The golfing genre is in a bit of an odd place right now in the video game world. Hot Shots is going the way of the dodo. EA has dropped Tiger Woods from their franchise, and will go with the branding of simply PGA Tour for their next installment (Editor’s note: for the sake of simplicity this review will still refer to the franchise as Tiger Woods’ PGA Tour). Seriously, the biggest golf release in the video game world has been Mario Golf on the 3DS. That is up until now. Enter: The Golf Club. A golf game created by HB Studios to rival all current golf franchises on the market. So how does this underdog stack up against the more well established titans of the genre? Pretty damn well actually.
First things first – this is a game that is meant to be play competitively. That’s what a lot of people seem not to understand judging on their reactions from the Steam early release. This IS NOT Tiger Woods PGA Tour. In fact, this is less of a golf game and more of a golf sim. It’s the Gran Turismo to Tiger Woods PGA Tour’s Forza. The various golfer avatars don’t have unique stats, there aren’t equipment customization options, or bonuses, and you can’t add distance or spin by rapidly bashing the fuck out of one of the bumpers. Everyone is on an even keel here. Which for some might be a turn off, but when everyone is on an equal playing field the only variable present is individual skill. And that is exactly what The Golf Club is all about – skill.
If you’ve played Tiger Woods, or even played a round or two of golf in Grand Theft Auto V, then the swing mechanics will feel familiar. You select your club, select your shot, if you’re feeling fancy you can then modify your ball flight, and then you swing away, Merrill. After you’ve committed to the shot, you pull back on the right thumbstick and then push it forward. Unlike other golf games, the speed with which you flick the stick is unrelated to the distance that your ball will go. Much like real golf, the swing is more about tempo. Which is why the swing animations seems slower. You aren’t controlling Rory McIlroy and making contact with otherworldly clubhead speed. You’re just a golfer. If you’ve ever worked to cure a slice or add distance to your drive, then you understand the motivation behind actually slowing down your swing.
While all of the familiar golf game presentation is there, certain things that golf game fans have become so accustomed to are noticeable absent. For instance, Tiger Woods fans will notice that when you use the scout camera you are shown the approximate distance that your shot will carry. What you will not see is a circle or even an indicator (a la Hot Shots Golf) as to where your ball will land. Nor can you aim your shot from the scout angle. You can move the camera to examine the terrain, slope, hazards around the area that your ball should land, but as far as actually maneuvering the shot itself, that will have to be done from the standard approach camera angle. In addition to the scout camera there is also the hole overview option, in which you are shown an overhead layout of the hole that details distance, doglegs, and hazards. Basically, the overhead option is what you would see if you looked at the course layout on a scorecard at any golf course in real life. For the most authentic golf experience possible, I recommend never using scout camera and only using overhead.
This is another area where The Golf Club becomes equally frustrating and rewarding. You don’t get to place a marker for 137 yards, swing your club, and land within three feet of the hole. Nope. You have to look at the flagstick, consult the layout, determine the speed and slope of the greens, and decide. If you’re 137 yards from the hole, and the hole is 10 feet below your current elevation, then you have to decide on your own which club is best. The game auto-selects a club, but it’s not always the ideal club for each shot. Given the previous scenario, would you really want to hit a club that you can carry 137 yards? Especially when the greens are fast? Of course not.
Without a doubt the hardest part of this game is the short game. Which again plays into the feel of The Golf Club being more of a sim than a game. The maximum distance you can send a putt is determined by the green speeds. So whether your max put is 144 feet or 100 feet, but you’re 13 feet from the cup with 5 degree of downhill slope, and the read suggests that the putt is moving 2 cups to the right – all of the work is up to you. You have to read the distance, the break, and determine the pace with which you must make the putt. It’s hard. It [expletive] sucks when you make a shitty putt. But oh my god is it ever so sweet when you sink a birdie putt from 20 feet out on fast greens with a sharp slope.
Visually the game is pretty stunning. It might not be as totally next gen as some might expect (I’m playing on PS4) but it still looks better than last/current gen versions of Tiger Woods. The course creator (more on that later) gives you the options of rural, alpine, links, desert, and autumn. Each looks phenomenal and gives a very unique aesthetic to lend a certain uniqueness to each course the that the game ships with, as well as user generated created courses.
Before I talk about the expansiveness and ingenuity behind the course creator, let’s just take a minute to acknowledge that The Golf Club supports cross platform content sharing. Yes. You read that right. Cross mother [expletive] platform. When I logged on there were almost 700 pages of user generated courses. Some rival Greg Norman and Jack Nicklaus designs; others are quite clearly the result of the devil’s lettuce – for instance, United Nations of 420. A course where this is an actual [expletive] green.
The content is incredibly in depth. While some might be put off by the lack of actual golf courses, the ones that come stock with The Golf Club are a tremendous experience. Whether you’re playing 18 holes on a desert course or a links course, you feel like you’re playing on PGA Tour level courses. Granted, if you are just aching to shank some balls into the woods at Augusta you can always check the user created courses, which is where The Golf Club really shines. Players have wasted no time creating spot-on replicas of famous courses. Hell, even right now I’m working on creating a digital version of the shitty 9-hole course by my house. It’s fun.
As for the golfers, while there are no unique stats, there are six templates – four male, and two female. They all pretty much look the same, with some variations in hair color and age. You can edit their attire (hat, shirt, glove, pants, shoes) before you head out for your round, so while it’s a bit of a bummer that there isn’t a create-a-golfer option, the choices you are presented with as far as clothing give you a chance to make your avatar unique to your own style.
While it might be lacking the star power and name recognition of some of the other golf franchises out there, for $34.99 The Golf Club is an excellent golf sim that casual fans, Sunday golfers, and low handicappers can all enjoy. The Golf Club is available now on PC, Xbox One, and Playstation 4 in North America, and will be available in European markets next week.