When Bizarre Creations said it wanted to do for the shooter genre what Project Gotham had done for the racing genre, I wanted to do for their soundbite department what blisters are currently doing to my feet. The lack of detail in its original announcement didn't really help much, prompting some to imagine a sort of Fight Club shooter, sounding worryingly close to the awful second half of Manhunt.
The truth isn't actually that far off that, but the key is that Bizarre was being fairly literal with its description: The Club, a close-over-the-shoulder third-person shooter, is a high-score shooter; a fast-paced, run-and-gun arcade game played over very short levels, that's as much about remembering guard positions, health packs and secrets as it is using weapons skilfully. In a sense, it's like remembering corner layouts and braking points; doing for shooters what PGR did for... ahhh! Got it now, eh?
Debuted at E3 at a conceptual sort of stage, The Club, which is due out "on next-generation consoles" (with the Xbox 360 one confirmed, at least), during 2007, sees you racing through these tightly-packed, 5-6 minute long levels at the behest of a shady organisation about which we'll hear more in the coming months. The idea is, simply, that they control deathmatches, you are the "prey", and the chaps occupying the levels are meant to kill you. Except, in actual fact, they're cannon fodder.
Because The Club isn't about tactical fire-fights, shooting over the tops of crates or stealthing people. Internally, Bizarre's mantra is that if you stop moving you should stop living. During our demo this was pretty obvious: you tear through alleyways, up stairs, along gangways in rundown warehouses, and blast fodder enemies as you go with machineguns, shotguns, pistols and other weapons. As fast as you can.
The score aspect is key. At the start of the demo level you're set a target of $150,000, and you earn this by comboing enemies (building up a "kill bar" of marks in the bottom right by killing each enemy within a certain timeframe of the last one), using weapons properly (shotguns up-close, etc.), eking out secret bits (like the "skull shot" icons hidden on walls up on high, behind doors and so on), and generally causing carnage. Grenades work well for this, as do exploding barrels. You can keep track of what's around with the on-screen radar. And enemies, who don't take much to down, crumple in gory ragdoll death throes as you charge past incapable of halting the bloody march.
It's an interesting idea - one that Bizarre sees as "a fun gamers' game" that has the hallmarks of SEGA, its new publishing partner. "People think we're exclusive to Microsoft because of Gotham," they say, when asked why there's no confirmation of a PlayStation 3 version, "but we're not". PGR3's technology isn't necessarily exclusive to Microsoft either - as Bizarre confirms that it hopes to include a spectator mode of sorts (evoking memories of PGR3's Gotham TV), and will share technology where it's deemed useful to do so.
Online modes are a given, it seems, and part of our concept demo included a take on versus deathmatch. Fast-paced with a high rate of turnover, it's closer to Quake or Unreal than most, and Bizarre says it hopes to blend the single- and multiplayer ideas. What it means by that also is that it hopes to make The Club an ideal "post-pub" game, suitable for you to have a go at a level, set a score, and then pass the pad to a mate. A hot-seated Running Man sort of thing.
For now, that's roughly all we know, other than the fact we're going to know more later, when Bizarre reveals details of the plot (specifically who the "money men" are), and how the levels will work in the full game. The idea of diverging paths isn't off the menu by any stretch. Should be worth finding out about, judging by this. If it were on the E3 floor you mightn't look twice at it, but with the concept outlined it takes on a new edge. The Fight Club comparison is perfectly valid, says Bizarre; that they ideally want the PGR comparison to make sense too is the more interesting part.
The Club is due out on "next generation consoles" including Xbox 360 in 2007.