It has been a long cold winter, but spring is finally here. The snow has slowly melted, the robins are out tweeting cheerfully, and the anticipation to hit the links is palpable. Most courses around here (Ontario) aren’t open yet – but what if I told you there was a way to get a very realistic golfing experience with almost limitless courses to choose from, and a course creator to boot? Canadian developer HB Studios promises all this with The Golf Club, and I had the honor of touring their virtual courses. The game is still in beta, but there is already a lot of features and gameplay implemented.
After firing up the game, you can choose to Tee Off right from the main menu, which will launch you right into a game if you don’t want to bother fussing with options. But if you want more options, choosing the Play option will let you find a course and adjust settings to your taste. You can play a round, tour or a competition (right now, only the “play a round” option was open to me). After choosing the round option for the first time, I was walked through the steps of creating a golfer to my liking and outfitting him in various golfing attire.
If you are feeling creative, you can even design your own course before heading out to your first tee. The course creator is deep and involving: it can build complete courses from scratch using a random generator (which you can influence the amount of water, trees, and hills, and also choose from various “themes”, like Alpine and Autumn), but you can also go into each hole individually if you like, adjusting the terrain and hazards. Even better, once you’re done building your course, you can “publish” it, making it available to any other players, who can play and rate your creations. Your friends can try your course out, and set records on it which you in turn can try to beat. With the endless possibilities of what the public can come up with for courses, there should be a healthy variety of holes to play on. This is what I’ve always wanted in a golf game, instead of feeling constrained by a limited number of courses, hoping more might come out via DLC if you’re lucky.
Before venturing out onto the course, I was asked what type of round I would like to play. I could go with stroke play – which the person who is the most shots under wins – against up to three other players (they can be friends, or just other players who have played the course already). Another option was match play, where you try to win the most holes against another player – the number of shots you take doesn’t count for a score, only which holes you bested your opponent on. Finally, there is an option for “Four Ball”, where you are paired up with a single team mate, you play the hole normally and the teammate with the best score on each hole has it submitted against other teams. The team with the best score for that hole earns the point, and in the end the team with the most points win. It was nice to see this option here, because you don’t normally see it in most golf games, yet it’s one I’ve played many time before in real life.
So now we get to the meat and potatoes of the game: the course selections. At the main menu, you‘ll see the “course of the week”, and another six popular courses. If those don’t appeal to you, there’s many, many others you can search out too. At the end of a round, you can favorite the course if you wish to find it again later on. At the time of me writing this preview I had 843 possible courses to play on – an almost insane amount to choose from, and a feat I don’t think has been seen before in any other golf game (and the game’s still in preview!). There are plenty of options to refine the search to find the perfect course for you. I was rather impressed, and overall it seemed to work very well. One thing I really liked was the quick load times between holes and being able to stop at any time, then simply come back later and continue on from where you left off.
When playing others, you don’t need to wait for them to hit before it’s your turn – instead, you’ll see their shots as you prepare to take your own, the path each ball takes shown with a small marker. It was refreshing to see this and it keeps the action going. You can even invite friends on your list to join you mid-round.
To make a shot, you will be using an analog stick (or mouse) to represent the movement of the golf club – so accuracy is key. You pull back to start your backswing, then in one smooth motion bring it back forward to make contact with the ball. It took some practice to learn how to hit the ball straight, because if you vary a bit left or right you will hook the ball, usually into the rough, trees, a bunker – or worse, water. When I started playing the game I found the swing mechanics very touchy, but over the next couple of days updates were made that smoothed things out. Nice to see the developers working hard on their game to make it the best it can be.
The overall look of the game is very realistic. I found myself just enjoying the lush courses and that feeling of being outside. The graphics were good for me, but I had to lower the quality settings – so they could have been even better. When the game is also released on the Xbox One and PS4 I imagine it will look awesome using the new generation of systems power to the utmost. I did run into some glitches now and then, but again, this is a beta.
With the graphics being as nice as they are, the audio side also shines. Nature is in full swing; you will be treated to birds, insects, and other nature ambience. I found it rather relaxing over all and made the experience that much more enjoyable. On the other hand, the announcer wasn’t as polished as you might expect from a golf game – I think it was probably one of the developers providing the commentary. I expect this will be addressed in time.
Before I hit the club house, let me just say I think the developers are on the right cart path with this game, and I can’t wait for its full release. If you love golf and want to have something for those rainy days and winter months, this game is something to look into!