I’ve been playing The Golf Club way back when it was in Early Access on Steam all the way up to its official release last August. At that time we reviewed the Xbox One version of the game but now that the Collector’s Edition has released we thought we check it out on the PlayStation 4.
It’s been more than two years since we’ve had a console golf game, and we have two more months to wait before Rory McIlroy PGA Tour releases, so HB Studios certainly has the luxury of having absolutely no competition, both last year when the original game launched and now with this Collector’s Edition. So what’s actually new in this re-release?
For those who may have played the original you probably remember how there was no structure; no tours or career modes. Now the game features a Season Mode with five tour levels. For those who would rather design courses than play them the Greg Norman approved course designer has been updated with a Tropical theme, and last but not least is a code you can redeem for a surprising cool eBook featuring cool photography and exclusive interviews with golf pros and their experience playing at St. Andrews.
Sadly, everything else that we loved and hated about last year’s game is all back to delight and haunt you including some pretty awful graphics and a complete lack of fun. This is pure barebones golf with none of the amenities like clothing and gear that can modify your stats or rapid-tap shot modifications to boost power or put unnatural spin on the ball. Playing a round of The Golf Club is much like going out and playing the real sport where the only thing between the tee and the cup are the clubs in your bag and a handful of shot modifiers. There are no stroke or impact meters or putt previews. Aside from the essential grid overlay on the green you are playing this game totally by feel, which offers up a refreshing and realistic challenge for diehard golf enthusiasts but totally frustration for everyone else.
The most noticeable issue with The Golf Club and my biggest complaint are the graphics. The game is just plain ugly for the most part. Still shots are pretty enough and reminded me of the old Links game from the 90’s but once the camera starts moving, either to preview a hole or track your ball in flight, all sorts of issues arise. Perhaps the most glaring of these is the extreme screen tearing quickly followed by level of detail and shadow popping. You also have shimmering textures, jagged edges on the club shaft and jagged borders around the sand traps. Textures are flat and lifeless. Framerate stumbles on flybys, especially if there are a lot of trees being rendered. Grass on the fairway and green looks painted on and while the water does offer some reflections there is this odd ripple pattern and oil-slick rainbow effect on what should probably be smooth-as-glass water. I also experienced repeated camera issues where a tree or bush would completely block the view of my golfer, and since this game has no swing meter you are totally relying on seeing your swing to judge its power.
The audio is basic at best with simple and somewhat poor sound effects like the ball impact effect that always sounds like somebody dropped a ball on some miniature golf turf and recorded the thump. Music is minimal but nice and kept in the menus where it belongs, but what really stood out for me was John’s commentary. At first it sounds a bit amateurish, but I really started to enjoy the more casual chitchat approach. It was almost like one of the game designers was my caddy, and the comments were remarkably relevant to my shot or situation and seldom repeated. He even did a great job of correcting himself when his initial comments turned out incorrect.
The Golf Club comes with a small selection of pre-built courses and more courses are being added daily by the players thanks to the Greg Norman approved course designer that allows you to create surprisingly professional-looking courses in less than two minutes. You simply choose a few settings like a theme, tree density, amount of water, level of hills, etc. and the game will procedurally generate a basic course that is ready to play. Naturally you want to tweak your creation in the editor that allows you to go in and place objects and wildlife as well as terrain features like rocks and sand traps. The level of control you have in tweaking your course is mind-blowing, and the interface works surprisingly well with the DualShock 4 controller. On an unrelated side note, I did enjoy how the light on the gamepad matches the color of your golfer’s shirt.
Once you have created the course of your dreams you can take a snapshot from anywhere on the course for your thumbnail and publish it for the rest of The Golf Club community to play. They will be able to rate your course, which almost turns into a game of its own in seeing who can create the best and most-played courses. The course library is bursting at the seams after eight months of content input. Thankfully there are integrated tools to search and filter the courses you want to play. If you find a favorite designer you can easily view any other courses they have created.
There are some great social aspects to The Golf Club. In addition to local four-person multiplayer you have plenty of intuitive online options as far as challenging your friends or other gamers to real-time matches or competing with ghost players (every round you play on every course is saved as a ghost) as well as creating your own custom tours. A robust stats screen will track every aspect of your game and player performance, and there are even course creation stats for architectural bragging rights.
If you can get past the dismal graphics that are actually inferior to the 2004 Links game on the original Xbox – yes, ten years and two generations of consoles ago – you will still find an enjoyable golf game that is all about the golf and none of the gimmicks that a decade of Tiger Woods has spoiled us with. Best of all, you won’t be bothered to purchase future course DLC since the designers have given you and everybody else the same tools to create your own infinite library of golf courses. So even if you can’t play golf like Greg Norman maybe you can design a course worthy of the master using the tool kit that is as intuitive as it is massive.
The Golf Club Collector’s Edition adds a much needed “reason” to play the game alone, and the new Tropical theme will certainly add some fresh air to the massive, yet repetitive-looking course library. The PC version is still the best of all the versions provided you have the hardware to overcome the visual hiccups, but for those starving for a console golf game, your options are limited. Spend $40 now for a lackluster golf sim that focuses more on content creation than the joy of golf, or wait until July when EA blows up the links with their next installment of PGA Tour.