This is an Early Access Review and as such opinions are based solely on the state of the game at the time of review and subject to change as development progresses leading up to final release.
As I was approaching hour ten of my marathon session of Turbo Golf Racing, I started to write this review in my head and even jot down some notes; the entire time desperately trying to find a way to finish my review without ever mentioning the words “Rocket League”. It just isn’t possible. Everything from the core gameplay design to the look of the cars and even the imagery used for thumbnails on steam and the in-game splash screens all owe their existence to a little soccer game that released in July of 2015.
Much of Rocket League’s initial success was due to Sony giving the game away for free, which instantly created a thriving community that persisted, as the car-soccer game eventually released on other systems, bringing cross-platform play and expanding the online community even further. Rocket League became my go-to game when seeking some fast and casual gaming, and I quickly logged over 1,200 hours across PC, PlayStation, and Xbox. Eventually, Epic would make the game exclusive to their store, and Rocket League got infused with so much monetization, battle pass, and blueprint nonsense that I uninstalled the game several years ago and have never gone back.
Sure, Turbo Golf Racing brings back fond memories of playing sports in cars. After all, Rocket League offered basketball and hockey variations to its line-up. Golf was the inevitable next step since bumping a ball into a giant “net” isn’t that different from knocking a ball into a giant hole after bumping it down a fairway 20-30 times. But there are still plenty of distinctive elements to make Turbo Golf Racing just as addicting and challenging to play as Rocket League was back in its prime…before it turned into a money-pit. But enough about Rocket League.
Turbo Golf Racing is very simple, especially in this state of Early Access with 30 courses available for solo play. These are divided into three sets of ten holes, which you must complete within a set time limit. There are three time goals for each hole, each rewarding a star for finishing under that time, and your access to additional holes is unlocked by earning stars in previous holes. At the time of this review, I have two stars on every hole, which is basically required to access/complete all 30 holes. Going back and earning that third star is a challenge I look forward to in my future spare time.
But all of this solo play is mere practice for the online golf game that awaits once you have learned how to play golf with a fancy sports car or truck. Vehicle choice is limited for now, but you do unlock new vehicles through normal level-up progression. Regardless of your finishing position you will still earn XP and Gears during each match; the former increasing your level and earning you a prize at each tier, while the latter is used as currency for the in-game store where you can buy visual upgrades for your car, ball, and other flashy effects. While not as vast as the parts selection in Rocket League, at least in Turbo Golf Racing you are actually earning “real stuff” and not silly blueprints that only unlock the privilege of buying later with real money.
Nearly all of the upgrades are visual in nature; a new paint job, a flashy spoiler, or a dangerous looking plow for the front of the vehicle to knock the ball around. Some upgrades (Cores) do offer limited performance boosts, but these are nicely balanced with their own negative effects; like increasing your boost speed at the cost of slowing down how fast the meter refills. Basically, the entire game is about the skill of the player and not the capabilities of the car, but it is still fun to mix and match up to two Cores per vehicle and see how it affects your game.
You’ll definitely need to prepare your ego before playing Turbo Golf Racing because unlike Rocket League you probably aren’t going to win…at least as often. In Rocket League you had teammates and Lady Luck to help keep that win-loss ratio in check, but here you are in an 8-player scramble to get that ball from tee to hole in the fastest time. Other players’ balls and cars are ghost images, only there for visual reference with one exception…rockets and shields. So far, this is the only interaction you can have with other players. By driving through power-up icons on the course you can collect lock-on rockets to fire at opponents to slow them down. You can also collect shields to trigger when somebody shoots a rocket at you. This element of the game either needs to be expanded with more weapons and defensive gadgets or just dropped entirely and keep the game all about the golf.
Controls are pretty excellent, at least when playing with a gamepad, and Turbo Golf Racing “feels” exactly like Rocket League with the same turbo, e-brake, drift, and jump mechanics. There are fun “secrets” to figure out like getting a boost off the starting line or flipping your car to create a momentary shield to protect from a rocket attack. The game does require more precision than Rocket League. In that game you just hit the ball in the general direction of the net and there was a chance it would go in. Here, you are going to need to hit the ball 20-30 times or more just to get it to the hole, so each shot needs to be accurate otherwise you end up chasing the ball around.
For me, the camera was a big part of improving my scores. For the first 2-3 hours there was something just “off” about the game. I couldn’t hit the ball straight to save my life, and I was constantly zigzagging back and forth across the half-pipe style fairways. Then I realized the camera defaults to ball-lock; a mode available in Rocket League but one I never mastered. In this view the car and ball are always in view, which means your angle of attack is always coming from the side. Switching to normal view you are able to line-up and hit the ball more accurately, and I was able to shave tens of seconds off my time.
Presentation is top-quality with simple menus, fun car designs with clever animations that almost makes them seem to dance to the fun songs that make up the soundtrack, and visually distinct parts for your shopping pleasure. The same D-pad chat system found in Rocket League has been adapted for this game but uses adorable emoticons rather than text phrases. Matchmaking is fast, averaging 30 seconds to assemble eight players of which 2-3 almost always “disconnect” before it’s over. There are three holes per match, each taking one or two minutes to finish based on length and complexity. You’re awarded points based on your finishing position, and the sum of all three holes determines the winner.
Course design is excellent with various themed environments and fairways that curve and twist their way to the hole with natural hazards like tall grass, rocks, and sand mixed with game-altering boosts like speed pads for your car and boost rings for your ball. Mastering these time-saving devices are crucial in locking down those winning times. Many courses are suspended above a void, and it is all too easy to hit the ball completely off the narrow course for an OB time penalty before the game resets your car and ball.
Playing online is really no different than the solo challenges. There is still that feeling of playing alone 95% of the time, with other players merely becoming a visual distraction until they fire a rocket at you. Hopefully new modes will get introduced to flesh out the multiplayer offerings. I’d like to see some co-op and team modes perhaps. How cool would it be for a two-player team to work together to get the ball down the fairway and into the hole by taking alternating shots on the same ball? Split-screen local play please or how about removing the timer and having a mode that counts your “strokes”. I’ve got so many ideas I want to join the dev team before the game leaves Early Access. Just please keep the game free after purchase and don’t get greedy and ruin the game like Rocket League did.
Will Turbo Golf Racing overtake Rocket League in popularity? Probably not, but who knows…in five years this could be the new e-sports phenomenon. Only time will tell, but I can guarantee I’ll still be playing this for years to come. I’ve always enjoyed golf more than soccer, basketball, and hockey combined, so Turbo Golf Racing is an easy recommendation for me, and I look forward to following up when the game officially launches.