Blimey, this isn't like any shooter I've ever played.
When Bizarre - the team behind Project Gotham Racing - decided to produce a third-person shooter, they weren't interested in building a narrative-driven action game or the next Gears of War. Instead, in their own words, they wanted to "redefine and refresh the mechanics of third person action shooters just as they have shaken up the racing genre." The result is The Club, and it's probably the most different and exciting action game I've played since Crysis.
As you might expect from Bizarre, it's all about style. Project Gotham wasn't about finishing first; it was about finishing first while looking very cool. The Club follows exactly the same pattern. You're not merely trying to make your way through each map, taking down every enemy while keeping yourself alive - you're speeding through the level, chaining together kills into brutal combos of body shots, head shots and rolls, and making sure that everyone dies in the most spectacular way imaginable.
You're scored for who you kill, where you hit them, what weapon you use and even whether you're on your last bullet. By linking kills together, you create combos that ratchet up your score. Slow on your feet? Too cowardly or careful? Then the combo meter drains and your dreams of a new high score will evaporate before your yellow-belly eyes. Sprint, shoot and roll your way through each chamber and you'll find your score going ever skywards.
Play through a level once and you might not get the point. Play through it twice and it all falls into place. In a strange way, The Club actually plays like a driving game. It's all about knowing the level backwards and maximising opportunities. Yes, you could shoot the guy in the doorway then pull back to head-shot the guy on the catwalk, but wouldn't it be better to roll sideways, blast the explosive barrel on the catwalk and bring the whole structure crashing down, then roll through the doorway and hit the waiting goon hard with a shotgun blast? Why not crack him in the skull for a melee kill instead? Don't you score high points for getting the bloke rappelling down from the ceiling if you hit him while he's on the way down? Knowing and understanding the layout, and working out where each hidden skull marker is lurking and when to hit it, is going to be what marks out a Club hero from a Club zero.
To make all this work, Bizarre has created an ingenious back story, drawing on movies like The Most Dangerous Game (remade by John Woo with Jean-Claude Van Damme as Hard Target) and Fight Club. The game is based on an underground, kill or be killed bloodsport controlled by the ultra-rich elite organisation of the title. Fought out in locations from a crumbling state penitentiary to an East-German steel mill to a rusty cruise liner to the streets of Venice, it sees eight playable characters battling it out through the tournament. The line-up reminds you of a Tekken-style beat-em-up, with each character having his own motivation to make it through the rankings. Dragov, for example, is a Siberian bandit who can win his freedom. Kuro is a Japanese cop who trades places with a dead triad assassin and so gains entry, while Renwick is an ex-NYPD cop whose investigations have made him an unwilling contender.