It’s a sim, it’s not meant to be fun...right?
EA pretty much had the world of console golf sewn up before with the Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchise but alas things changed a little when Tiger lost the plot. That said, perhaps it’s unfair to blame him solely for the lack of a new title this year from the EA stable as we were seeing very little improvement and evolution year on year so it’s quite conceivable someone at EA realised this, saw the new consoles on the horizon and took the logical decision to take a break and take stock. Either way, for all golf lovers out there this leaves quite the void - say what you want about golf but on a console with three of your friends it was tough to get a more laid back co-op experience, save for Peggle 2 maybe. So who would step into the void to fill this gap - first up was Powerstar Golf, opting for the arcade angle with a playful cartoonish style, button controls and golfer super powers. Fun yet quite flawed with no proper multiplayer it was ok but didn’t really scratch that itch. In steps The Golf Club, fresh from alpha and beta on the PC, making the move across to Xbox One (and PS4) for this retail release carrying a respectable £24.99 price tag.
Could this be the golf game that Tiger Fans had been waiting for? Sort of...no, not really.
From the first boot of The Golf Club its unpolished looks and sluggish menus work in tandem to remove any initial enthusiasm you may have mustered, but if you like golf you may be able to overlook such things. That said the term “janky” has never been so apt and pretty much sums up those initial feelings as you navigate through the sometimes glitchy (sound glitches and random load in blips) and always laggy menus. The glitching isn’t a huge issue, it merely shows a lack of polish, in turn the menus can be a real annoyance as they load in and the more you flick around, trying to move around quickly, the more you are likely to load something you didn’t actually click on.
When you manage to find a course you fancy playing, official or user generated, you have the option of playing a single course, a tournament or tours. All modes are easy enough to get going and present you with a number of configurable options, for example green speed, flag positioning, all the usual golf configurables. Sadly the actual act of playing a round of golf is a hit and miss one. Graphically the game lacks the aforementioned polish; granted it’s billed as a simulation type affair so the lack of crowds and other ancillary things is completely fair, however the course itself looks far from crisp and the animations when swinging the club are often a little disjointed, lacking the smooth swing that encompasses a good golfer.
Little things may annoy also - such as the poorly realised aiming reticule, and the inability to move the line of your shot while in preview mode, resulting in you popping back and forth in and out of preview mode while you try to line up your shot. An annoyance in more ways than one as it’s such a small thing that for a game which was in alpha and beta for some time on PC, this feels like it could easily have been rectified ahead of the digital “retail” release.
The word annoyance fits nicely for such things but when you do eventually reach the green you will be presented with some puzzling design choices too. Putting doesn’t have a power bar to speak of, or any sort of indication as to how hard you are about to hit the ball. Purists will naturally love this and talk about the good old days of playing Links on the PC - perhaps they are right and the masses have been dumbed down and to an extent spoiled by the Tiger Woods franchise. That said, as someone who played Links back in the day and has played almost every iteration of Tiger since, I’d rather play actual golf than putt without any guidance whatsoever. Being an actual regular golfer allows such comments and it’s a shame that The Golf Club can be more infuriating sometimes than actual real life golf, arguably one of the most technical, difficult and unforgiving sports out there. As an aside, let’s not even bother to discuss the limp, unfunny and downright lifeless commentator - mute is our friend on this one.
The lack of any progression systems really hinder the experience, reinforcing the feeling that you are playing a golf simulator ported across from the PC, as opposed to a “fun” golf game on a console which you can really sink your teeth in to. Everyone loves progression and to a lesser extent loot but the lack of any such systems hurts the longevity of the title. Sure people will keep creating courses and you will likely want to play some, primarily to beat the leaderboard scores, but past this there isn’t a lot to sink your teeth into.
Granted the course designer is a great touch and if you are so inclined much time can be lost creating a beautiful, angelic course which Jack Nicklaus would be proud of, right the way to the most random, crazy golf-esque course imaginable. The interface is fairly intuitive making course creation relatively simple, however sadly the laggy menu issue is prevalent throughout.
The game supports co-operative multiplayer and is a mix of Powerstar Golf’s “this is what your friends did here”, along with tracer lines for all friends, clearly labelled and the more real time simultaneous play with friends - the interface for which is a tad clunky and should you pop to the kitchen for a beverage your friends can continue onwards, leaving you to play catch up should you all want to stay in sync.
Unpolished to the point of seeming unfinished in places, The Golf Club isn’t a rival to the EA Sports Tiger Woods franchise but is more of a throwback to the hardcore, simulation days of Links. It will likely find a home with a specific group of players and the course creator will also likely add a ton of replay value for that group. The masses however may be put off by the lack of polish, the lack of progression mechanics and the tricky controls.