Thinning Crowds

It's always dead at The Club

To all the gun-toting video-game bad guys out there: Please stop standing next to exploding barrels. Seriously now. Of the hundreds of places you could squat and shoot, you and your henchman pals always camp beside the neon-orange canister with "Flammable!" painted on the side. Really, we don't need your charity.

Of course, we get it anyway in the new first-person shooter The Club, which might as well be called "Join the Club." It's yet another clumsy death-match game with splatter-heavy kills, generic characters, and — did we mention? — plenty of clueless idiots hiding next to dubious barrels.

The Club is novel enough to combine elements of first-person shooters and racing games, but the game play is as creatively empty as the clip in your AK-47. The premise, too, is delightfully stupid: An evil rich guy injects explosive microchips into a group of banal badasses and forces them into a Mortal Kombat-style shoot-'em-up contest.

Remember: Do not hide behind orange barrels.
Remember: Do not hide behind orange barrels.

In single-player mode, you'll gun your way through claustrophobic linear maps highlighted with a fresh coat of drab paint. Unlike the wonderful Team Fortress 2, there's no strategy behind the massacre — simply hold down the trigger and plow forward, dick swinging as you go.

Now about that "racing" angle: Early on, The Club preaches the importance of sprinting from kill to kill, so you'll work feverishly to rack up kill combos. One level even has you running in laps, murdering as many faceless thugs as you can before crossing an actual checkered finish line. There's a cool germ of an idea there: a game where, if you quit killing for too long, you'll die. A game where, if this were Speed, you'd be the bus. But while senseless killing without pause does help you rack up points, all the tension is forfeited when you realize it's not required.

And other than feeling silly, you can't help but realize how slow all this racing around seems to be, especially when compared to the hyperkinetic action of Unreal Tournament or Quake.

Laughably, one "survival" challenge sticks you in one spot, from which you hammer away at a horde of oncoming gun fodder. Cross an arbitrary line on the floor, and your bomb implant is triggered. (Yes, chalk lines can trigger electronic devices. Just let it go.)

Most embarrassing are the game's purported "stylish kills," wherein you get more points for being fancy with your runnin' and gunnin'. Popular moves include kicking down a door and blasting everyone, firing in mid-somersault, and . . . here it comes . . . shooting any number of exploding barrels lying around the countryside. Take that, John Woo!

The Club's lone redeeming element may be its frantic multiplayer mode. Perfect for fans of old-school shooters, it allows you to kill constantly, die and revive instantly, and cheat by hanging out near weapon respawn points. Even so, the only kills I managed were by shooting guys who got stuck in the wall, thanks to game glitches.

During a recent match in which my team was beaten like Master Chief's stepchild, I listened to my enemy's online chatter. "This game's actually fun when you're winning!" bragged PapaSmurf929. With apologies to all of Smurf Village, I gotta disagree.

 
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