Depending on your point of view golf is either a good walk spoiled or in the words of one of golfing’s greats, Arnold Palmer, the greatest game mankind has ever created. Arnold also described golf as deceptively simple and endlessly complicated. He therefore, without knowing it, described The Golf Club 2 (TGC2) in a nutshell. Following on from 2014’s The Golf Club, HB Games is back again and given the last outing of EA’s PGA Tour series was the Rory McIlroy-headlined one in 2015 they currently have the market to themselves. However, do they hit the fairway off the tee or will we be trying to recover things from the rough?
Palmer’s description of golf is apt here for two reasons. Firstly, the basic controls of TGC2 are very simplistic. When we first started things up we were asked whether we wanted to use the right or the left thumbstick for our swing. From there we were taken through a few tutorials which explained basics before a few advanced shots helped round out our game. By the end we were pretty confident and more than happy to take on the myriad of different courses available to us. This brings us to where the second part of Palmer’s quote rings true. As, despite only having to pull back then push forward to hit the ball, there is so much nuance to a shot that there’s a depth, the complexity if you will, that makes hitting the right shot so rewarding.
Unlike its contemporaries, TGC2 doesn’t really give us much in the way of feedback. There is the timing mechanic of our swing letting us know how our up and downswing were but beyond that and the green and wind indicators we were on our own. Lots of golf games before it would show us where the ball would land, an energy bar showing how hard the hit will be and some would even let us alter the ball’s spin in flight. All very fanciful and none of them realistic. TGC2, however, forces us to learn our clubs and due to the lack of feedback we are essentially learning by trial and error. This puts TGC2 firmly in the simulation bracket of sporting games. It is uncompromising and unyielding and if we didn’t take our time to line things up we were punished. Sure, this can be maddening, but we got far more satisfaction from chipping in from thirty yards here than we would in other golf games purely because it came about from instinct and correct shot choice rather than falsely tweaking a ball to curve unnaturally into the hole.
Fantasy does, however, exist in TGC2 in the form of its courses and AI foes. In the absence of any official license developer HB Studios has crafted a raft of TGC Official courses. All of them vary in difficulty and location and they are a great place to start post-tutorials. There is also a vast sea of community-created courses and this is helped, in no small part, by TGC2’s fantastic course editor. You can, if you want, create a course in around five or ten minutes by simply setting the theme and location of your course followed by tweaking a few sliders to alter the frequency of things like greenside bunkers or water on the course. If you’re feeling much more involved you can tweak each hole and fairway to your heart’s content. If you played the original The Golf Club you can also import your old courses so there’s lots on offer here. Once you’re happy with the course of your dreams you can then publish it for the rest of TGC2’s community to tackle.
Speaking of community, TGC2 introduces the concept of societies both offline and online. Offline it’s purely a place for us to customise both the clubhouse and our golfer with the spoils of offline competition wins. Through its expansion we were able to compete in more competitions per season which would in turn increase the amount of money we could earn. Online, however, it’s a place for you and your clubmates to create tournaments and compete against each other for pride and bragging rights. Some societies require you to have a certain handicap, others are open for all.
When you do compete in tournaments there’s a welcome ambience. The original The Golf Club was a rather barren experience. It was just you, the course and your attempt to hit that elusive birdie. There are now crowds, gentle claps and reactions based on how the round is going. We also have the calming and often amusing commentary from the returning John McCarthy. Often when we were having a bad round his encouragement kept us going and made us feel like he was genuinely invested in us and our performance. Every time you decide to play a round you can either take it on by yourself or ghosts of players past. The latter, on paper, sounds like a fun way to play and it would be if it weren’t for one, annoying flaw. As you play, the ghosts of the other players go about their business and this is fine until you reach the green.
There’s a saying in golf “hit for show and putt for dough” meaning that whilst a long drive looks great for the fans, getting in the hole is where the money is earned. So when, during your swing for a putt, the ghost of a fellow player goes through your path causing you to misjudge things, your levels of frustration will no doubt skyrocket like ours did. Why things couldn’t have been done in a round-robin style or have the ability to turn off the ghosts on the green seems like a glaring omission. We lost count of the number of times our putt was compromised due to a ghost passing through at an awkward time. Gripes don’t end here however as, because TGC2 is online only, load times can be very long. In addition, even though things have moved on graphically, we frequently had screen-tearing and asset pop-in which distracted us somewhat during play.
TGC2 has moved on and in a very positive direction. It’s clear HB Studios heard the criticisms laid at the feet of the original The Golf Club and tried their best to address them in its sequel. They have mostly been successful with only a few things holding things back. Societies bring in some much needed competitiveness and the beginning tutorials will certainly help newcomers feel more at ease with the game’s controls. The game looks much better than its predecessor and along with its calming music we found ourselves kicking off a round just to unwind after a long day. However, as we’ve mentioned, things aren’t perfect and there are still plenty of places for improvement, chief among them the ghost situation. Still, TGC2 is the benchmark for golf games and if you’re itching to tee-off without leaving your living room then you'll be well catered for here.