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The Player 

by MARTY DEMAREST & r & & r & The Club & r & Rated Mature; Xbox 360, PS3, PC & r & 2 Stars & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he Club begins where most videogames do: on the back of the box. "Shoot your way through 48 single-player levels," it promises. These levels are staged by the titular "club," which is a secret fraternity whose members -- rich, elite men who resemble each other and aim poorly -- hunt a brutal killer (me) who has been set loose in a cordoned-off corner of the world. In the course of the club's events I must run for the area's exit while shooting club members who get in my way, or I must stay in a central arena firing back at members who attempt to pick me off from the sidelines. But I quickly learned that if I ran past my opponents, they would innocently stop following me by the time I turned the corner. And as long as I didn't kill any of them, reinforcements wouldn't arrive.

A "unique combo score kill system" is claimed on the back of the box in a tiny screenshot littered with numbers. ("843 x10" "2391 x11") Those numbers are scores. Shooting an opponent in the head gives me more points than a comparably simple through-the-shoulder kill. The game also accounts for distance from the target, movements made before firing, and whether the kill is claimed by my last bullet. Bonuses are awarded if I shoot opponents during a countdown that happens after every successful kill. The timer and the points quickly shift the game from a gruesome survival match to an arcade shoot-'em-up and the excitement gives way to killing by rote on deadline.

The back of the game box also advises me to "earn respect online in eight-person multiplayer battles." As a multiplayer shooter, The Club is in dangerous territory. Hundreds of online shooters are available in stores, and dozens of them are excellent. Call of Duty 4 offers intricate gunplay that demolishes The Club's "everything aims the same" selection of firearms. Halo 3 is a masterpiece of sophisticated level design and enemy intelligence that shames The Club's rabbit warrens and stationary bozos. Even good old Doom is a riotous run-and-gun game by comparison. If The Club wants to promote itself as worth playing, it needs to shoot better than the competition.

THE GOOD: I like the premise of The Club. An exclusive killing fraternity in which the wealthy elite are allowed to hunt hot-blooded killers has the gory tang of Hostel. Once the action starts, however, The Club devolves from this good grim idea into a repetitive race against the clock, which is disappointing, because otherwise it has graphics capable of setting a creepy mood and the technological precision required to simulate a vicious killing sport.

THE BAD: For no apparent reason, The Club puts me in third-person perspective, standing behind my character and looking over his shoulder. I can understand this perspective if I'm going to be swinging a katana at a horde of foes all around me, or if I'm supposed to be acutely aware of my perilous environment. But in The Club, the behind-the-back view only adds an element of unwieldiness to what should otherwise be the simple, fundamental act of aiming.

THE BOTTOM LINE: As a car security system, The Club is an ingenious idea; as a videogame, it's somewhat less entertaining.

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