Racing games have come a long way as a genre. We now have such a wide variety of games that there are clear subgenres, like racing simulators, rally games, kart racers, arcade racers, and others. Gear Club Unlimited is a game that tries to straddle subgenres, taking parts of racing simulators and blending them with arcade racer elements. So, how well does it succeed?
I really wanted to like it more than I did, but to be honest, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. At first look, the game appears like a racing simulator. The developers at Eden Games, the racing geniuses behind the V-Rally and Test Drive Unlimited games, have gone for a realistic visual aesthetic. Cars are all real-world vehicles with accurate representations as well as good reflections and lighting. The car selection is a bit limited with only 3-4 different cars available in each of the categories, but manufacturers like Alfa-Romeo, BMW, Bugatti, Lotus, McLaren, Mercedes, Pagani, and others, all make an appearance.
All of these cars are upgradable and customisable through the performance shop. In an RPG-lite system, you will unlock new performance areas like a Mechanical Workshop, Tire Workshop, Rally Workshop, Wind Tunnel, and Body Workshop. You will also unlock the Paint Workshop and Cosmetic Workshop (where you can add body kit parts). As you gain more experience and money you will also be able to improve these workshops to gain access to better car upgrades. This system works quite nicely with the speed of progression quite nicely balanced. There is a slight lull with ‘B2’-‘B3’ category vehicles where you start to struggle for money to perform the upgrades, but this soon changes when you start to get ‘C’ category cars.
Talking of ‘B’ category cars, it was once I had reached this level that my problems with the game started to appear. The first thing you notice is the handling model. Despite having the trappings of a simulator, the game has a fairly arcade-y feel and this is probably best when you don’t have true analogue sticks or triggers to feather your steering and acceleration. The developers have compensated for this by helping you out with the steering. I’m not talking about the game actually turning corners for you (though you can choose that if you are struggling with the game), but it helps to smooth out your repeated input controls. Once you start driving faster cars, your turns need to be more precise and if you are going around a long corner the car will quite often turn too far and plow straight into a wall. I also found the brakes to not be as effective at high speeds, with the cars decelerating a lot slower than I would have liked.
It’s also with the higher speed cars that some of the graphical deficiencies of the game start to become more apparent. Once the game speeds up you start to notice some of the rough anti-aliasing and an occasional drop in frame-rate (though it should be said I only experienced this in docked mode and not in portable mode). The game looks good in screenshots, but when it’s in motion the same can’t really be said. Another thing you won’t notice via screenshots is that there is a lot of repetition of visual elements. I lost track of the number of times I drove past a blue corner wall in the urban areas. A lot of the hills, dunes, and mountains quickly become familiar too. I understand that this is mainly done to reduce the size of the game on the cartridge, but I found it to be a little too repetitive.
The team at Eden Games may have scrimped a little on assets, but they have certainly provided a huge campaign. I have completed over 250 campaign races and I estimate I’m only about half-way through. This game has enough content to keep you busy for days. As well as the campaign there is split-screen racing (playable with split joy-cons) and an online league system that pits you against other gamers in time trials with promotion and relegation resulting from your finishing position. At the moment there is no online multiplayer, but as the Switch’s online network is still in a trial state, this is excusable.
I wanted to love Gear Club Unlimited, I really did, but I’m sorry to say that I don’t. I have been a big fan of Eden Games since their V-Rally days, but I think they have dropped the ball a little here. I understand that this is a port of their racing game for iOS and Android, but this could have been the first and definitive realistic racer on Switch. Unfortunately, it only succeeds in being the first realistic racer on the system. There is a reasonable amount of fun to be had here for racing game fans, but this isn’t going to be the crossover hit that games like Forza or Gran Turismo are on their respective platforms. If you want an arcade racer on Switch you’d be a fool not to buy Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. If you really want a more realistic-style racer then Gear Club Unlimited is worth trying, just don’t expect too much.