Game Review #065: Gear.Club Unlimited 2 (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: John B.
Developer: Eden Games Publisher: Microids Category: Racing, Simulation, Multiplayer Release Date: 12.4.18
.Download Gear.Club Unlimited 2 from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
Purchase Gear.Club Unlimited 2 from Amazon here.
As I explained when I reviewed Horizon Chase Turbo a few weeks ago, I’m not really much of a racing game fan. I do enjoy a good arcade racer, and that’s what HCT very strictly was; a no-frills, pick a car and go nuts affair. Gear.Club Unlimited 2 has some arcade racer elements to it, but it is more seriously a capital-R Racing Game. It has more realistic driving physics, wider customization options for your cars, a larger selection of cars, and licenses for over 50 real-life vehicles to fill out its roster. While it has its issues, Gear.Club Unlimited 2 is a solid racing game, and probably the best serious racing game currently available for the Switch. I know, I know – you and your friends take Mario Kart very seriously, and so do I. But it’s not a game meant for gearheads and speed freaks like Gear.Club is; it’s meant for Mario Kart fans. That’s what I mean by a serious racing game. But let’s finish the equivocating and get down to reviewing.
Wait, There’s a Story?
Yes! Surprisingly, the developers did choose to include a story to go alongside the single-player campaign. I thought that was pretty neat, even if the story was particularly light. You start out as a test driver for a small racing outfit. When the regular driver doesn’t show for a qualifier, someone has to step up and sit down behind the wheel. After doing well enough to qualify for the Alpha Tour, the team owner selects you to be the driver. You then go on a series of tours, with each new tour introducing you to a new rival driver with whom you lightly interact between races.
So it’s a pretty light drama based around who’s going to beat who and some trash talk or friendly rivalries, but it’s kind of nice that it’s there. It adds an element of personal investment in the game beyond just liking cars that go fast. I mean, I didn’t get that invested because I’ve seen deeper characters made of cardboard, but the character illustrations are cool and it adds another dimension to the game beyond just the racing. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the game less if the story was absent, but I appreciated it for what it was.
The driving mechanics in Gear.Club Unlimited 2 are solid, but sometimes a little janky. Accelerating is a smooth operation; just hit the gas and watch your car go. Handling can be a bit of a trickier proposition. Sometimes I felt that my car would under-respond to when I turned the wheel, at others I felt it over-responded, turning more sharply than I had anticipated. This would happen with the same car, within the same race. Cornering, especially, was an area of frustration. If I took a turn too sharply and had to straighten out for a second to avoid hitting the wall, when I’d try to turn the wheel again it almost felt like I wasn’t even turning the wheel at all. I’m honestly not sure whether or not to chalk this up to me being on a steeper learning curve than most because of my sparse background in racing games, but it seemed inconsistent enough that I thought it was worth mentioning. Still, I felt that the controls were solid overall and I found myself drawn into the gameplay despite these minor (real or imagined) inconsistencies.
Gear.Club Unlimited 2 does not explain driving very well. I am not a race fan typically. I do not know how to gauge tight turns, whether to accelerate into a turn, or when it is optimal to accelerate out of one. Sometimes I would approach a turn slowly, hitting the brakes and taking it easy, but I would still spin out or the car didn’t seem to be turning at all; the nose of the car would turn, but the momentum would carry me forward without turning hardly at all. The tutorial consists of throwing you on a track and telling you what one of the brake buttons is. There are two, the handbrake and the regular brakes, but it only tells you about the regular brakes. It doesn’t mention when one would be more useful than the other, or if they even work differently at all. It doesn’t even really tell you what the accelerator button is. You can open a menu and see what all the buttons are, but shouldn’t that be information the game provides you automatically?
There is an option to have an optimal path highlighted, which helps; it turns green, yellow, and red to (I guess?) indicate when you need to slow down or speed up. Again, just a guess, because it’s not ever explained. Sometimes the path starts one color, begins turning to another, and then shifts back to the original. Is it reacting to my decisions? Is that the path it’s supposed to take? Again, the biggest problem with the game is its refusal to explain itself. Trial and error carried me through a lot of tough races, but I would have preferred some sort of training to show me how to do it right.
You can also go into the options menu and toggle certain “Assistances” on a slider. You can get assistance with breaking, anti-skid, and steering. The names sound somewhat self-evident, but they really aren’t. Does steering assist make turning easier? Does the car automatically start to turn at the right times for you? I could figure out that a higher number was meant to make things easier, but I’m not sure how. When I adjusted the sliders I couldn’t really discern an effect on gameplay; if there had been any sort of information on what I should have expected them to do it would have been helpful.
In summation, if I have one complaint with this game (and I do!) it’s that the tutorials are nonexistent. There are a lot of games where trial and error are great teachers, but games where certain skills are an absolute requirement must find ways to teach players what those skills are and how to execute them properly. Gear.Club Unlimited 2 does not do that. I stuck with the game long enough to figure things out, but that’s because I was reviewing it. While I’m glad I hung around, I’m not sure I would have given it as much time as I did otherwise.
Trial and Error… and Error… and Error…
So, while the game doesn’t really do all that much to teach you its workings, it does give you a way to explore it for yourself. At any time you can hit the you suck rewind button and reverse the game to where you were on the track up to about 15 seconds prior. This means you can erase an embarrassing wipeout, or avoid getting clipped and spinning out, or teach yourself how to take a tight curve. Some more guidance would have been welcome, obviously, but using rewind is a solid way to learn the ins and outs of driving in Gear.Club Unlimited 2, as well as an ideal way to negate all the times the jagoff behind you clips you on your way around a curve.
Terms of En-Race-ment
The single-player career mode consists of a number of different race types. There are Time Attack races, where you race against phantom cars and you just need to post the best time. There are Derby races against real cars, where I suppose you also need to post the best time, but the other cars can bump into you (and you into them!) to affect speed and trajectory. It’s pretty satisfying to bump that one guy who’s been ahead of you all race into a wall and watch him fall farther behind. There are Rally races, which are just off-road Derbies that go better if you have rally tires installed. Finally, there are the Last Man Standing races, where the racer in last place is eliminated every twenty seconds.
The races are broken up into tours consisting of five or six races. You receive points depending on where you placed in each individual race, and whoever has the most points at the end of the tour wins. You get prize money for winning each individual race, as well as a much bigger jackpot for winning the whole tour. While it seems like there may create some room for error, it doesn’t create as much as you might think. Each level of the tour introduces a new rival driver, and that rival always stays in first place – unless you beat them, that is. This makes it so that you really do have to win every race; or at the very worst you can only come in second twice, or third once; but if you do worse than that, you don’t win the cup. I mean I realize you should always be aiming for the win, but sometimes a race just frustrated me and I wanted to move on, but I couldn’t do so without risking the prize money. There are also individual exhibition races you can run to scare up some quick cash that exist outside of the tour schedule.
Just to drive the point home about the game’s lack of communication to the player, there are some hiccups in the career mode setup as well. If you hit “next race” in a tour, it doesn’t tell you what type of race the next one is. That isn’t a huge problem, but if you were in a Time Attack race and all of a sudden you’re in an elimination without realizing it, it can mean trouble. Also, the map doesn’t make it clear whether or not it’s an off-road race until you start. I don’t really know if this is a problem or not; when you equip rally tires, it also shows the regular tires as installed, so it may switch the tires automatically? Again, some more thought by the developers needed to be put into explaining the way the game works.
Xzibit, Please Pimp My Ride!
Between races, you can head over to your workshop and get some upgrades done to your car. You can switch out parts like tires, engines, and suspensions, or even just customize the look of your car with paint jobs and decals. You can add different workshop sections that allow you to customize your cars further, or just add some cool decorations to make the place feel more like home. This is on area of the game where everything is adequately explained; your workshop manager walks you through everything whenever you unlock a new workshop area. When you leave the workshop and go to the world map, you can choose a race to undertake or go to one of the many dealerships sprinkled around. Each dealership is associated with a different level of tour, so if you need a new ride to compete in your next race, make sure the dealership and tour level match up. I’m not really a gearhead, but a nice car is a nice car, so it was kind of fun just to look around at all the vehicles for sale. You can also test drive any car in any dealership to get a feel for how it handles.
Join The Club
Gear.Club Unlimited 2 features both local and online multiplayer functionality. Local multiplayer is just a straight up race between two to four players. The online stuff revolves around clubs. When you join a club, you race asynchronously against other ghost racers in your league. Surprisingly, this does not require a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, which is pretty cool. The developers have already announced that synchronous online multiplayer matches are coming soon in a patch, but there is no release date given as yet.
Custom Graphics Package
Visually, Gear.Club Unlimited 2 puts all of its effort into making the cars look dope as hell. It succeeds in this endeavor; as I just said, checking out the different rides in the dealership is one of the coolest parts of the game. The car models are sharply detailed and look about as close to the real thing as you can get. Before every race, there is a skippable scene where the camera pans around your car at different angles to show off the cars in all their glory. Other graphical assets in the game don’t look nearly as detailed; especially in the workshop. The workers wandering around and the decorative items look a little basic by comparison, but still presentable. The tracks themselves look pretty good; not as detailed as the cars, but still nicely imagined and rendered. They often fly by so fast it’s hard to notice their quality, but it’s there.
The game’s soundtrack is pretty nice as well. When you’re in the workshop or any of the world map locations, a selection of slick electronic jams plays. My personal favorite is the song that plays during the pre-race car showcase scene. Once the races begin, no music plays; there is only the sound or your engine roaring and the rumble of shifting gears. It’s a strangely zen experience; at first I thought I would have preferred some music playing as I sped around the tracks. After a few races, though, I appreciated the lack of distraction; I felt like I was able to focus more on the experience of the race.
In Da Club
While I was often frustrated by the game’s lack of tutorials, I generally enjoyed the time I spent playing Gear.Club Unlimited 2. Most of my problems with the gameplay are very easily explained away by me sucking, so I’m not sure they can be called valid complaints. The tutorial thing bugs me a little; even just some text boxes in the options menu explaining exactly what each of the menu options actually did would have been a huge help in understanding how the game works. Still, it was very pretty, and once I got going I told myself “one more race and then I go to sleep” multiple times a night. If you stick with the game for a while, it’s really easy to lose yourself in it. That, and when else am I going to get to drive an Agera RS? Thing’s awesome; it looks like the friggin’ Batmobile.
Final Score: 8/10
Download Gear.Club Unlimited 2 from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
Purchase Gear.Club Unlimited 2 from Amazon here.
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*Review Code Provided By HomeRun PR