The Switch’s First Great Racing Sim
I’ll start right off the bat by saying that I do not know too much about cars. I’m neither an experienced driver nor a knowledgeable automobile aficionado, but despite that I found myself absolutely enthralled with Gear.Club Unlimited. This title shows what can be done when experiential goals are complemented by good game design that heightens said goals. There is so much content packed into this portable package. This game truly delivers not only an experience for those racing game fans, but dorks like me who love progressions systems – not bad for the Nintendo Switch’s first realistic racing title.
Even On The Go, It Looks Great
Solid gameplay performance is absolutely important for any racing game, and any kind of technical mess up will be extremely detrimental to your racing experience. I can safely say that Gear.Club Unlimited is technically sound and performs really well given that this is a third party title for a console with a different architecture than its contemporaries. Whether you have your Switch docked or undocked, playing by yourself or multiplayer via split screen, Gear.Club Unlimited runs at a gorgeous and consistent 30 FPS (frames per second) and is brought to life with fluid animations and all the gorgeous lighting effects you can expect out of a top-tier racing game. Also, despite being a portable game with lack of access to a dedicated hard drive, its loading times are really fast. It really helps the overall gameplay experience when you can get into a race as fast as you can get out of it.
The game may not be on the cutting edge in terms of graphical fidelity, but it’s a good looking game in its own right. All car models look exceptionally detailed and do a fantastic job of representing their actual real-life inspirations. The tracks, while not crafted with the most detailed textures, are very nice and feature plenty of variation despite being in identical locations. And the scenic vistas looming in the background are beautiful, ranging from cityscapes and deserts to lakeside forests.
The overall sound design of the title is excellent as well. Everything, from the engines revving up to tires skidding along the asphalt, sounds as impactful and loud as it should without being disorienting. If I have one complaint about the presentation, it’s that the background tracks are very sparse and generic. It’s isn’t integral to your racing experience and it’s better that there’s no music during a race, but maybe more upbeat music would have fit better when I’m in the overworld menu or the menus in general. Overall Gear.Club Unlimited is a technically amazing title that shows respect for the hardware it was produced for. The fact that it is was able to maintain such a stable framerate with a game looking as good as it does is amazing given it is for the Switch.
The Accessible Racing Sim
I did a hands-on preview (you can find it here) a month ago on this very title, where I got to talk to game’s director, who made it point to emphasize that this title was meant with accessibility in mind – and boy did developer Eden Games succeed. I’m not the most skilled racing game player (or any kind of game), but even I found the learning curve for Gear.Club more forgiving than most racing simulators, and a lot of it has to do with the driving assistances.
Near the start of the game’s career mode, you are given the option to choose how much AI assistance you would like throughout your experience (this can be changed anytime in the settings menu as well). You can also further customize specific aspects of the driving assistances such as braking or anti-skid, allowing you to fully tailor the experience to you. They don’t make the game so easy that you don’t have to do anything however, you still have to put out some effort. You also alternatively just turn all of them off and just be a complete badass. Regardless of your skill level, you can have fun with the game and not crash into everything visible. Which is good because you will be racing a lot.
The actual task of racing is not that different from other racing simulation games. You have various race types that range from time trial to standard lap courses. What does change up the gameplay is the type of cars and environment the track is on. The racing leagues themselves are categorized by the type of car is needed to enter the race, which changes up the races already. Added to this is whether the track is off road or on the pavement and the layout of the track, which drastically changes how you should approach each race. Each vehicle also has its own physics and way of handling. The developers have worked closely with the real-life car manufacturers to make sure they can make the vehicles as accurately as possible both in functionality and appearance. Each car feels weighty and realistic, without feeling far too overbearing that would make controlling the vehicles cumbersome. All the different variables make for a grind that is, for the most part, enjoyable and does enough to make it not a repetitive as it could be. Speaking of grinding.
Get On The Grind!
This topic is the main reason I found myself so addicted to Gear.Club Unlimited, and that is the game’s progression system. When you start off the game you are a simple racing plebeian, with your one car and a pathetic performance shop with very little amenities. However, after a couple of race wins and some newfound winnings you can spend money on several things, but probably most important car upgrades. These include things such as your engine, brakes, and tires. These upgrades are highly essential to do well in the later stages of the game when more difficult races are unlocked. Then with your upgraded vehicle you win more races and upgrade all your workshop or purchase a new vehicle.
This cycle of racing, upgrading, and unlocking is incredibly addicting because of how streamlined and well paced the whole thing is. Car upgrades are easy to understand because of how simplistic the menus and graphs lay everything out. However, if you’re familiar with racing or automobiles there are more detailed menus for those individuals. In general, the goals for unlocking races and workshops are all clear and intuitive, meaning there’s always something for you to do and strive for. It is also in the game’s favor the races are rather fast-paced and don’t take up too much time, meaning that grinding doesn’t feel like a slog. Grinding also has a purpose for multiplayer because upgrading your car is just as essential being a skilled driver.
The only issue with the game is that progression does slow down towards the later part of the game, but that is to be expected from any late-game progression system. It is also great that the game is booming with content. There are a lot, and I mean a lot of races, performance shop decorations and upgrades, and vehicles to unlock, with more on the way in the form of free DLC. Even if you are not a fan of grinding I still think there is a lot of fun to be had in its progression system.
Gear.Club Unlimited does so many things right. I’ve had a blast unlocking upgrades for my sweet rides, taking part in races, all while in a portable package. The game is grindy, but it is purposely designed around the grind, making it for a game that at worst, is only slightly repetitive. The physics, the solid engine, and the overall feel make this one of the best racing titles in terms of mechanics that I’ve played in quite a while. If you have a Switch, I highly recommend picking this game up if you want to scratch that racing itch. This is the Switch’s first realistic racing title, and it’s a damn good one.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch ; Publisher: Microïds ; Developer: Eden Games; Players: 1-4 ; Released: November 21, 2017 (Switch) ; ESRB: E for Everyone ; MSRP: $49.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Gear.Club Unlimited provided by the publisher.