By: Quinn Potter
With the range of full-body immersion experiences available in gaming today, it’s a surprise to see physically immersive games such as The Golf Club relying on traditional controls. When trying a game like this, the question is whether a sporting game using handheld controls can keep players entertained and coming back for more.
The buttons are well laid out and fairly responsive. Teeing off and making chip shots from the rough or up to the putting green are relatively easy to master at full power. However, it takes a little time to master the subtlety needed to sink a putt with just the right amount of juice.
The graphics are workable, not spectacular. It’s golf, so the action is fairly slow and easy to follow. The graphics gives a good sense of three dimensions as you make your way around the course. Frame rate holds up around the mountains, sand traps and water hazards, but the forest shots break up as the camera pans to follow the ball on a long drive.
The light changes as you move through the course, which gives you a sense of a full day’s play (morning light to midday to early evening). Sometimes the wind picks up and the shadows of the trees sway in a gentle wind as you work across the putting green, which makes for a nice, real-world touch.
The male announcer who narrates the game with his know-it-all professionalism can either be someone you admire for putting you in the hot seat of a pro or someone whose slight sarcasm is something you will come to know and dread. When you drive into the rough, the comments are tolerable (“Well you can’t hit all the fairways”; “Ok, we are very deep in the rough here, be careful with this one,”).
When you miss 2-, 5-, and 10-foot putts, the comments have a little sting (“Aww, man” “Ouch!”; “Doh!!”). It’s when you’ve really had a bad run off course that he starts to put you in your place (“Well, you’re in the sand, so let’s just um, let’s get out of there and move on with our lives;” “Just give it another hack and let’s get out of there;” “Alright, the course marshal is yapping in my ear about time, so we’re going to move you on to the next hole …” “Here’s a pro tip, try staying out of the rough. It will help, trust me.”)
And the advice he gives after a bad performance doesn’t exactly decrease anxiety levels, especially if you’re playing in front of (or with) friends (“Yeah, we’re gonna just forget about that last hole. Clear our heads. Breathe.”)
It’s not initially clear, but the key to enjoyable game play is to find others online and play a course with them. For example, initially, only 27 courses rated from “easiest” to “hardest” with either nine or 18 holes and a range of par 3, par 4 and par 5 were presented. Using the search feature changed things dramatically, however, as suddenly there were 80 courses to choose from and other people appeared on the course.
Once you’ve selected a course, you start at the first hole. As your avatar steps up to the tee, the camera gives you a flyover view each hole so you can see how the fairway is laid out. This is important because you don’t want to tee-off toward the flag if there’s a bend in the fairway. As you move through the course (and the day), the wind often picks up so you have to shift your aim to compensate.
There are a number of statistics laid out on the side of the screen. The upper left shows the hole number and par, the number of yards to the flag, and the number of the stroke that you are on. In smaller print (which can be difficult to read), your player name is listed with the total score and your shot number for the hole.
The upper middle of the screen has an icon indicating wind speed and direction. The upper right shows what club you are using (you do have control here if you want to override the system’s choice). The lower right screen shows the percent power used on the hit, the number of yards your ball traveled and the path your ball took as compared to the path of the ideal ball (par) for the course.
Once you reach the putting green there is a neon green grid that overlays the screen. There are no explicit instructions on how to use this grid. The narrator calls out the distance and the grid helps you properly orient your avatar to sink the putt.
The real fun comes in using the “Course Design” option, which gives you a choice of four main themes (rural, desert, alpine, and autumn), allows you to set the difficulty, choose the amount of natural elements (water hazards, trees, hills) and name the course.
The design is very quick and fun to watch develop. Within three minutes you can begin playing a new course. After the course is made, you can refine details by sculpting the land. It gives the player a feeling of ownership over the course. If you have others join you, this might be the most entertaining and original option for tournament play.
The Golf Club might be an afternoon’s worth of pleasant diversion (from work or chores) or could be an entertaining party game (especially if you are designing a course with friends), but the stilted graphics, unwieldy putting controls and sarcastic play-by-play commentary leave players less-than-inspired to come back for another round.