In for the long haul
It’s been noted by others here at Switch Player that the Switch still surprisingly has a lack of decent racing games; aside from of course the likes of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe , Horizon Chase Turbo and Fast RMX. Whilst Gear Club Unlimited 2 doesn’t join that elite club it does succeed in providing the Switch with a mostly competent realistic looking racing game.
Gear Club initially began as a mobile game before receiving an expanded port for the Switch. For the sequel, mobile has been skipped entirely with it being a Switch exclusive. Whilst the Switch doesn’t immediately seem like the perfect home, given the arcade approach to the driving and the below average graphics it makes more sense than porting it to one of the other consoles. On the other hand, having an expansive racing game of this type on a handheld, without all the foibles that one expects from a mobile game, is very appealing.
Within the racing genre, the balance seems to have shifted towards the existence of more simulator leaning games rather than casual non-kart-based games. Gear Club Unlimited 2 (GCU2) is firmly of the latter, which helps, as some of its flaws would be unforgivable were this a racing sim. Firstly, the AI of the over drivers is mediocre at best, quite often on some of the more difficult corners their cars will go wide of the recommended racing line, so much so that it almost seems human; but I can assure you that the devs have not inadvertently passed the Turing test.
The other element is the implementation of braking in this game. At first, I thought it was flat out broken with my car slamming into the barriers despite pressing down on the brakes a good distance beforehand. Turns out the default setting for brake sensitivity is all but useless. There is, however, a surprisingly comprehensive, but easy to understand, settings menu where you adjust these “assistances”; although I recommend adjusting beyond the three main presets. After finding that sweet spot the handling is mostly improved, resulting in an enjoyable racing experience where your car does what you want it to do, without needing to approach every corner from the optimum angle.
Yet, just because your current car now handles how you like it, doesn’t mean your next one will at first. As you progress through the campaign, you’ll need to buy better cars, but that’s not all, as the stock version you receive only means you meet the entry requirements and not that you have a race-winning car. This is where you need to upgrade different parts of your car, such as the engine, brakes, transmission, etc. Thankfully though the process of upgrading your car is straight forward. The game does a good job of guiding you through at first and when you’re free to make the decisions for yourself none of it is overwhelming. What’s more, the upgrades stack, meaning that if you’re unable to afford the level 2 engine right now, but still need a better engine, buy the level 1 now as the cost is then deducted from the level 2 engine for later. It makes you more willing to do tiny upgrades that will still benefit you now, rather than holding off and struggling whilst you try to buy the better part in one go.
Another point that needs mentioning though is the extensive load times. Almost every loading screen can take from 30 seconds to a minute, which might not sound too long, but given how a loading screen appears every time you move to a different area outside of a race it quickly takes its toll. Then there is also the occasional stutter in some races which can be off-putting, although this only seems to be present when playing in handheld mode.
Gear Club Unlimited 2 is far from a perfect racing game, but when you’re actually racing, more often than not you’ll enter a state of racing zen and perhaps even find yourself enjoying yourself too! This is also aided by the very helpful rewind function to help in those instances where an overtake or corner could’ve gone better. What’s more, there are plenty of events to keep you occupied, and despite some tracks appearing a few too many times, the varying terrain on offer and the gradually increasing difficulty of the other drivers make it an engaging experience.
Gear Club Unlimited 2
Considering the current lack of realistic looking racing games on Switch, Gear Club Unlimited 2 does manage to stand out. Whilst the load times are problematic, the core driving gameplay is surprisingly enjoyable and for that reason alone is worth considering.