The third-person shooter is a tried and tested formula, but at a time when the only innovation in the genre appears to be co-operative play, Bizarre Creations' The Club is a breath of fresh air.
What initially appears to be a straightforward run and gun third-person action title is actually a much deeper and thoughtful action romp, asking players to rethink their tactics, shoot with pixel perfect precision and go about their business with a sense of style.
The Club is a secret organisation; its existence known by only a select few from around the world. The violent, underground blood sport sees outsiders recruited to battle and are given only one option: kill or be killed.
In The Club eight characters will be available to choose from, each with a back story and their own specific reasons for taking part. Revealed during the Games Convention demo were Dragov, a monstrously built Siberian criminal who has been promised his freedom if he survives the contest; Renwick, a tough New York Cop whose investigation into The Club results in his entry as a contestant; and Killen, an ex champion who is blackmailed into returning to The Club through the kidnapping of his daughter.
However, the demo focused on Seager, a young, rich adrenaline junkie in search of the ultimate thrill. The gathered press were first shown the rundown and abandoned area of Venice now used as an arena for The Club. There are eight locations in total each housing 6-7 smaller sections that last up to five minutes.
Each stage can also be tackled across a host of game modes and with win criteria in place, creating considerable challenge for gamers intent on fully clocking the game. The demo saw Seager tasked with completing a five-minute section in Venice with the extra challenge of reaching a points total of two million. It is the scoring system which sets The Club apart from other third-person action titles, encouraging the player to replay stages to rack up higher totals and reap the rewards this brings.
The basics of scoring points requires the player to take down the enemies occupying the selected stage - each appearing in pre-determined locations that provides a strong light-gun game feel to the action. Each kill earns points and this can be built upon through the use of special kills and combos, chaining together kills across an entire stage to rack up massive point totals.
Special kills include the action genre favourites such as head shots and multiple kills, but extra points are awarded for rolls and other such stylish manoeuvres. These flashy kills can be further enhanced through building multipliers. After each kill a Kill Bar is activated on screen, informing the player that they have a short amount of time to kill again and thus increase the multiplier - a maximum of 44 is achievable. Fail to make a kill before the Kill Bar fully depletes and the multiplier will begin to fall and will keep doing so until the next kill.
It's also worth noting that each stage has its route clearly marked out, much like a racing circuit, making it easy to find your way around. Taking the challenge away from finding your way puts the focus entirely on the action. Rather than work to find the quickest route, players will find themselves working out how to string together kills to gain maximum points.
The high-score focus lends itself very well to online integration and Bizarre Creations hasn't skimped on this aspect of the game. Leaderboards will be a huge part of the draw to replaying stages and Bizarre says that around 600 separate leaderboards will feature.
On a technical level The Club is shaping up very nicely, with richly detailed environments providing the setting for the high-octane action. It was also noticeable how much the game's visuals had come on since it was shown earlier in the year. As a measure of the efforts gone into modelling the game's locations, it is estimated that the Manor House stage took around 30 man months to create, with similar levels of effort for each stage.
Beyond the challenge of the single-player game The Club also promises a host of multiplayer game modes with up to eight players battling online or over system link, while four players can compete via split-screen. One of the game modes on offer will be Kill Match and Team Kill Match, with the winner being the player or team to kill the target.
Sadly, the online aspect of the game won't include the ability to create custom routes through stages, Bizarre Creations' design manager Nick Davies noting that this functionally proved too difficult to implement and was best left to the experts.
The Club is currently scheduled for release on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC early in 2008 and thanks to its unique concept and impressive use of online integration is certainly a title to keep an eye on.