The Golf Club / 19th of September 2014
I will not deny the fact that from the moment that I first laid eyes on The Golf Club, it became one of my most anticipated games of this new generation, I haven’t played a Tiger Woods game since 2011’s The Masters, and even then, prior to that I was quickly losing interest due to the rather inconsistent quality of them anyway. I have been waiting for a long time to see a game that could challenge EA in this particular field, something that, at the very least, might convince the PGA development team to up their game, and so it was that my faith was placed entirely upon the shoulders of The Golf Club, and sadly, having now had a chance to get my hands on the finished game, I have found that I am still waiting.
Now, The Golf Club certainly isn’t terrible, but it has come as a bit of a disappointment, particularly given its rather high price point of £28, and its severe lack of content to name but two issues that I immediately found in the game. It is sad that, given EA’s exclusive use of the PGA licence, there are no recognisable players, competitions or courses to be found here, and perhaps even sadder still, is that it actually makes a huge impact upon it. Given that the core aim of HB Studios has evidently been to create a far more authentic golfing experience that EA’s offering, its inability to feature the highest level of golf in all of its glory, has left it immediately feeling short of the mark, and lacking the enticement that it needs to see players returning round after round.
A major disappointment with The Golf Club is the lack of a career mode, now whilst the flashy character customisation and attribute levelling of the Tiger Woods games would perhaps seem out of place with the rustic aesthetic of what HB Studios have created, it is still a huge loss. Without a fully-fledged career mode to entice players back, there is simply no reason to put more time than is absolutely necessary into the game, leaving it offering nothing more than an occasional round of golf to pass the time. Yet, contrarily, the game is about perseverance, learning to better understand its mechanics and courses over time, but without a better incentive to spend time with it, it is highly unlikely that any gamer is going to end up spending too much time on the links here.
What is selectable from the simple, uncluttered main menu, is Tee-Off, which sees the game select a single, random hole for the player, and Play, which-via a sub menu-allows players to partake in a single round, tour or tournament on a smattering of “official” courses, or player created ones. Aside from Stats, Settings and Messages, The Golf Club also allows players to create their own tournaments and even their own golf courses, thanks to the Greg Norman Course Designer. The latter allows an original course to be churned out in mere seconds, and whilst fine tuning your creations can be an altogether fiddly and frustrating experience, especially at first, it doesn’t take too long to get a handle on it, and this quickly becomes The Golf Club’s strongest asset. The course creator is surely a marvellous piece of software which overcomes the game’s lack of content, should you be able to tolerate the lack of official PGA tour courses and players that is, resulting in a game that will never be short of fresh content over the coming months, and unlike almost every other release, it’s free too.
There are many other issues with the game that cannot be so easily overcome though; its physics can be, at times, utterly horrendous, with players seeing some of their putts fire off at rapid speed-uphill, I might add-when very little power was put into the shot in the first place, and golf balls that stick to the sides of cliffs as they trundle off towards the murky depths of the water below. Even worse than this though, the game has not been blessed with the common sense to know when a lie is unplayable or not, so if you find yourself trapped at the bottom of one of these cliffs, the shot must be taken from there, regardless of whether it is actually possible to reach the fairway again or not. Regularly, this leaves players simply hacking at the ball until they are eventually ushered on to the next hole, their scorecard in tatters. The likelihood of this happening increased exponentially due to the overly sensitive shot stick and the lack of information that the game provides the player with, never once assisting with club length as it simply doesn’t take environmental factors into consideration, leaving novice players completely unable to judge their shots at all. Likewise, without the ability to switch to a three click system, and little assistance with the shot stick, judging shot power is left feeling awkward, though it is likely to be an area that will become more natural over time.
Whilst HB Studios might well have designed The Golf Club to simulate the real game, encouraging players to simply try to tackle the courses repeatedly and improve their knowledge of them, and of the game itself, this is hardly enough to sway many gamers into devoting such a sufficient amount of time into a game that feels as though it is giving nothing back in reward, and it is this that is likely to see the game fail. It might very well be able to develop a cult following, but it is never going to be able to compete with the more mass market appeal of EA’s PGA Tour games. And so, once again, I am left waiting for a golf game that is going to set the world on fire, something that could challenge for the crown that EA hold without really having had to fight to earn it, though granted, in its original 16-bit days, the PGA Tour Golf series was incredible, envelope pushing stuff, but over the years, and across many ups and downs, it now finds itself alone as the only golf simulation available on console, and that has allowed it to stagnate.
The Golf Club is powered by the Unity Engine and rather sadly delivers a substandard level of visual fidelity, grass textures aren’t bad (on the fairway, anyway), but the player models are a little too simplistic, there’s pop-up, texture drop-in, screen tearing and the backgrounds to each course appear to be nothing but horrendous, low resolution bitmap images, making them a far cry from what even the last generation of consoles were able to offer us. Water effects and reflections are also rather poor indeed. In terms of its audio, the sound effects, along with the ambient music that accompanies the in-game menus, are all perfectly fine, yet the commentary is actually embarrassingly bad. HB Studios have targeted, again, the opposite of Tiger Woods, giving the game not a broadcast style presentation, but instead, a much looser feel, though it simply feels as though some smarmy git has in fact taken it upon himself to follow the player around the course, making the tritest and most irritating comments as he does so. The commentary is actually so bad that I had to turn it off after only two rounds of golf, I simply couldn’t take any more of it, and I rather doubt that I will be alone in this.
Somehow, despite all of the weaknesses that I have found in The Golf Club, I have still gone back for more, this may very well be because it is the only golf game available on the new generation of consoles, but despite being unable to devote myself to it, I will no doubt continue to return for the odd round of golf now and again-particularly on the courses that I have created. Of course, that lack of investment would have me question its price point, if it had been just £15.99 or less, as are the bulk of indie games on console, then it probably would have still managed to warrant both a purchase and a recommendation, but when you can pick up the Metro Redux double pack for roughly the same price, this game has problems. However, there can be no denying that The Golf Club is an IP with potential, a number of the problems with this first outing can, and probably will, be corrected with software updates, but with better tech and using this as a launching pad, HB Studios may yet create the golfing experience that I have been waiting on, but only time will tell.