Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
There’s little more disappointing than having one of your favorite developers produce a game that just doesn’t synchronize with you. Eden Games are responsible for arguably two of the most historically significant racing franchises of all time, Test Drive Unlimited and V-Rally. Now an independent studio from Atari, Eden Games are still trying to make the kinds of racing games they are famous for. It would appear they have lost their touch.
Gear Club Unlimited 2 is their latest title and a pseudo-simulation racer exclusive to Nintendo Switch. It’s pretty obvious that both Eden Games and publisher Anuman know there’s a huge hole in the market for a core racer on Switch. Mario Kart will offer all the arcadey goodness you need but most sim racers are honestly just too demanding for the Switch to run. Titles like Project CARS, Asseto Corsa and Dirt Rally would be very difficult to port whilst still retaining the performance and competent visuals.
Gear Club isn’t a pretty game either to be fair, but it’s passable considering its potential as a handheld title. There’s some really weird stuff going on with the anti-aliasing and certain environments look like they were ripped straight out of the PS2 era. However, visuals are not all that important here. You don’t buy games on Switch for them to look really nice outside of Nintendo’s first-party ones.
What is a bigger issue though is if you are going to make your game look bad, I’d expect fantastic performance as the trade-off. Gear Club runs poorly, often dipping into the low 20 FPS territory. At its worst, in the car showroom, I’ve gotten it to drop into single frames simply by circling around certain vehicles. Potentially as a result of the frame rate, there’s also a horrid amount of input lag when driving. You can really feel it when you need to make a tight corner, you pull the stick right and it takes at least 150ms or so before anything happens. It’s horrible. There’s no multiplayer currently but it is coming in the future. I can’t imagine how unplayable it’s going to be when you combine the technical input lag with latency. In this genre, these kinds of technical issues ruin a game
The beneath the hood issues don’t stop there either. I hope you like watching loading screens more than playing games because, oh boy, does Gear Club like to load. Screen after screen of obnoxious loading between every race and most menu transitions. I went to the toilet and took my Switch with me to kill the time whilst I did my business. I managed to finish off, wash my hands and go back to my room before I even got into a single race. What’s it even loading? The game isn’t visually strong and the stages are mostly quite short.
Outside of its performance, Gear Club has some strengths worth discussing. There’s an impressive amount of content here. You get to pick from over 50 cars with some really interesting licenses on display. The big guns like Bugatti, McLaren, and Koenigsegg all feature whilst more niche licenses like A.C, Mazzanti and W-Motors are also given a stage to shine. Cars take time to get which some may consider grindy but I personally have a nostalgia for. Racing games used to actually encourage investment and play time in order to work your way up to obtaining the best cars. It’s nice to see a modern racer not just gifting car after car because you figured out where the throttle button is. And whilst limited, you can upgrade and customize these cars to perform and look the part. Don’t expect anything Forza level here though. We’re talking basic decal placement at best.
The driving physics remind me of old school Gran Turismo which is both a good and bad thing. Obviously, emulating the feel of what I consider to be the best racing games ever made is a good thing but they were released a while ago. Revisiting Gran Turismo 4 today will make it feel very dated compared to newer titles. Gear Club Unlimited 2 somehow manages to feel like a 2005 arcade racer whilst trying to be a 2018 more simulation-focused game. It’s not awful and if the input lag wasn’t a thing, I could probably find myself enjoying it enough to want to keep playing. I just can’t imagine this looking all that appealing in this era where there are so many superior titles on other platforms.
It’s a bit of a let down that Gear Club isn’t an open world game since the potential for it seems so obvious. They have a fully mapped out environment as well as physical zones created for these areas. I can only assume that the Switch’s hardware limitations prevented this. Even so, the lack of ambition to make this sequel more than just an expanded mobile game is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of all.
If you should buy Gear Club Unlimited 2 basically comes down to one question. Are you absolutely desperate for a new racing game for your Nintendo Switch? With its clunky performance, nasty input lag, sub-par visuals, and limited creative scope, Gear Club is far from a good racing game. I appreciate the attempt to fill a gap in the market but most people will be better of either waiting longer for a better game to come around or just investing into another platform. It’s difficult to see the Switch becoming a good platform for racing game fans anytime soon.