Despite its incredible spurt of growth since release, the Switch remains a console in dire need of racing games. Perhaps it’s the fear of going up against Mario Kart, but when the plumber’s efforts are about as realistic as Theresa May’s European holiday plans there’s an obvious gap in the market. Last year’s Gear.Club Unlimited was really the only other option, and the adaptation from mobile was playable enough to rope in a few players. In fairly short shrift we’re now getting Gear.Club Unlimited 2, and despite its name, there are some very clear limits to nearly everything it attempts to do.
The first limit to your fun would be the horrendous loading times, which can stretch well over a minute whether you’re starting the game up or jumping into a race, and which robs everything of the tiny bit of momentum it gains along the way. It also includes that lovely old feature of having a lying percentage meter. It will stutter its way up to 95% before sitting there for 20 or 30 seconds until it finally decides that it’s actually finished. I found myself wondering whether the developers got stuck at around the same mark.
The first thing you have to interact with is the map screen, which plays host to the different collections of races, as well as car dealers where you can pick up a new ride or two. What’s most surprising about it compared to the rest of the game is that is actually works relatively well, albeit with some slowdown while it works out what you’re trying to do. Once you’ve taken part in a couple of races, you’ll soon be hankering for that sluggish map screen and its chilled out music to return.
Gear.Club Unlimited 2’s car handling is all over the shop. To begin with things feel heavy and relatively settled, though much like the first game every car understeers to some degree, forcing you to brake until you’re at a virtual standstill in order to make it round a corner. That is until you come across a track with different surface conditions. The moment there’s a hint of sand your car will become an unbearable metallic heap of barely controllable refuse, careening around the course like an industrial wheelie bin that’s been commandeered by some inebriated first year students. That’s balanced against the snowy tracks where the conditions do absolutely nothing to alter the handling, which is probably preferable considering the alternative.
The effort needed to stay competitive is more than many better games would require of you, let alone one which has all the charm of that awkward uncle everyone avoids at Christmas. Just as with the original game you have to jump into the Performance Shop to upgrade your car, with an unnecessary meta game of physically moving your car around your garage to the correct station, and the whole thing manages to be both perfunctory and overly time consuming. You can at least customise your ride with a new paint job and decals – and the less time spent on the road the better – but it’s a novelty that will soon wear thin.
There is at least the ability to rewind your mistakes out on the track and it’s actually quite well implemented, allowing you to rewind and then move back forward again if you’ve missed the right spot. I found myself using it a lot to keep ahead of the pack, either because the dreadful handling causes you to constantly mis-time corners or the brainless AI that takes you out on a straight. It’s not uncommon to see the AI drivers using the classic online racer’s tactic of flying down a straight, bouncing off a corner and carrying on, but if you give it a go, you’ll find the collision steals all of your speed while everybody else flies past you. Consistent it is not.
Elsewhere, Gear.Club is just about capable of doing the bare minimum expected of modern racing games. The cars look alright, especially when you’re dropping into one of the car dealerships and they’re presented with some style. There’s just enough interest and glamour to find yourself lusting after a new one, forcing you to consider getting back behind the wheel again, despite the mess you’ll undoubtedly find yourself in. At least the menu music is very good. In fact, it might be the best thing in the game.
Even in the vacuum of realistic Switch racers, Gear.Club Unlimited 2 is unrecommendable, and I actually had less fun with it than its predecessor. As it stands, when Codemaster’s elderly GRID Autosport arrives on Nintendo’s handheld next year it will instantly become the best real world racing game on the system, despite being over four years old. To say that Gear.Club Unlimited 2 is a missed opportunity is wildly unstating things.
It’s a shame that more time wasn’t spent on Gear.Club Unlimited 2 as there are a glimmer or two of hope amongst the horror. However, appalling loading times, terrible handling, and moronic computer AI all contribute to a racing game that rolls its way off the assembly line and straight into the scrapyard.