The Golf Club Review (PC)
Much like the real game of golf, creating it’s digital counterpart can be difficult and frustrating, but extremely rewarding when you hit the sweet spot. Trying to emulate the tension of needing to knock a wedge close to the pin from 125 yards out in a video game is not easy, but that’s exactly what developer HB Studios is trying to do.
In a year in which video game golf fans thought they were going to be denied country club membership, a small Nova Scotian developer has jumped in to fill the void. Now the question is, have they drilled a 40-foot putt, or left just short of the cup?
If you are expecting a game with multiple modes, power ups, large official club selections and licensed courses, than you are likely to be somewhat disappointed with this title. The Golf Club offers up the most basic of golf simulation, which includes single round play, head-to-head, and an online tour and tournament mode.
The swing mechanic(s) that the Golf Club employs is implemented very well, as it relies on the user's touch and feel instead of using a meter based or three-click system. The game utilizes the analog stick to recreate the true feeling of swinging a club back and forth, however, hitting the ball off the tee, and from the fairway, is still too easy. I did find myself occasionally hitting into the first or second cut, but that was more of a residual effect from the course design, not from the difficulty of the swing mechanic.
Even though the game lacks the career mode that many love to play, the actual golf itself, is very well done. HBS has given the user ability the swing as hard as their little muscles can muster, or finesse a shot if needed. They have also included the ability to manipulate the swing stick, fade or draw a given shot, and adjust the loft of a ball. While all of that feels very good, and emulates the real swing fine enough, it’s the putting system that separates it from most golf titles. In my honest opinion, the Golf Club’s putting system is one the best ever created and actually gives the user the feeling of truly being on the green. There is no meter or break focus, and the game simply gives the user limited information (green grid-distance-elevation), and forces you to read the green, and putt accordingly. It basically boils down to how well you can read a green, and your feel with the analog stick. In all my time with this title, I never felt once that I was actually cheated by some flaw in the mechanics, which is huge compliment to what HBS has created here.
Overall the game looks very nice in motion, but the create-a-player models are limited. Clothing choices are basic and golfer stances lack a natural look and feel. Speaking of clothing choices, not only are they limited, but not one them of them is an officially licensed product. Same goes for the clubs, as HBS decided that generic clubs and clothing would be their avenue of choice. These choices in no way take away from the gameplay itself, but for the ones who love to clothe their digital doppelganger with authentic gear, you may find this decision not to your liking.
Other than the games commentary by “John,” the Golf Club offers up very little in terms of presentation. There is no CBS analyst spewing out repetitive lines, no trophy presentation for winning a season tournament, and no massive crowds lining the fairway in anticipation of your next swing. There aren't any overlays either, which is a pretty big bummer.
The reason that none of the above is an issue is because if you have followed the development of this game, the developers have stated from the beginning that the Golf Club was meant to emulate the experience of friends hitting the links together for fun, not a PGA season, career, or broadcast. We knew what we were getting.
Overall, the hole previews are implemented nicely, and look great. The standard swing camera is solid, and the broadcast style camera the game switches to once the ball is in the air is also well done. The overall presentation is limited, but what is there coincides with exactly what the developers set out to initially accomplish.
I typically do not devote a whole section to one item or area of a game, but in the case of the Greg Norman Course Creator, it’s warranted. The course creation system is best described as deep and user friendly. Make no mistake though, while it may be easy to use, it will take time before your name will be mentioned with the likes of Pete and Alice Dye.
You can choose to let the system generate a course and make some tweaks to its rendition, or you can choose to create the course from scratch, and have your own design fingerprints all over it.
The in-house creator allows the user to choose from a myriad of options, including but not limited to: theme, hole design, pin placement/green undulation, thickness and style of rough, Water placement, Building/object placement, Wildlife, shrubberies, landscape, elevation and sand traps. As deep and robust as the creator is right now, the developers have hinted at adding even more at later dates. To be honest, the course creator is worth the price of the game, even if that’s all that was offered.
The online portion of the Golf Club is where the true “meat and bones” start to become exposed. As we mentioned earlier, online gives the user the ability to play head-to-head in single or tournament modes. You can also choose between a plethora of online created courses from the official development team, and user created content as well.
In head-to-head play, the game was smooth, lag free, and connection issues were nowhere to be found. The one caveat to all of this is the real-time opponent shot delay caused by the HBS servers recording and transfer of each and every swing that is taken during the matchup. This data transfer process consistently caused a 10-second shot delay from when your opponent actually hit the shot, to when you saw the action on screen. If you are not in a party/chat online, the delay is not a big deal. If you happen to be though, than it is odd hearing your opponent on the headset screaming obscenities through his microphone, and not seeing results play out for at least 10 seconds. At the time of writing this review, HBS developers have gone on record saying they are looking into the matter.
We would also be remiss if we didn’t mention that you can play a ghost ball instead of a live opponent. The game uses “DNA” from your friends list, or other opponents, and creates an offline opponent. You can choose to just see your opponents ball flight path, or enable turn-based multiplayer and watch your opponents full shot. You can also choose the enable turn-based multiplayer option on with a live person also.
The Golf Club isn’t perfect, and no one is going to confuse it with a AAA sports title with unlimited resources and time. While that may not sound like a ringing endorsement, the Golf Club doesn’t try to pretend to be anything that it is not. The developers had a clear and concise vision of what they wanted to create. They ran a lengthy beta on the PC side, and absorbed an abundance of community feedback, and implemented as much as they could. What they have created is an authentic golf simulation that mimics the sport very well. The inclusion of the before-mentioned course creator is worth the price of admission by itself, but thankfully fans will get much more for the investment than just the ability to create a course.
Graphics – Golf Club will never be used as a litmus test for next-gen graphics scoring, but it’s pretty enough.
Audio – The game does a very nice job of recreating to the true sounds of the game, and its surroundings.
Learning Curve – The game’s touch and feel swing mechanics make the learning experience quite a process, but in a good way.
Control Scheme – Simple and organic, and that’s the biggest compliment a golf title can hope for.
Lasting Appeal – Assuming you have internet access, there is plenty here that will keep you coming back for more.
Score – 7.5 (Good)