When HB Studios released The Golf Club onto the unsuspecting world back in 2014, there was definitely a gap in the market. EA had gone cold on Tiger and the space was there for a new golf game to take hold. It worked well too, with the team delivering a fundamentally basic but great game. I remember at the time wishing that The Golf Club was a bit more in depth though, citing the lack of a proper ‘Golf Club’ and career mode as two glaring omissions.
But that was in 2014. Now, sat here in 2017, HB Studios are back, this time with The Golf Club 2. Have they managed to build upon all the goodness from the first game, delivering a more rounded social experience in the process?
Yes they have. And if you’re a golf fan, there isn’t much more you can ask for with The Golf Club 2. But by golly, they’ve made things a bit complicated in the process!
Creating, developing and publishing The Golf Club 2 at this time is a masterstroke. EA are still seemingly recovering from burnt fingers after the issues that plagued Rory McIlroy PGA Tour, obviously keeping away from the golf scene until they feel the time is right. And with no other proper golf title in the way, the path is clear for HB Studios to whack one right down the middle of the fairway with their biggest driver.
And on the whole, that is exactly what they have done.
Mechanically speaking, The Golf Cub 2 gets a hole in one. After delving into a fairly in-depth tutorial – albeit one which could do with a little tightening up on the narration front – you’ll have learnt all the relevant skills needed to become the next Garcia, Stenson, Rose or Spieth, with both left or right handed gamers catered for with the opportunity to choose either thumbsticks for swinging.
If you had played the previous game, then you’ll know that The Golf Club does away with swing meters and refuses to ever get drawn towards powered shots and button mashing after-spin, instead replicating the real world game as much as it can. You’ll still be able to choose your club for each shot, and whether you wish to use a punch, chip or flop shot, but after that the skills required will come about by practice alone – much like you would find when heading out on a leisurely Sunday morning stroll. A smooth back and forth motion on your desired stick will see your shots fly through the air with the greatest of ease, with any slight deviation on your control ensuring your ball gets sliced and faded with the best of them. Of course, the option is there to instigate a proper skew or change to your degree of loft prior to your shot, helping you navigate past a bunch of trees or rocks, but on the whole, shoot straight, find the fairways and greens, and your job is a good ‘un.
You may initially find it all as frustrating as hell, especially as you take to the course against the easiest opponents possible, shooting well over par for your first few rounds with drives going wayward and putts coming up super short. But get it together, driving for show and putting for dough, and it won’t take you long before you can start going up against more advanced AI personnel who will happily sink the odd birdie or three. It is then when you’ll need to start bringing your A-game to the table.
Should you wish for a more thorough experience – allowing you to test yourself even more – then it may be preferable for you to grab a local mate and hit the course with them. This works as well as it should, letting one player after another take their shot. You can also drag in ghosts, rivals and online friends from the plethora of leaderboards which are in place. The online option is extremely well done in fact, with no need for you to send out party invites to your mates. Instead, all they need to do is fire up the same course as you and play through things as you do. It works brilliantly and ensures that The Golf Club 2 is a must purchase for those who like to game together on a regular basis. Putting a ghost or rival into play is great no matter whether you are looking for tips, or just trying to smash your way past your mates’ lowest scores.
And there will be plenty of those low scores to try and beat as HB Studios’ now famous procedurally generated courses are back in play, with any created holes from the original game drafted in should you wish. Whatever you create looks great too, with all manner of background features and furniture adorning the hundreds and thousands of courses that are already available. I have to admit to thinking that much of it is a bit samey, especially in relation to the crowds which line the fairways applauding your every shot – no matter how bad – but when you’ve got a course designer that is so in-depth, and a community of creators behind it allowing for such an array of variations, it’s easy enough to let a bit of similarity in the individual pieces go.
It would however be great to have seen many of the additions which you can add to your courses change the outcome of your shots. I’ve sat here multiple times, on the edge of an out of bounds, wondering just how on earth my golfer has managed to throw a full swing behind some of the shots he or she has. Real life rocks for instance would quite easily dictate a drop ball in many of these scenarios, instead of seeing your guy wildly hacking his way through solid stone. I guess at the end of the day though, this is a game and it should ultimately be treated as one.
Whilst the numerous courses and the variety they bring make up the backbone of The Golf Club 2, it is with the playing options which the vast majority of gamers will have interest.
Thankfully, HB have learnt massively from their slight mistake of the past to deliver not just single one-off match options, but have included a career mode AND a proper ‘Golf Club’ – in the form of Societies.
Taking the career first, and it does pretty much what you would expect of it. Full season templates are already in place, allowing you to jump straight in without too much fuss with some official courses, multiple events and plenty of cash earning opportunities. It all works exactly as a single round of golf would and should, but with the added benefits of more holes and more birdie chances. Of course, should you not wish to bother with the pre-created stuff, preferring to go down the route of your own unique season, then much like everything else that The Golf Club 2 stands for, personalisation and customisation is key.
Societies meanwhile is a great place to sit and chew the fat about anything and everything. Basically a club in which you can create your own badge, sort your own rules and invite your friends for birdie gathering opportunities, you’re able to create your own in-house tournaments, upgrade your buildings and pretend that you’re the clerk of the course forever more. After being disappointed with the original game for the lack of ‘club’ options – especially given the name of the game – it’s great to see that HB have provided such an in-depth experience and it will only gain in strength as the game moves forward.
But that’s not all there is to The Golf Club 2 as the addition of some very clever Challenges will have you donning the long socks time and time again. When you have a game that comes with such a depth of courses, you may never have to worry about a lack of replayability or draw. Sat here now, I’m not sure any game delivers such a huge amount of content as The Golf Club 2 promises, but even still there has been the inclusion of Challenges in order to get gamers throwing themselves at the fairways. These challenges are set for each and every course you find in The Golf Club 2, eventually delivering no less than 15 for each course. Some will have you needing to hit a green-in-regulation on a specific hole, whilst others will require you to drive a specific distance. If you meet them, you’ll earn yourself in-game cash, which in turn can be spent on your Societies, changing the look of your clubs or kitting yourself out with the latest threads.
So, The Golf Club most definitely builds on what was delivered before it, but things still aren’t perfect.
The visuals can be pretty outstanding, but in the same breath, they can be hugely wide of the mark. There is the occasional screen tear and plenty of visual pop-up as you scan your way through each of the holes in order to plan your next shot. Shadows and trees seem to be the biggest culprits, and although small and not really affecting the game as a whole, it is noticeable. What does affect things though is a slight visual stutter as you’re gearing up with a backswing. This isn’t every time, but it is apparent enough to just about jar.
The loading times required for all this generated content have taken a bit of a battering too and whilst you can sometimes hop straight onto the course without hassle, all too often you’ll be stuck with the loading logo of death for longer than is acceptable.
Additionally, whilst the whole Society structure is appreciated, it is pretty damn confusing to navigate through, with numerous menus and a huge number of options definitely being a bit too much for newcomers to the game to cope with. Granted, once you’ve played a few rounds and understand how the whole system works, it’s bearable, but that initial impression is one of dread and I’d have preferred to see things simplified somewhat.
But other than that, there isn’t really too much to not like about The Golf Club 2. It would be nice to have the option to ‘arcade’ things up a bit, as the standard golf fare can occasionally come across as a bit stale. But then this hasn’t been created to compete with EA, their power shots and numerous club types. Instead The Golf Club 2 has been created for the golfer found in all of us. It is with that in which you’ll find a game that may initially seem as hard as nails, but with practice, and as your golfing skills improve, will allow you to see the full fruits of your labour.
Simply put, if you love golf, you’re going to love The Golf Club 2.