Last year’s Gear.Club Unlimited was a decent attempt at bringing a ‘serious’ racing game to the Switch. Based on a mobile game, the ‘Unlimited’ part of the title referred to the scrapping of microtransactions and all the other nonsense you got when playing it on your phone. Although Gear.Club Unlimited was a good start, it had a number of issues we hoped would be fixed should a sequel ever come. One year later, that sequel is indeed with us, but so too are the same problems. There are even more this time, in fact.
Let’s start with the positives: Gear.Club Unlimited 2 has a hefty career mode complete with its own storyline. As a test driver for a racing manufacturer, you’re thrown in at the last minute to replace one of the main racers, who has had to leave thanks to a massive drugs scandal. Okay, the drugs bit is a lie – it’s not actually explained why he left – but regardless, now you’re in. Naturally, it quickly becomes clear that you’ve got mad skillz™ required and thus begins your glittering motorsport career.
With around 250 races to take on and more than 50 officially-licensed cars to buy and upgrade (ranging from the humble Mini John Cooper Works you begin with all the way up to the likes of the Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport and the Porsche 918 Spyder), it’s fair to say there’s a heck of a lot to do here: it’s going to take many, many hours before you clear career mode 100%.
The problem is, you’re unlikely to ever want to make it that far, because everything about Gear.Club Unlimited 2 – a game that revolves around the concept of speed, dynamism and general nippiness, remember – feels like such a slow, cumbersome slog, to the extent that even making your way through the menus can feel like a struggle at times.
One of the main reasons for this is the inexplicable input lag that’s present from the moment you boot the game up to the moment you quit to the Switch menu and load up Smash Bros to make sure there isn’t a problem with the settings on your TV (there isn’t). Whether you’re playing on your TV with the Joy-Con or the Pro Controller – or even playing in handheld mode – there’s a very noticeable and visible delay between you pressing a button (or moving the stick) and the resulting action happening on-screen.
In menus it’s irritating; you constantly feel like you’re wrestling with the game’s UI. The lag makes the cursor feel extremely sluggish and heavy, as if you’re dragging it around the screen against its will. In most games this would be a minor quibble, but Gear.Club Unlimited 2 has you spending more time in its menus than many other racing games (which we’ll get to in a bit), so it’s all the more frustrating here.
If this lag makes the menus annoying, it can make the racing downright infuriating. For the first couple of hours you’ll often struggle to take basic turns because there’s a hefty delay between you moving the stick and the car starting to turn. Sharp turns are particularly annoying because you’ll likely enter and leave them late then take ages to correct your car on the straights, occasionally leaving you skidding left and right similar to when you let a non-gamer try a racing game for the first time.
Eventually, your brain will adapt and you’ll learn to take the lag into account when turning, but every time you step up a class and get a more powerful car there’s another period of adjustment because the faster you approach a corner the more extreme the delay feels. While it’s possible to get used to it, then, it never really gets to a stage where the handling is comfortable or satisfying in any way – and that's a major problem with a title in this particular genre.
This is combined with some really noticeable frame pacing issues. While the game aims for a steady 30 frames per second, the action gets really choppy at times – especially when playing in handheld mode. This sort of thing can be a major distraction in racing games, and that’s the case here: as scenery stutters past you while you struggle to time a laggy corner right, there can be a real feeling of “What’s actually going on here?”
Other than the racing, the rest of career mode is often a needlessly convoluted experience, too. The game has failed to ditch the much-criticised garage system from the previous game, meaning its mobile roots continue to hang around like a bad smell. Rather than a simple menu where you can buy and install upgrades on your car, you have to buy and place various workshops in your garage – one for tyres, one for customisation, one for mechanical work, one for rally parts and so on – and use the cursor to slowly lift and drag your car to each of them at a time.
This is clearly a leftover from the mobile days where you’d use your finger to drag your car around, but given how sluggish the menu feels at the best of times here, the ultimate result is that upgrading your car feels like an absolute chore, rather than the reward it should be for all your hard work on the track.
We really wanted to love Gear.Club Unlimited 2. The Switch may be spoilt for choice when it comes to the vast majority of gaming genres, but realistic racing isn’t one of them and this could have been the solution. Instead, it’s an infuriatingly laggy affair that, coupled with its horrible loading times – regularly reaching upwards of a minute and often stuck on ‘95%’ for half of that – feels like a game that is constantly struggling to run from the title screen onward.
Rather than building on the solid foundations its predecessor set last year, Gear.Club Unlimited 2 slams into reverse gear and delivers racing gameplay that feels significantly more laggy and sluggish than the original. With no attempt made to cut its remaining mobile roots and more performance issues than a drunken West End actor, we just can’t recommend dropping a whopping £54.99/$59.99 on this unoptimised, clunky effort.