Given the antimaterialist undertones of the 1999 movie Fight Club, it seems a little strange that it has been spun off into a video game, especially this long after the fact. Granted, Fight Club is a modern classic, and its surprising story, dark humor, and graphic depiction of raw fistfights still hit home today just as strongly as ever. A Fight Club game doesn't necessarily seem like that great of an idea to begin with, but a fighting game based on the movie at least basically seems to make sense. Such a game would hopefully capture the sheer intensity and brutality of the movie's battles between men fed up with a stifling society who are looking for a pure, primal release of all their emotions and frustrations. Unfortunately, Fight Club the game--in stark contrast to publisher Vivendi Universal's far more successful movie-to-game efforts earlier this year--is a resounding failure. Unless you're a masochistic Fight Club fan looking to purposely have your sensibilities offended, then you'd be well advised to stay far away from this game.
Want proof? When you finish Fight Club's story mode--which is a series of mind-numbingly easy and repetitive battles punctuated by poorly prerendered images overlaid with terrible voice-over that is rife with pointless swearing--and which has the audacity to try to tie in with the events of the film, you unlock Limp Bizkit front man Fred Durst as a playable character. His distinctively harsh rap-rock vocals, which are completely incongruous with the Dust Brothers' electronic music featured in the movie (and some parts of the game), are also used to quickly establish (in the opening cutscene) that this game isn't going to try to do a good job of being faithful to the spirit of the movie.
To be fair, much like how the main character(s) of Fight Club yearned to fight such figureheads as Mahatma Gandhi, William Shatner, and Abraham Lincoln, it's possible that Fight Club fans might appreciate the idea of seeing Durst get the snot beaten out of him. Unfortunately, they won't get much satisfaction out of the actual process here, because Fight Club is one of the basest fighting games in years. While the game includes multiple characters from the movie (as well as some original concoctions), they all fall into one of three categories: brawler, martial artist, or grappler. And these three different fighting styles aren't that different from each other, either. Characters all rely on basic strings of punches and kicks, and the occasional throw, to do damage. There is a distinctly limited number of moves per character, and a lack of depth that's immediately apparent in the gameplay. You could probably whip through the game's story and arcade modes just by mashing on the punch buttons without even looking at the screen.
The game's not horribly broken--it's just bad. There are a few early moments in which Fight Club shows a hint of promise. Some of the moves look painful when they connect, such as head-butts that cause both the victim and the assailant to reel backward in pain (one with a hurt forehead, the other with an apparently broken nose). Other times, blood splashes all over the screen, an effect that's rather shocking at first, but soon becomes repetitive and stale. Matches also sometimes end with a slow-motion finisher, such as when one fighter breaks his opponent's arm at the elbow. These moves do look nasty, but there are a very small number of them, so their impact quickly dissipates. And, as mentioned, these sorts of moves are the exception. Much of the animation in Fight Club looks stilted and weak, resulting in battles that really look nothing like the savage fistfights from the movie. The game's fighters do bear the unassuming look of the movie's average Joes (notwithstanding Meat Loaf's character, Bob; incidentally, none of the movie stars' likenesses can be found here). Also, the game's fighting arenas are lifted directly from scenes from the movie. But this window dressing doesn't help matters much.
In addition to standard arcade, versus, and survival modes, Fight Club features online play and a create-a-fighter option. These normally desirable features are basically squandered on this game, since no matter who you play and which character you choose, you're unlikely to derive any sort of meaningful satisfaction from all the repetitive, simplistic combat. These features are functional but also pretty threadbare, though that's to be expected. For what it's worth, the game shows another inkling of a good idea with its option to let you play either normal or "hardcore" versus matches, in which your created fighter stands a chance of being forced into early retirement if he suffers too many bone-crushing injuries. If things are looking bad, you can tap out of a match to end it early to avoid this type of fate, or you could simply not play Fight Club, which has the same effect. Also, the Xbox version of Fight Club already sports some downloadable content, including an additional fighter who's not noticeably different from any of the other fighters in the game, and some additional music. Again, this stuff doesn't do anything to address the game's fundamental flaws. Apart from the downloadable content, the Xbox version looks somewhat sharper and cleaner than the PS2 version, and the between-match loading times are better. But for the most part, the two versions are very similar.
Fight Club's graphics are the best thing about the game, but don't take that to mean this is a good-looking game, either. It looks decent. Some of the lighting is nice, as you can clearly see the fighters' expressions and how their faces get bruised and bloodied as a match wears on. The game also maintains a good frame rate, particularly on the Xbox. On the other hand, as mentioned, the animation is stiff and awkward. Also, the characters are strangely drawn and proportioned, and the fighting arenas are flat and sparsely populated. The game's menu system, which flies you around the movie's dilapidated building on Paper Street, is a nice touch, but the actual graphics during the fights are pretty hit-and-miss. The same can be said of the sound in Fight Club, which, in many cases, is simply missing. The fights sound strangely subdued, as only the occasional punch, kick, or bone-snapping effect, or groan from one of the fighters, can be heard. When a fighter wins a match, you'll see him verbally taunt his opponent, but you'll hear nothing at all. The game lifts a few memorable pieces of music from the Fight Club soundtrack, but these stick out like a sore thumb next to the pale imitations that are used in other cases.
If you ignore the fact that Fight Club ties into the movie (and novel) that bears its namesake, and consider it purely on its merits as a game, what you're left with is an undercooked fighting game that's far worse than fighting games from more than 10 years ago, and not much better looking. And when you also consider the game's botched attempts at including some tie-ins with the movie, the results look even worse.