Finally, a true racing game for the Switch.
Gear.Club Unlimited is a console exclusive racing game for the Nintendo Switch and is based on the Gear.Club games for mobile, although this was developed by Microids. Which is interesting, because that developer is well known for their point-and-click adventure games. You could say this is actually the Switch’s first true racing game, because although Mario Kart 8 does feature racing, I consider it a party game due to all the mayhem. This is the first racing game on the Switch that features real cars on a semi-realistic racing atmosphere. Can it launch a potential new series for the console?
Well to start the graphics are… bad. Really bad. You cannot blame the hardware for the graphics on display here. They don’t even look as good as other mobile racing games out there. Asphalt 8 for mobile dances circles around this. As far as the environments go, they are very unfulfilling. They are blocky and have very low-res textures, and you don’t even have to stop driving to bear witness. Even at top speeds you can see how bad everything looks in full detail. The roads aren’t too real looking either, seeming like they were pulled out of a 90s racing game for PC. The cars themselves aren’t too much better, but they are better. They at least look like the cars they are supposed to, and the game does feature licensed cars, which is nice to have. But even then, trying to represent the real cars is where the game fails, as it looks like it could run on a very early Xbox 360.
This needs to be specified more in the about section, but when a game doesn’t have a story, it has to either benefit from not having a story or have a good progression system. GCU has the latter. The goals and rules of the races are as straightforward as possible. You have a couple of cardboard cutout characters who will tell you what to do and where to go, and that’s all you need. This game has tons and tons of races, all of which use the typical mobile formula of giving you a 1, 2, or 3 star ranking based on your performance. The more stars you get, the more races you earn, and in a matter of hours my map was a litany of racing championships to partake in. The money you earn in the game is also fair, with cars, parts, and even your own tune up shop gear all being decently priced and tiered accordingly. Everything in the game has a goalpost, everything is upgradeable, everything rewards you. Best of all: no alternate currencies!
So, the game doesn’t have great audio either. A lot of the cars have that lawnmower sound, the menu music is generic and… there’s no soundtrack. How do you judge that? Is it good because it could have had a bad soundtrack and doesn’t have one at all? Is it bad because it should have a soundtrack? There are a lot of games that don’t feature music during races, so it’s hard to say. The game’s sounds are functional, for the most part, even if they don’t match the car being used, but that’s getting too technical. I guess you can just this game is BYOS, Bring Your Own Soundtrack, and that’s… just okay I guess.
At first I thought the game was bland. But after a couple races, the game showed that not only can the AI be altered but that you can also alter the assists for driving. This is one of those racers that sits halfway between being a sim and being an arcade game. It’s the kind of formula that makes Forza Horizon so great. And GCU has an ace up its sleeve, because you can REWIND your mistakes in it, just like Forza. In fact, not only can you rewind, but you can rewind to whatever specific spot (in a 15 second window) you want to go back to, whereas Forza’s rewind forces you to rewind back to wherever it wants you to go back to. So yeah, this tiny indie game just one-upped Turn 10 in one of its biggest gimmicks. Besides all of that, the racing is fun and various. The locations, despite not being gorgeous, are unique and varied. Controlling the car hits just the right spot, and can be as difficult or as easy as you want, based on your choices for assists. The game has different kinds of races too, from time trials where you race the ghosts of other cars, to rally tracks that get off the asphalt and into the mud. It’s satisfying, and with the length of each race being short, it’s great for short rounds or long runs.
Like I said earlier, the game doesn’t give off the best first impression, what with the cardboard characters, low visual fidelity, lackluster sound and rigid structure, but once you get past the first 30 minutes to an hour, the game opens up in a grand way giving you multiple options on how you want to proceed. This isn’t a game that has trapped me and has me coming back day after day all in a row, but I play it in between games or when I’m on break at work; it’s always a quick and easy distraction to just go, get your fill in, and stop whenever you’re done.
While Gear.Club Unlimited may not be the darkhorse the Nintendo Switch needs to bring itself up against the big boys in racing, it is not without its merits. If a solid, if very direct, racing game is all you need and you wanna take it on the go, get this game. It’s value-priced to download and is almost exactly worth what it sells for.