Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Golf Club Review (XONE)

When it released in Fall 2014, The Golf Club was the only “real” golf game on Xbox One, so it sort of got a free pass from folks desperate to hit the links despite its many flaws.  It is 2016 now, however, and the existence of Rory McIlroy PGA Tour – a much, much better golf game - makes The Golf Club’s many issues stand out much more prominently.  It might be okay if you’re in the mood for a hyper-realistic real golf sim, but if you want to actually have fun with your videogame golf, The Golf Club probably isn’t for you.

Game Details

  • Publisher: HB Studios
  • Developer: HB Studios
  • ESRB Rating: “E” For Everyone
  • Genre: Golf
  • Pros: Course generator; tee to green is okay
  • Cons: Putting sucks; so-so presentation; awful commentary; bad menus; not fun
  • MSRP: $30 (digital), dirt cheap (retail)

The Golf Club is an extremely straightforward golf simulator.  And we really mean simulator.  There are no power meters or putting lines or anything else to baby you along to the ridiculously low scores most golf games offer.  All you know on each shot is the distance from the hole, wind direction and speed, and how far the ball will travel with a full swing, and it is up to you to figure everything else out from there.  Things like the quality of your lie, elevation of the ball relative to your feet, and more all have a major impact as well.  Gee, it’s just like playing golf in real life.

To actually hit the ball you just pull the stick back (you get to choose whether to use the left or right stick) and push it forward to strike the ball.  How far you pull it back, and how fast you push it forward, determines the power of your swing.  The accuracy of your shot is decided based on how straight you moved the stick back and forth.  Since you don’t have any sort of onscreen indicators telling you how hard to hit stuff, it can be a challenge.  It is surprisingly satisfying, though, because it is remarkably intuitive.  If the hole is 75 yards away and your club can hit 100 yards maximum, for example, doing a little ¾ swing just makes sense.  Or whatever else kind of power you need.  From tee to green, The Golf Club actually plays fairly well.

On the greens, however, The Golf Club basically falls totally apart.  Putting straight up sucks because the game doesn’t give you nearly enough information to actually know how hard you’re hitting the ball since it works just like the normal swings do.  The difference between judging the power of normal swings and putting is enormous, however.  Normal swings have a radius of several feet, so deciding where 40% or 85% or whatever is fairly easy.  Putting strokes only move a few inches, on the other hand, so huge differences in power are only a matter of tiny millimeters on your TV screen, which is much, much harder to gauge.  Expect to be way too short or way too long on your first 500 putts or so.  At lest the game does give you a grid overlay so you can actually see terrain changes.

I suppose that is supposed to be realistic to real golf, but it isn’t fun.  And as a matter of fact, it is actually quite a bit harder to putt in The Golf Club than it is in real life.  Putting is actually one of the easier (not by any means “easy”, just “easier”) aspects of golf for amateurs and it is the tee to green stuff that most players struggle with.  In this way, The Golf Club fails when it comes to its core goal of being a golf simulation because it has everything flipped upside down.   

So it’s a pseudo-simulation, but it’s still fun, right?  Err, no.  Not really.  The awful putting just saps away any enjoyment the gameplay might offer, but other aspects of the package don’t really help things.  The presentation is just plain ugly with confusing and poorly put together menus.  There are long, long load times (even when just using the menus!) before you can do anything.  The graphics - the screenshots featured don't really look like the game - are only so-so and the courses don’t look very good.  The player characters are simple and ugly with wonky animation.  The sound consists only of the smack of the club on the ball along with one of the worst and least enthusiastic “commentators’ that has ever appeared in a sports game.  Honestly, when you put it all together, The Golf Club is a big mess.

The one truly great feature the game does offer – an awesomely detailed course editor - seems greatly wasted on a title that plays as poorly as The Golf Club.   The course editor allows you to randomly generate a course so you could potentially have a brand new course to play whenever you want it.  You could also manually build a course as well, or download courses that other players have made.  There are no “official” real world courses in The Golf Club, but players have made great replicas of just about any real course you could want.  Actually editing courses yourself is a little clunky and difficult, but that’s why you let other people do the hard work.  The problem with all this, however, is that you probably won’t really want to spend too much time with the game no matter how many courses it has considering how mediocre the gameplay is.

For the most part I haven’t really changed my opinion much on most of these indie games that I’ve gone back and re-reviewed for PSXboxIndies compared to my original reviews, but The Golf Club is one major exception.  Back in 2014 it was the only golf sim (we did also have Powerstar Golf, but that’s crazy arcade golf) in town and I was willing to overlook its flaws not only because we didn’t have anything else, but also because I fully expected the game to get better with updates and patches.  Coming back to play The Golf Club again here in 2016 has been very disappointing because it hasn’t seen much improvement in the areas that needed it most – gameplay and presentation.  It also has major competition now, and Rory McIlroy PGA Tour blows it out of the water in every way except the number of courses.  Powerstar Golf is also a lot more fun as well, for that matter.  The bottom line is that The Golf Club is ugly, too hard, and not very fun to play.  Skip it.
Disclosure;  A review code was provided by the publisher