Golf. A game loved by many around the world, or a good walk spoiled?
Depending on your point of view, you’ve either been hotly anticipating the arrival of The Golf Club on Xbox One or been dreading the fact that a golf title is soon to be sat there clogging up your games store.
Whichever it is though, you can’t for one minute fail to recognise the fact the real big hitter in the golf stakes over the last few years has come from EA with the Tiger Woods series. But Woods is now gone and there’s room in your life for a new title, a new addiction, a new love or indeed a new hatred.
And The Golf Club is the one to fill that void, especially if you’re a fan of the game.
For The Golf Club is different to what we’ve seen in the past. Whereas the Tiger series built itself on real life courses, licensed players and upgradeable skill sets, you won’t see any of that in HB Studios new game. In fact, if you go in quickly, you’ll be shocked at how basic and dare I say it, simple it is. It’s this unpretentiousness that is part of the charm though.
You’ll find three game modes in The Golf Club; play a round, play a tour or play a tournament and unless you’ve got a mate or three sat on the sofa next to you, then you’ll be limited to stroke play only. If you do manage to find some time for real world friends then you’ll also be able to choose between match play or a four ball mode, however even with numerous gamertags present on the One console, there is no option other than finding yourself playing as the main profile whilst all others will be classified as ‘guests’. It’s a bit strange not allowing your guests to play a round with you under their gamertags but it is what it is.
And what it is is a game that absolutely thrives in the online multiplayer arena that is Xbox Live with stats, stats and more stats. In fact, if there’s a statistic that a real world golfer wants to know, then you, as a virtual compatriot will have full access to those same stats. So whether you’re interested in how far your longest drive went, your biggest putt to date, how far up the world leaderboard you are or just how many greens in regulation you have hit, they are all there and waiting to be perused.
To get those numbers populated though you’ll need to go out there and tear up a course or five and that couldn’t be simpler. The Golf Club has built itself on the promise of procedurally generated courses, meaning the number of courses on offer will just increase by the day with no two courses (or indeed holes) being alike. Whilst the day one version of The Golf Club will have a few courses available for you to play, the further it rolls through its life the more courses you’re going to find cropping up and if the Xbox Live community jumps in with the same enthusiasm they have as you find on Project Spark, with the Forza 5 car designs or with the creative brush in Minecraft then The Golf Club is in for something real special. Seeing as each course can be rated and favourited once it’s been played, the cream really should rise to the top pretty quickly and in theory, every single day you fire up your console and jump in on The Golf Club, you’ll be playing a different course with entirely different holes each time.
It’s not just the layout of the holes that can be amended though. In what has to be one of the deepest editors found in a game, the Greg Norman Course Designer allows you to change near enough everything to your own liking, including amongst many other things the amount of trees, the height of the hills, the width of the fairway, the length of the rough and even the time of day and the direction of the sun. And whilst all those things sound pretty standard in a golf game that has built itself and allows for much editing, you’ll also have the chance to throw in a few more ‘unique’ items should you so wish. The Great White Shark himself would be more than happy to see the odd porta-loo and golf buggy popping up alongside the 10th hole but we’re not sure if he’d welcome the addition of a crocodile on the green, a snake on the fairway or indeed that staple of a golf course; a sperm whale rising out of the water every 5 minutes!
In fact, if you can think of it, then you can have it in The Golf Club….although the omission of any monkeys is a strange one!
Away from the editor and taking a look at the main gameplay you’ll find a game that runs without the usual bling that accompanied the big Tiger Woods series. In fact, The Golf Club is bland in comparison with no powerups, no skills to upgrade and very little customisation of the golf character. The fact you have a very limited choice of clothing and no option to buy new clubs, balls or the like may well put a few off, but the gameplay is good enough to justify the basic nature and in fact brings about a sense of achievement with you knowing that the only way you’re going to start shooting low rounds is by working at your game…much like you would if you started pounding the courses in real life.
Swing mechanics are built on a stick swing with no power meters in sight and whether you prefer to use the left or right stick makes little difference as these can be amended in the options. Similarly, there is no room for the old ‘tap the A button as fast as you can’ to throw a bit of spin on the ball; where the ball lands is entirely down to how you first chose your club, set up your shot, took into account the wind and your lie and how straight you managed to keep your swing. The same goes for once you actually make it to the green as other than a helpful green grid that shows you the terrain ahead, the rest of it is up to you. The more you play the game, the more you will take some form of achievement from the game but what initially seems a daunting task soon becomes second nature, and at a much quicker pace than first expected.
Indeed the task at hand quickly pales into the background when you find yourself worrying more about how well you’re coping against your friends scores and the fact you can choose to play against anyone on your friends list (or anyone else from around the world) in the form of ghosts is a welcome one. We all like a bit of competition and even if you’re sitting up at 3am with no mates online you can still draw in their best rounds and watch as you go up against them whilst they sleep. Of course, if they are awake then what better way to move the fun factor up a notch than by inviting them onto the same course as you, jump in a party with them and chat away whilst watching them fail to negotiate that water hazard you so cunningly placed 5 minutes previous. It would be nice if you could watch the previously mentioned crocs devour your opponent at times but hey, this is meant to be a nice relaxing game of ball hitting!
In all, The Golf Club is a beautiful looking, but fundamentally basic golf game that just works perfectly. A bit of screen tearing/jarring and the strange omission of a shot sighter when checking out the land in the hole overview view aside, there isn’t an awful lot to hate about the game. Maybe it would be nice to actually run with a ‘Golf Club’ that you can invite friends to and challenge others from, and maybe many will be aghast at the lack of career mode, but when it plays as well as it does, why be picky!?
The Golf Club really is a prime example of the more you play, the better you’ll be and the more you’ll enjoy it. End of.
Unless your name is Mark Twain of course.