive, even if that does involve standing in a corner and running the clock down.

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