Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Club: Demo Impressions

So, The Club has been getting some good press. And, I must admit that I was intrigued based on the trailers I have seen. The game looked humorous and like it might have a fresh twist on the shooter genre.

My overall impression after playing the demo was that I was basically getting Doom crossed with PGR. This might appeal to some folks who like to strive against themselves (and others) in various race-like competitions, but to me I found the experience lacking. I guess I really do require two things from my shooters these days: Great story and No Health Packs.

Story is a given for me. I need to be immersed in the world and feel like I have an emotional tie to my character.

No Health Packs is really just a generalized reference to the fact that I think it's time for shooters to leave some of their old school conventions behind (e.g., shields, health bars, and health packs) in favor of the new guard conventions (world desaturation, regenerate while hiding). I realize that the same systems are in play -- that the world turning red is the same thing as my shields being depleted, and my response should be the same "take cover". But to me, I just prefer the current generation of games giving you the same information via within-fiction feedback instead of via statistical HUD displays.

Now, on to my initial experience with the game.

I loved the attract movie -- it reminds me of the beginning of The Chronicles of Riddick where a guy is running across a frozen plain, pursued by a chopper (well, spacecraft in Riddick).

However, the Game shell UI made me nervous.

  • Options aren't arranged in a traditional menu format. There are floating selectable thingies. And I can't tell which one is highlighted.
  • The font is almost impossible to read (some sort of ghetto stylized text). Maybe it's just my projector. But wow. I can barely read the text.
  • Only one of the "Cars" (I mean characters) is available in the demo. I have a feeling I'd want to test out a couple of different characters to make sure that the variety was fun.
Then the game tells me I'm going to be thrown into a tutorial:
  • The voice talks to me. There are all sorts of rules that sound important. But I just want to play.
  • And then I realize: It's not a tutorial. It's a lecture. Boring.
  • Moreover the pacing is all off. I'm being told about the RB and bleeding and... Never mind. The game is starting now.
  • It was at this point that I said "ah... of course, it's by Bizarre Creations." They've basically taken the Kudos system from PGR and applied it to a shooter.
Game play:
  • The camera and VO are introducing me to the race track. Interesting.
  • They offer me "casual" game play mode (in addition to Reckless, Insane, and a locked "Real"). There isn't any help text, but I can see that difficulty mode affects the amount of points I need to get before I can pass the level.
  • Just before the level begins, up flashes an insanely complex image of controller with all kinds of buttons and functions. Skip it.
  • I realize it's a 3rd person shooter. And I need to invert my camera. My guy feels a little rigid. Maybe I'd some of the others will feel more athletic?
  • I'm trying to figure out basic controls. Why is B mapped to grenades?
  • It really does feel a bit like Doom. There are oversized novelty health and ammo pickups. The enemy AI is pretty uninteresting. They have behaviors that you can learn and will probably require strategizing against at higher difficulty levels, but on "Casual" the enemies just seem lame and uninvolved.
  • This game is obviously designed to appeal to the racing folks who like to master tracks. I imagine there will be "ghost" images that you can save and send to friends and compete that way (the kind of asynchronous competition that made PGR2 so addictive for a lot of my friends).
  • I completed the default mode and then tried the "Timed mode". I guess I will be running laps around a course. If I fail, microexplosives will detonate in my skull.... Hmm... Not exactly the kind of compelling story I was hoping for.
  • The weapons don't feel that sweet. The shotgun feels kind of lame. I can't tell much difference between the various machine guns (other than slight audio tweaks). The pistol is pretty satisfying, though.
  • I complete the race and wonder whether it would be fun to be chasing a friend's ghost.
Overall, this one is a rental for me. I am curious as to whether there are ghosts in this game. I think it would be super cool to be able to watch friends complete single player experiences. I am left to dream how cool Portal 2 might be if I could compete against my friends' ghosts.

That would be cool.

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