“The Golf Club” brings gamers an alternative in the golf simulation genre, as EA’s “PGA” series has taken a few tours off, and aims to take us closer to the pin. While most of the visuals deliver a quite pleasing aesthetic, some strange oversights in visuals, physics issues, and lack of some real progression ultimately handicap “The Golf Club”.
From Pro-Am to Big Show
Having an open card for golf games gives “The Golf Club” a great opportunity to swoop in and snatch some market share from the monster that is EA and their annual PGA Tour entry. “The Golf Club” doesn’t feature any big name golfers, or named golfers period, which doesn’t really work against the game, but is part of the issue of identity and customization that players may find when they boot up “The Golf Club”.
Upon launching into “The Golf Club Collector’s Edition” players will be greeted by soothing notes, familiar to golf games of the past, and similar to the rest of the game, a very straightforward menu. Players have the option of jumping in to a round, tour, or tournament immediately, or jumping in to the full-featured and intuitive “Greg Norman Course Designer”.
Once in a round, “The Golf Club” is an initially impressive piece of visuals that showcase some great foliage, greenery, and renders right down to the individual blades of grass varying in color and density. The courses vary quite a bit in the theme, being available in Alpine, Desert, Autumn, Links, Boreal, Countryside, Harvest, Rural, and Tropical, new to “The Golf Club Collector’s Edition”. Each of these environments and changes within the foliage and setting are unique and beautiful to certain extents, what seems to be some oversight on the beauty that could be contained in the skybox for instance, is puzzling, as the rest of the course and environment is just plain pretty. Clouds look a bit like cotton balls, water is mirrored well but doesn’t show actual life, and a few little spurts of grass that pop in just pull a bit out of the experience.
Your Journey from Amateur to Elite
New to the “Collector’s Edition” is the addition of Season mode, an event based, tiered difficulty mode where players can golf their way to the top of the ranks and a full trophy room. Season mode provides a taste of progression in using the skills you learn through trial and error within the game to further your career. Embarking on a Beginner series allows your custom golfer to make their name through a quick four events, vying for the top position on the boards and with multiple trophies on the line. Once you’ve mastered the Beginner Series, you’ll be able to progress to an Amateur Season, Pro-Am, Pro, and finally Elite season. The progression through the different seasons is satisfying and a great addition to the otherwise lacking options being only tournament and quick round, but without some actual golfer progression in the way of stats, it still feels a little flat.
Creating a golfer in “The Golf Club” should be a fairly intimate process, creating your identity in a game, or even something completely off the walls and seeing the hilarious results as your maniacal golfer takes the tour by storm could be satisfying and entertaining. Instead, we’re given few options in the way of male or female choices, and a few color pallet swaps for your hair, pants, shirt, hat, and shoes. Customization just isn’t a true option, you’re stuck with wearing a hat, no matter what, you’ve only got a choice of color/pattern for your shirts, pants, and shoes. While some of the patterns available look just fine, it’s hard to say that the choice of customization for your individual golfer truly feels individual.
To say that progression is lacking in “The Golf Club” would be generous, as you do indeed progress but only to new events, and your golfer is merely a vessel for holding the club and hitting the ball, with some canned animations when you nail an eagle putt, or miss that par putt that don’t seem to vary at all. The golfer you start with is the golfer you’ll end with, which might also speak to some of the challenge held within “The Golf Club”.
All the Right Stuff, Just Not Enough
“The Golf Club” is indeed a more challenging take on the golf genre, with emphasis on accuracy and truly examining each and every shot. Upon taking the tee you’ll notice the wind blowing ever so gently (or maybe not so gently), hitting triangle to enable the “Scout Cam” to get a quick overview and zoom to the range of your currently selected club. Once you’ve zoomed with the “Scout Cam” you’ll also be able to manipulate the camera in a few ways to get a true “lay of the land” and judge the pitch and yaw of the fairway or green you’re aiming for. “The Golf Club” does a great job of communicating all the information that you’d need as a true golfer on the links, with your club range, overview of the hole itself in yardage, and live updates on the wind
Once you’ve decided on your club, aim, and approach you’ll be all set to pull back on the right stick to engage your backswing, then swing forward as is the norm with current accepted controls for golf games. The difference within “The Golf Club” is that accuracy within your push of the stick is crucial, as varying outside of a red “safe zone” will result in a substantial draw or fade that you can tell your friends you “planned”. This emphasis on accuracy does telegraph the challenge and aim of the overall experience of “The Golf Club” well, and sets to differentiate it from other titles in that it’s a bit more difficult and less-casual version of the same controls we’ve seen before. Driving and approach are only part of the challenge however, as putting is the true equalizer in real-world golf, and it’s no different in “The Golf Club”. Putting differs from the approach and driving game in that your putter has a set range, and if you pull back completely on the stick, you’ll find yourself reaching for your wedge to get back on the green, after shaking your head because your put almost broke the sound barrier. The putting goes from frustrating to satisfying once you realize these constraints, but the problem is that “The Golf Club” doesn’t explain anything, at all.
“The Golf Club” has some just plain puzzling decisions made in the design as well. The commentary for instance, which comes off as a buddy standing there with you, would be great if it were at all helpful, but instead of advising or informing the player, there’s no feedback beyond some random quips about not doing well, or doing well. Nothing in the way of coaching or correcting player behavior was implemented and ultimately the commentary is best served at the “off” setting. Also missing in this avenue is the ability to practice, or get any sort of tutorial on the games mechanics. Being a golf game, it might seem fairly straightforward, but in reality, the subtle yet challenging control tweaks on the classic scheme make the game tricky enough to dictate the need for some sort of direction. Instead, “The Golf Club” throws you to the wolves and hopes you pick it up as you go.
The Bottom Line
“The Golf Club Collector’s Edition” delivers a satisfying golfing experience on console while adding in some great features like the Season Mode, a collectible e-book, and one additional theme for the course designer. The base gameplay mechanics are challenging yet satisfying and demand accuracy, consistency, and awareness in order to hope to par or better. While a good mechanical game, the bigger picture is missing some pieces that are just plain questionable. With no feedback or instruction to assist with picking up the controls or mechanics, beautiful courses but bland skyboxes, and hints of customization but not true progression will likely leave you liking, but wanting much more.
Examiner was provided with a copy of “The Golf Club Collector’s Edition” for PlayStation 4.
For a different take on the original release of “The Golf Club”, check out Matt’s review from the initial release back in August.