Review: Gear.Club Unlimited

Nintendo Switch has been a huge success since its launch in March, but some genres have been underrepresented on the platform. Outside of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, racing games haven’t received much attention on the Switch — and Gear.Club Unlimited changes that with a far more serious entry in the genre. Eden Games has found some success with Gear.Club on mobile devices, and with the Switch’s portable nature along with its high-end mobile hardware under the hood, it makes for a natural fit on the console.

Gear.Club Unlimited has been hyped up as a sim racer — but it’s really more of a arcade-style racer underneath a sim-style shell. Even the most sim-like of mobile racers like Real Racing offer up a very casual-friendly experience, but focus more on a realistic racing style. Gear.Club does something similar, with an easy-to-learn control setup that gives you a solid amount of assists — unlike a lot of mobile games. GCU offers up more kinds of assists and like Forza, rewards players more for not completely relying on them.

Gear.Club Unlimited  keeps its mobile framework intact when it comes to its star-rating system and progression system as a whole. Unlocking new championships, race types and garages are tied to progressing with stars. The better you do, the more you’ll earn and you’ll move up the ranks faster if you do a top-notch job on the track. Off the track, you get a garage with a very mobile-like interface with a drag and drop setup in place to move your car around to different parts of it. The garage has several kinds of bays, including wind tunnels to make it more aerodynamic, a paint shop, a wheel area, and an area to tailor the car’s internals and another to change up its visual design with new spoilers and the like. The progression system keeps you hooked because it’s a never-ending dangling carrot. A simple “I’ll just play for an hour” session turns into “well, I’m only two championships away from unlocked a new part of the map – might as well keep going”. Gear.Club avoids the cliche of starting low and gives you a solid vehicle to start, while giving you a sense of satisfaction because you still have to do well to excel. If you don’t, or struggle, then you can either restart the race or rewind the action. The former comes in handy if you’re having a hard time with a particular race, while the latter is a huge time-saver if you simply messed up a hairpin turn.

The rewind feature here is one of the best-executed versions of it in quite some time due to the easy to use interface that makes frame-by-frame adjustments a breeze. It allows you to really pin down the exact moment you need instead of a broad stroke timeframe. Small quality of life improvements like that make the experience of making a mistake a surprisingly enjoyable one. Each racing type has its own little nuances, so a street race is going to feel a bit different from a rally race — and they will all feel different from a night race.

No matter what kind of racing type you prefer, they all control with great ease. Rally races require a bit more precision due to the slicker surfaces, while night driving requires a more careful eye to avoid roadside collisions and messed-up turns. Colliding with other racers isn’t a major issue, but it can slow you down — and being impeded during the final stretch of a race is just the kind of thing the rewind feature can save you from having to do. Driving any of the cars is easily done with any of the game’s myriad of control options.

The mobile space has seen many solid racing games — but a lack of quality controller options hurts them. Gear.Shift Unlimited takes what works about a mobile racing game’s accessibility and combines it with the Switch’s superior control options. Having a wide variety of ways to control the game is fantastic. While gyroscope controls aren’t our preferred method for playing most racing games, for a game with mobile roots, having them included fits in naturally. It’s hard to recommend them as the primary method for the game even with auto-acceleration turned on, but they’re here and executed fairly well.

The lack of analog triggers definitely feels odd for a modern-day racing game since racers from the Dreamcast era of 1999 and beyond have usually used them. However, going with the pre-analog method of determining speed by holding the button down remains a method that works even if it isn’t ideal and does make subtle changes in speed very difficult to make. Your best bet in a race is to focusing on reaching a high speed and taper it off by simply not pressing the trigger. Using the brake does too much to slow you down when it can be tougher to build up your speed again — this holds especially true when you’re taking a corner.

Control-wise, using the Joy-Cons either on the Switch itself or on the grip works reasonably well. The separated d-pad can be used to move around on the track as well, but works far better as a way to navigate menus. The triggers on the Joy-Cons and on the Pro controller are excellent — even if analog control would be preferable, they’re still a comfortable way to control the action. The bumpers are a bit too close to the triggers on the Joy-Cons themselves though — so you may find yourself hitting a bumper instead of the trigger during more intense races. Otherwise, the control optiosn are all solid and work very well given the lack of analog controls. HD Rumble is also used to make major collisions feel impactful, while a subtle rumble is in effect during races to simulate racing on rougher surfaces. It’s nothing Earth-shattering, but hasn’t been done much since the Project Gotham Racing days over a decade ago — so it’s great to see it in play here.

Visually, Gear.Club Unlimited looks impressive while also having flaws clearly visible as well. On the track, the cars look fantastic — with a healthy amount of detail. This doesn’t quite extend to roadside areas though, which definitely don’t hold up as well as modern-day or even a bit older console-only games. Titles like Project Gotham Racing 4 that really pushed what last-gen hardware could do show off better-looking roadside objects, but Gear.Club does look great for something with mobile roots and looks about as impressive at times as Fast RMX does. Gear.Club maintains a solid framerate at all times whether you’re playing docked or undocked. The cars do have some flaws — but they are only really shown when you’re fixing your car up in a bay and see jagged edges and blurry textures when exploring the cars à la Forzavista.

Gear.Club Unlimited greatest strengths lie in its racing action, plethora of control options, and off-the-track customization. Its greatest weaknesses are its sound design as a whole. Musically, the soundtrack fails to excite at any time. The music isn’t altogether bad — it just fails to register on any level. The sound effect work fares a little better, but still has a lot of room for improvement. Cars slamming together sound like thin plastic cars hitting, with nary a hit of a ton of steel colliding. It’s a shame that the game succeeds in so many other areas, but falls short here.

Closing Comments:

Aside from sub-par sound design, Gear.Club Unlimited offers up an outstanding racing experience for Switch. It straddles the line nicely between offering up a sim-infused experience while keeping the on-track action fast and exciting. The amount of racing types available is impressive and the sense of progression makes it easy for a quick play session to turn into a marathon. GCU is a flawed experience but winds up being greater than the sum of its few flaws thanks to it providing a lot of fun on the track in all of its racing styles. Off the track, it’s fun to expand and customize. It’s a great-looking game and a fine showcase of what can be done with the Switch for racing games — even at an early stage in its lifespan.

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