Review: The Golf Club

Golf is not, on the face of it, a very complicated game.  The equipment is  A) a little ball, B) a bunch of sticks, and C) a lovely field with a small hole at its end.  Hit A) with the appropriate selection from B) into C), repeat either 8 or 17 times depending on personal time constraints.  Tally up number of hits plus any penalties for really screwing things up and that’s the whole game.  There’s nobody trying to jump in your way or knock you over, no clock ticking down to apply extra pressure, and no tricks to make the terrain look like anything other than exactly what it is.  So why is something so simple also so hard to play well?

A good golf game combines the simplicity of the mechanics with the few billion variables that make setting up and making the perfect swing such a tricky affair, and The Golf Club manages this nicely.  It’s also got an incredibly powerful course editor for creating as many courses as you could ever hope to play, with hundreds already posted and ready to download in seconds.  There’s a ton of content and a great golfing engine to use with it, but maybe it was a bit too early to release from Early Access.  I wrote about The Golf Club a couple weeks back and had nothing but nice things to say about it, and while all of that remains true the holes in the presentation are acceptable for a game still in development.  The Golf Club is a full release now, however, and while there’s still a lot of work that will be done over the coming months the version I get to review is the one that exists now, as opposed to later.  Right now The Golf Club is content rich, feature incomplete.

Take the character editor, for example.  You can choose from four male or two female golfers, and change their hat, shirt, pants, gloves, and shoes into a number of colors or styles, with five variations for the hat and seventeen for the shirt at the high end.  Having a Skyrim-style character editor is maybe a bit more than necessary, but the current version simply exists as a checkpoint on the features list rather than any meaningful attempt at personalization.  Similarly, the announcer commentary only has a small number of things to say and cycles through them quickly.  The real work remaining to be done, however, is in engine optimization.  The Golf Club is built off Unity, and looks pretty good for a Unity game despite some issues with level of detail, but the second the game starts running the fans on my machine kick into overdrive.  This isn’t an isolated issue, either, but at least I’m not getting the frame-drops so many others in the Steam forums are reporting.  Getting the timing down on a swing isn’t that hard, but dropping animation frames in the middle is still an unwelcome distraction.

What The Golf Club gets right, however, is everything else.  Its two focuses are the gameplay of smacking a little white ball around and the ability to create more areas in which to smack the ball around again.  The swing of the club uses a back/forth motion of the analog stick, no power meters or button clicking, and you can either time the back-swing or push the stick forward slower to lessen the strength of the hit.  Each club is rated for distance, and it only takes hitting the left trigger to bring up a meter that lets you add draw, fade, or raise/lower the height of the ball’s trajectory.  Putting is even simpler, with the amount of time you draw back governing the power of the putt and a grid showing the contours of the green to advise on the aiming.  Lining up the perfect swing is as much science as intuition, which is exactly how golf should feel.

The course creator is equally polished.  Creating a brand-new course is quick and easy, requiring adjusting a few sliders and letting the engine do the rest, and once generated you can hop into it instantly to test things out.  It only takes a few scenery and prop adjustments plus a bit of terrain tweaking to personalize the course, and then you can publish it for the world to see as it joins the ever-expanding library of courses already available.  There are courses that are serious, ridiculous, and every state between, all ranked and organized in ways that make it easy to find something to fit your current mood.  If you just want a good round of golf, whether it be a quick 9 holes, all 18, a multi-course tour, or even a tournament, there’s endless amounts of content to choose from or create, and it’s great golfing in single or mulitplayer.

Closing Comments:

The Golf Club is a bit wobbly and unfinished.  Every game I click on the Unity settings to start, then shoo the cursor off-screen to avoid it hovering over the game.  The heavy whirring of my computer fans is as much a part of the ambient noises as the chirping birds.  The bland player-character might as well be a stick figure for all I identify with it.  The Golf Club is a good game that’s easily got the potential to be great, but there’s still a long development road ahead of it before all the side-elements that supplement the main game can be hammered into shape.  Still, if all you need is an excellent golfing engine to use on a functionally-infinite number of courses then The Golf Club is unbeatable.
Version Reviewed: PC