Out on Nintendo Switch today in America (and on 1st December in Europe) Gear.Club Unlimited positions itself as the hybrid console's first serious racing game.
Sitting alongside the likes of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Fast RMX, it does indeed lean more towards the simulation side of things, but it's a far cry from the likes of Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport. Instead, Gear.Club Unlimited straddles the line between being a sim and an arcade racer to provide quick bursts of adrenaline-fuelled action all wrapped up in a lengthy career. The result is a game that provides a long-lasting and rewarding experience, but also one that has its fair share of problems.
The most important aspect of a racing game is how it handles, and Gear.Club Unlimited isn't quite here or there. Turn all the assists up to max and the game pretty much just plays itself, but whack them all down to zero and things take a little getting used to. Oversteer doesn't really feel convincing; it feels like it just kicks in as punishment for trying to take a corner too fast. In fact, the handling in general just feels a bit erratic.
It doesn't help that there's not much audio feedback from your tires, letting you know when you're pushing them to the limit, or that the racing line is pretty much useless, telling you to brake when there's no reason to do so and staying green when you really need to slow down. Turn off or ignore the racing line and race with your own intuition, however, and things begin to improve. While Gear.Club Unlimited doesn't feel or sound like a sim, it pays to drive it like one. You'll never feel the joy of accurately hitting the apex of a corner with finesse, but you will at least enjoy the sense of competition, and also reaching the end of a race without hitting the side of the track.
The races themselves are short but sweet. Some are point-to-point affairs, others take place on circuits. Sometimes they involve other racers, other times they're simply time trials. In all cases, they rarely take longer than a couple of minutes to complete. It's perhaps a sign of the game's mobile roots, but thanks to fairly quick loading times their brevity isn't really an issue. Plus, there are more events for you to complete than you can shake a stick at, so there's always something to do.
Nearly everything you do in Gear.Club Unlimited is initiated from a world map, which is initially covered with a thick fog. As you race you earn stars, cash and experience, all useful for propelling your career forward. Reaching star goals unveils new areas of the map, giving you access to a new assortment of events with it. Levelling up allows you to develop your garage where you can upgrade and customise your vehicles. And cash can be used to buy new vehicles and pay for upgrades, allowing you to gain the edge on the competition and compete in more advanced events. It all makes for an addictive gameplay loop.
If simply racing against the computer isn't quite enough for you, there are multiplayer options too. Local four player splitscreen is supported, and thanks to daily league events you can see how you stack up with players all over the world by competing in time trials. Do well and you'll move up the leagues, earning higher rewards in the process. Put in a poor showing, however, and you'll find yourself moving down the ranks.
Technically, Gear.Club Unlimited isn't anything spectacular, but it gets the job done. Car models are nicely detailed and the framerate remains consistent whether playing in handheld or docked mode. Environments range in quality though, and the fake lense flare can be a little too much at times. I've experienced a few crashes while playing, though the game constantly autosaves so I never lost any progress.
In the end then, Gear.Club Unlimited is a fun but flawed racer. If you put in the effort to get to grips with its unique handling model you'll find a game that you can really sink your teeth into, and it'll reward you with plenty of licensed cars and a ton of events to complete. Go in expecting something that handles like Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport, however, and you'll be very disappointed. In any case, Gear.Club Unlimited is the first, and therefore the only, game of its type currently available on Switch, and while it may not fulfil all of its potential there's still a lot of fun to be had with it.