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Gear.Club Unlimited review

Martin Bigg On May 25, 2018

For a long time, the selection of racing games available on the Nintendo Switch was limited to just two titles: the fantastic, F-Zero-inspired futuristic racer Fast RMX, and the near-perfect Mario Kart 8: Deluxe. Since then, the Switch’s racing game roster has expanded considerably with ports of Mantis Burn Racing, Rocket League, and MXGP 3, but none of these titles let you drive real licensed cars. Fortunately, this has now changed with the release of Gear.Club Unlimited developed by Eden Games, the same studio responsible for Test Drive Unlimited and the original V-Rally series.

As the system’s first semi-realistic racer with licensed cars, Gear.Club Unlimited has the potential to be the Switch’s answer to Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport. However, if you dive in with these lofty expectations you’re going to be disappointed because Gear.Club Unlimited is a port of a free-to-play mobile game. This doesn’t mean you should write it off entirely, but there’s a nagging feeling the developers could have tailored the experience better for a home console.

Stuck in first gear

The car selection, for example, is extremely sparse. There are only 32 cars in total, each divided into one of four classes ranging from A-D representing different levels of performance. It’s a paltry selection of contemporary muscle cars, sports cars, and supercars with no standout surprises apart from the five-year-old AC 378 GT Zagato concept, which sticks out like a sore thumb. High-performance supercars like the Bugatti Veyron SS, McLaren P1, and the ultra-rare Lykan Hypersport highlight an otherwise subpar selection.

Gear.Club Unlimited screenshot Nintendo Switch

Gear.Club Unlimited’s small vehicle selection would have been forgivable if the cars were fun and satisfying to drive. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Gear.Club Unlimited’s driving incorporates both arcade and simulation aspects but doesn’t commit to either camp: it’s more accessible than Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport, but you can still tell the difference between front- and rear-wheel-drive cars. But while Eden Games is clearly trying to satisfy both crowds, the driving feels far too floaty, even with all assists turned off.

While the Switch version of the game obviously benefits from physical controls, the mobile game’s simplistic steering doesn’t translate well to the Switch’s analogue stick and feels twitchy as a result. This is compounded by the lack of analogue triggers, as you can’t apply the power or brakes progressively when approaching corners. As a result, the driving physics feel stiff and unsatisfying. Cars tend to suddenly oversteer at the limit, but there’s a lack of subtlety that makes them erratic to drive. An all-out arcade racer with licensed cars like the Asphalt series would be better suited to the Switch’s limitations.    

Graphically, Gear.Club Unlimited is also clearly still restricted by its mobile roots. For a Switch game, the car models look impressively detailed up-close and feature realistic reflections, but there’s no damage modelling. Interiors are also authentic to each model, but there’s no cockpit camera to let you fully appreciate them, bafflingly. Cars can be bought in dealerships scattered around the map, with the ability to freely explore each model, open the doors, and lift the bonnet to marvel at the detailed engine – you can tell Gear.Club Unlimited was developed by the Test Drive Unlimited team.  

Gear.Club Unlimited screenshot Nintendo Switch

Environments, on the other hand, look bland and uninspiring thanks to muted lighting, blurry textures, and a lack of trackside foliage. Being based on a mobile game, Gear.Club Unlimited looks better when played in handheld mode, but in docked mode it looks like a last-generation game. The frame rate also struggles to maintain 30 fps when too many cars are on screen at once, whether played in handheld or docked mode.  Audio leaves a lot to be desired, too. The lack of in-game music diminishes any sense of excitement from the racing action, which isn’t helped by the tinny and artificial-sounding engine notes.  

Time in the garage

Gear.Club Unlimited’s greatest strength is its comprehensive and engaging car customisation. Accessing the Performance Shop allows you to build your own personal garage by purchasing workshops to upgrade your car. The downside is that you have to buy each workshop before you can customise the paint colour, buy performance upgrades, and customise your car’s cosmetics. Everything can be arranged to your preference, and you can even buy decorative items and parking spots to showcase your car collection. Tuning is necessary to stay competitive, as entering a car into an event with a performance rating lower than what is recommended will see you dominated by opponents.

Unfortunately, the garage interface is cumbersome to use - having to manually drag selected cars into different workshops seems fiddly and needlessly time-consuming when simple menus would suffice. It’s obvious this clunky navigation system was originally designed for a touch screen to occupy you while waiting for the mobile version’s timer to run out.

Gear.Club Unlimited screenshot Nintendo Switch

Thankfully, the micro-transactions and mandatory timers that plagued the original mobile game have been removed. Without these restrictions, Gear.Club Unlimited is a far more cohesive experience. With 200 events ranging from time trials, races against seven opponents, and rally events, plus tournaments combining all three event types, Gear.Club Unlimited’s world map is deceptively overwhelming at first. Earning up to three stars in races, ranking up, and completing challenges unlocks more sections of the map containing new events.

However, in another reminder that you’re playing a full-priced Switch title based on a free-to-play mobile game, races never last more than a couple of minutes. This makes Gear.Club Unlimited ideal for short play sessions on the go as it was originally intended but playing on a TV in docked mode leaves a lot to be desired.
 
Gear.Club Unlimited's races take place on winding road circuits inspired by Test Drive Unlimited and DriveClub, but they pale in comparison. You’ll be racing through seaside towns, scenic country lanes, and desert canyons, but the short circuits aren’t very memorable. Repetition also quickly sets in as the small handful of locations are staggered across hundreds of events, and there’s no free roam or an option to start a single event with a chosen car or track – a feature you expect to find in a console racing game.

Gear.Club Unlimited screenshot Nintendo Switch

Races are also simply far too easy even on the hardest difficulty setting. If you have a car that meets the recommended ranking of each event, finishing in pole position is easily achievable thanks to passive AI opponents that rarely overtake each other or stray from the racing online. Racing against online opponents could have, but like many other third-party Switch racing games, online multiplayer isn’t included in Gear.Club Unlimited.

It’s a shame, but perhaps expected being based on a mobile game. Eden Games has at least taken advantage of the Switch’s versatility and added local split-screen multiplayer for up to four players, which doesn’t suffer from any noticeable performance hitches, as well as online time challenges against ghost opponents.  

Gear.Club Unlimited fills the void of semi-realistic racing games on the Nintendo Switch and is a passable first effort. The extensive customisation is a clear highlight that will keep car enthusiasts engaged, and the improved visuals and removed micro-transactions elevate it above the original mobile game. Ultimately, however, the experience hasn’t been very well-adapted for the Switch. Stiff handling and twitchy controls make for unsatisfying driving, while other more polished Switch racers put the drab visuals to shame. Gear.Club Unlimited had the potential to be the Switch’s answer to Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport but is unfortunately hampered by its mobile roots. It’s a shame because racing real cars on Nintendo’s hybrid console is a novelty right now.

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