Punch Club, a game that instantly reminded me of Fight Club, or at least by title. Developed by Lazy Bear Games, Punch Club is anything but that comparison. In fact, there’s very little fighting involved believe it or not. The game begins by showing you as a child who has just witnessed the murder of your father, so what do you do? In Marvel-esque style you make a vow to avenge your father as you set out on a path to become the best fighter who ever lived, and find out who was behind the hit. Yes it sounds like a completely bonkers story, and what follows is hardly anything better than that.
All grown up and ready to follow through with your promise, you venture towards a career in fighting and to do this, you’ll be taking on a heap of management like gameplay. You’ll be eating healthy food, training, eating healthy food, training, fighting occasionally, and rinse and repeat. This game really should have been named Simulation Management Club, because that’s pretty much the bulk of the experience.
It wouldn’t be completely senseless if the jobs you needed to achieve were at least fun, but before long, boredom will surely make an appearance unless you enjoy this sort of gameplay. So, how does one become the best fighter in the world? By training hard of course. To do this, you’ll need to eat good chow and head to the gym, which means going to the shop as well as working out. However to do that, you’ll need money, so off you pop to find a part time job. When you’ve worked yourself to the ground, you’ll find that you’re tired and in need of food, and once again, rinse and repeat until you’ve met your requirements.
Obviously, this game has a lot of demands tied to it and as such, it’s clearly shining on a very specific player base. The aim of the game is to juggle your needs with your wants. You want to be a great fighter, but you need to live normal every day life at the same time. Finding that divide that allows you to train, work, eat, and fight is the meat of Punch Club and something you will need to primarily focus on if you want to climb in rank. Nevertheless, there’s always something to do in the game and your attention is needed at every moment.
As you start out, the main portions of play are training and eating, but it’s not long before you’re broke and you need to work. Which naturally eats away at the hours in your day. With that said, every newly introduced feature typically (or eventually) opens up new opportunities for you to pursue. It’s here where the game derails a little bit and allows you to goof around doing things that any normal person wouldn’t, like becoming a hero. It’s great that the developers have implemented a lot of depth, but much of it feels unnecessary.
When you finally make it into the rookie fights via the gym, the game takes the fields of play up a notch. You don’t usually get a lot of notice before a fight is scheduled, so resting up and training is something you need to juggle well. If you fail to do your basic every day chores and take care of your basic needs, there tends to be many downsides to contend with as a result. On the flip-side if you don’t train and rest, you fighting skills will decline and you’ll sink in rank. So again, it’s all about balancing out your needs and wants, to ensure that you reach your goal as sufficiently as possible. As you make your way deeper through the game, even more opportunities will become available, tethered to some tough decisions and branching story lines.
I was quite taken by how great the game played at first, despite tricking me into believing it was a fighter. You have a lot of stats that you need to keep on track of for training alone, but it’s far too hard to keep on top of all stats at once, pushing you to focus on a single trait to benefit from that singular aspect. You can indeed craft the protagonist to fight how you want him to fight, heavy hitting, fast moving, and so on and so forth. The issue for me was that the game just felt like too much hard work for all of these mechanics. There’s far too much to keep on track of, especially when you factor in that there’s a stat degradation at the end of each day. So the game practically forces you to favour a trait and stick with it.
Sure, it’s fun to begin with. Though when you’re wanting to train and you become tired and hungry too often, you then need to sod off and look after yourself when you really just want to work on your progression. I suspect those that are die-hard for this sort of format will enjoy this game the most, but for me, it was headache inducing. More so when you’ve sunk hours into the game and feel like you’re getting nowhere, and don’t you dare try to take on a side mission. You’re almost punished by degrading stats for walking off the beaten path to sample some side activities. It’s such a strict game in that regard.
To top all of this off, you don’t get to participate whatsoever in any of the fights. Not so much as a single punch. Instead you’ll be witnessing each fight and setting abilities and moves up however you like. That being said, you can indeed unlock more of these and quick swap them out between rounds to find a good winning formula, but even then, it barely feels rewarding when all you can do is observe each fight from afar. Punch Club is further let down by some annoying music that melts your mind, and whilst this may not be the best looking game on the Xbox One Store, at least you can see that some effort went into visual development. Sadly the same cannot be said about the annoying audio.
Punch Club is a game that has you working your backside off to climb in rank and earn the endgame. Unfortunately the game suffers from far too many systems that eventually either contradict each other or punish the player with penalty for simply wanting to experience more of what the game houses. Side step off the beaten path to sample a side quest and your stats will degrade. It certainly doesn’t help that everything becomes so hard to purchase in the later stages of the game, meaning you need to literally bite off more than you can chew which inevitable results in more penalties. Sure, there’s an easy mode that prevents stat degradation but achievements are prevented from being unlocked, which is just as bonkers as the bland story. Punch Club is fun to begin with, but the novelty soon wears off.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.