I believe the following to be true: Those who play video game golf are more likely to be real world golfers than that of any other sports game and its gamers.
This puts a golf video game against a different set of standards than most sports games. The expectations are higher. The criticisms can be sharp. The bar is high for any studio that attempts to issue a golf game that is not meant to be arcade in its nature.
It’s difficult not to make comparisons. Most people will immediately look at the 800 lb gorilla in the room (the Tiger Woods franchise from EA Sports) and The Golf Club, and begin that process even if it is subconsciously. But if you do this – and you will – keep in mind one thing: The Golf Club has a $35 price tag. Not $60 plus whatever DLC you end up buying. We’re talking 35 bucks. Remember that.
First, let’s be clear on something. This game is not meant to be representative of the PGA. It’s meant to be representative of the game of golf.
With that said, here are some things you will notice that are not in The Golf Club:
No power bar/meter. No golfer attributes/ratings. No offline career mode. No practice range. No lobbies for multiplayer matchups. No licensed real world courses.
Sounds like quite a skeleton of a game on the surface, doesn’t it? Not so fast my friend. Let’s talk about this for a minute.
Not having a power bar/meter is a plus, not a minus. You will learn to play video game golf from an entirely new perspective and most likely, you will enjoy the hell out of it. While playing the PS4 version of The Golf Club, I was able to bounce some questions off Producer Anthony Kyne and I asked him about this. You’ll find a very interesting answer about how this happened at the end of this review in our Q & A.
The fact that there aren’t any golfer attributes or ratings is also a plus. You will need to count on your skill alone, not your golfer’s ratings, to play better than the next guy (or gal). Everyone has the same physical ability from their golfer on day one and it stays that way. I enjoy this idea a lot. If I’m playing someone and I lose, I know it was from one of two things – I didn’t play well or my opponent played really well.
Not having an offline career mode, a practice range or lobbies for multiplayer matchups are items I asked Anthony about so I’ll let him speak to those in the Q&A.
Visually, the game looks great on the PS4 at 1080p. Xbox One users have mentioned that it still looks good but maybe last gen-ish at 720p on that side.
The on course game play in The Golf Club is stellar. Although you will hit the fairways most of the time, depending on the course you are playing, you will have to come to grips with trying to master the short game. On what I would call “standard difficulty” courses and higher, it will take a fantastic effort on your part to reach a double digit under par. If you are used to shooting -20 in video game golf, prepare to be humbled.
The only real knock I have with the gameplay is that some of the swing animations could use some fine tuning. Outside of that, TGC has nailed it in gameplay.
If you need some lessons (come on, even Rory McIlroy still takes golf lessons) there are plenty of tutorial videos available at www.thegolfclubgame.com
The launch version on consoles came with a bit of a hiccup during gameplay as there are some occasional lags during a swing. I am told that this has already been fixed on the developer side and a patch is on the way. In the meantime, I suggest motioning through your back swing slightly to let that brief lag moment pass, and then take your shot. Once this is fixed, I’ll rate the gameplay at a 9.5.
UPDATE: The above mentioned patch has been issued.
Multiplayer, Tours and Tournaments
Even though there aren’t any lobbies for multiplayer, you can still invite friends to join you at a course and play a turn-based round or simply play at the same time at your own pace. You can also have ghost balls in play from previous rounds of your friends or yourself in a turn based or simultaneous format.
Personally, I would like to see a lobby system in place for pick up games. This would also serve well for launching Match Play and Four Ball rounds, which are the two other play types presently in the game. I give the multiplayer a 7.0 rating at this point but that could change in the future as the studio continues to grow the game.
For a more competitive experience you may want to look into Tours and Tournaments. Tours are rounds played as several courses to create a Tour effect. Tournaments are single events at one course that can be 1 or more rounds. There are presently some organized PGA style tours already underway by some users.
There is an option to put a time limit on either a tour or tournament and have a decided winner or you can leave it untimed with no end where it becomes a King of the Hill type of competition.
For me, this part of the game gets a solid rating of 8.0.
Greg Norman Course Designer
For those who have a creative streak, the Greg Norman Course designer will consume you. Your entire being will be devoured by what you can do. I know this by my own experience. The latest course I made, PGC – Tahoe, took up about 50 hours of my life. And I enjoyed every minute of it.
For those who do not wish to take that much time creating a course, you can still create a one of a kind design by setting a few parameters and clicking a button. In mere seconds you will have a ready to play golf course like no other. You can also edit this course afterwards if you wish.
The interface for editing and creating courses from scratch is nicely implemented using a PS4 or Xbox One controller.
Your first step will be to choose an environmental theme for your course. Presently there are five to choose from: Alpine, Autumn, Rural, Desert and Links. From there you are given choices for volume of trees, water, hills or let it randomize.
Next you decide the course difficulty and number of holes. After that, select a name for your course and watch it all come together right before your eyes. Now you can play it or edit it. Once you are satisfied, publish for everyone to have a go.
There are very few limitations on what you can do (creating a waterfall would be one of those limitations). There are plenty of objects to add for aesthetic value with more on the way. For the truly motivated, real world golf courses such as local favorites Edgewood Tahoe or Montreaux Golf Course in Reno could be replicated. Want to go big? Take a shot at Augusta or St Andrews! But beware, the community will be highly critical of your efforts on real world courses! If you are going to do it, invest the time to be as accurate as possible.
Trust me when I say that those who have the need to build may spend more time building courses than playing them. I give the Greg Norman Course Creator a 9.0
For the money, I don’t believe there is a much better value on the game market right now for those who enjoy some video game golf. The Golf Club is chock full of features and has fantastic gameplay at its core. Add in the course designer, which most of us would have easily paid $35 for on its own if it was a DLC for a game like Tiger Woods PGA Tour, and your dollars cannot go wrong here.
Despite some of the shortcomings which are already in place to be fixed, The Golf Club gets an overall rating of 8.75 from me. I know, the ratings I gave separately only add up to 8.3 but I cannot ignore the value of price in the overall rating.
Q&A with Producer Anthony Kyne of The Golf Club
JPS > HB Studios took a very unique approach during the development of this game with the attention it gave to the community requests. Looking back at the original blueprint for The Golf Club and where it is at now, how much did the community affect where the game is at launch?
AK > They affected it massively! We had an idea in our head that we wanted to create a tough, realistic golf sim with a course creator. We did that, but we were conservative with the difficulty. What the community did was reaffirm that we were on the right track and that we needed to continue making a hard but rewarding experience.
Greg Norman Course Designer
JPS > The one thing I've buried myself in during my time in Early Access is the Greg Norman Course Creator, designing my own courses from scratch. The ability to create a playable, one of a kind course in seconds is also a fantastic feature for those who do not/cannot spend the time on lengthy self-design. Was the ability to do Instant creation a task you targeted or was it something that just happened while working with the development?
AK > That was the main focus for us. When we sat down and talked about making a golf game the first thing we all agreed on was that we didn’t want to blow our budget on licenses and artists recreating those courses.
The plan at the start was to just have 3 or 4 options (Bunkers, Hills, Water, Amount of Holes) and then procedurally generate a course. But we got to that really early in development, and you know yourself, ideas start flowing and next minute we have a full blown course creator that someone like Greg Norman wants to use for his course design company. We slightly over achieved really. For me now though, it’s moved the needle. If golf games come out in the future without the ability to design courses they’re missing a major feature. Something I’d say is more appealing than a lobbied online mode and even a career mode.
JPS > There are literally thousands of user created courses already available which is sure to grow exponentially very quickly. That's a huge library of user-created content. It reminds me a bit of how much user-created content there is for Little Big Planet. Are there any plans to try to organize that content to another level where filtering for a particular type of course is a little easier?
AK > Yeah just over 9000 courses at the moment. It’s amazing! We’re looking at improving discovery at the moment. There are some amazing courses out there as well as some poor efforts. We want the good ones to rise to the top. The plan is to look at the users abilities and push courses that are highly rated and match their skill level towards them.
JPS > User-created courses are available to everyone cross platform, allowing someone on XboxOne to play a course created by someone on the PS4. How were you able to make this work and how difficult was it to get Microsoft and Sony on board with it?
AK > To get it working was pretty easy to be honest. The course data files are just a set of instructions, this is the reason they’re so small, the game itself turns the instructions into the courses through the generator code. They pretty much worked on each platform simultaneously as we went along.
Getting Microsoft and Sony to agree wasn't as hard as we expected. Things take time with those guys as they’re such big companies, but both understood what we were doing and the benefits it would have for their consumers if we were allowed to do it. It was a real coup for us though and generated quite a bit of publicity.
JPS > Greg Norman himself - that a nice association and partnership, how did that come about?
AK > Yeah it’s a great deal. We started talking to each other at the start of the Closed BETA. They really felt the Course Design tool was something that would be a huge benefit to the Greg Norman Course Design company. After that things moved pretty quickly.
JPS > Will Greg Norman's course creation company design any courses to be used in the game or could we possibly see any courses from that staff which do not belong to an existing client?
AK > I’m not sure to be honest. The Greg Norman Course Design company don’t normally own the rights to the courses, so we’d have to get a special deal with the courses themselves. That’s not something we really want to get into though.
The big thing about our game being used in conjunction with their software is that their clients will be able to play the courses that are being designed for them before any construction work has started. Change a few things, play it again. Then give it back to the Greg Norman team and they can create the course from that. It’s amazing when you think about it.
JPS > Will there be any course designer competitions?
AK > Definitely, we want reward the guys that are making these courses. The creativity people has blows my mind!
JPS > The gameplay is impressive. The fact that there aren't any shot meters is a different approach to the golf genre. Why did you decide to go that route?
AK > We wanted it to be about feel, but no power meter is a bit different to what else is out there. What actually happened was that Laura, our 2D artist, accidentally broke the power bar on a Friday night before going home for the weekend. A few of us were playing the latest build of the game at home over the weekend and realized that the controls were so good that we didn’t need the power bar at all. So it ended up staying! From one minor mistake a whole gameplay mechanic came about hahahaha! (Yes, that is Anthony LoLing... a LOT!)
JPS > This is not a game where players grind out the attributes of their golfer. Everyone is equal as far as their golfer abilities go. What drove this decision?
AK > As I get older I have less and less time to play games and for me there’s nothing worse than loading up a game and being so far behind the rest of the world because I can’t dedicate 8 hours a day to it. I’m never going to compete against that. So we wanted to get away from this attribute building. Make practice, skill ability and mental ability the main things that separate players. That was a major pillar for us. I don’t want any user to go into a round on any course and know that they can’t compete with the course record.
JPS > Do you have a "Dev tip" for those working their way around a course for the first time?
AK > Play Little Brook Manor, it’s a nice easy course I made. It’s named after a Power Station in Dartford.
It’s got nice wide fairways and big, flat greens. It’s forgiving for the new comer.
Think about each shot, you need to concentrate otherwise you’ll never get a good score.
JPS > As it stands now, there isn't a true practice range for players to hone their skills, will we be seeing one soon?
AK > Yes I think so, I’m actually creating a plan for the next 6 months now and that will hopefully make the list
JPS > The Golf Club loads courses in their entirety instead of one hole at a time which is very cool. With this comes a global wind direction/velocity implementation. Presently, there isn't an option for someone to play a course and set the wind to their liking. Are there any plans to add this as an option?
AK > No, not for playing. It would ruin the whole live play thing. But we’re talking about giving designers the ability to set wind parameters though.
JPS > How about for people creating Tours and Tournament events?
AK > Maybe, we need to investigate a little. I understand why people want to do it, but the system is written so that everyone in the world has the same wind conditions on each course. So we need to look at how that would effect it.
JPS > Many players enjoy going through an offline Career Mode. Do you have anything on the board to add this as a mode to the game?
AK > We’ve got some big plans in this area, it fits within our stance towards attribute building as well. It’ll be a little different to what has come before, but way more like the amateur golfers experience that we’re trying to recreate
JPS > For stat geeks like me, it's nice to see a lot of statistics being tracked. You also have something called a Global Rating. We've heard that this may change to a handicap number. Can you explain how the Global Rating works and if we'll see a handicap in the game?
AK > Global Ranking is a combination of the scores you’ve achieved and the courses you’ve achieved them on. The more difficult the courses you’re playing the higher your global ranking is. We liked it at the time, but I think the philosophy of the game really means we need to move to a Handicap system. We’ve talked about it at great length and it’s something we’re very keen on doing, so keep an eye out on the forums.
JPS > Most games have lobbies for players to challenge each other in online games, will The Golf Club be incorporating this any time soon?
AK > We get asked this a lot and it’s definitely something that we’d want to do. The problem we had with doing it for the release was that we’d either have to come out 6 months later or without the Greg Norman Course Designer. We’d also have to be Xbox Gold and PS+ gated and we didn’t want to be that either. Also over the years I’ve found that lobbied multiplayer users are around 10% of the user base, but they’re very vocal!
The system with ghost balls works really well in my opinion, I don’t want to wait around watching people take their shots. I just want to play my round at my pace. The Ghost Balls allow me to do that while also competing against others
JPS > Could we see a type of Ladder play based on a lobby setup?
AK > Maybe, although I don’t know if we specifically need lobbied multiplayer for that. Some way of progressing is something that’s very appealing to us though
JPS > What other changes or additions are being considered for the multiplayer mode?
AK > There’s a world of possibilities at the moment. We’re going to continue to look at what the community wants. We’ve got a good foundation, a great game and a great community. From there we can really build on making something quite unique.
JPS > Will we see any house tournaments for some swag prizes?
AK > We’re going to start creating tournaments soon, first off without prizes but as things take off we’ll start looking into it.
JPS > With the game on PC, XboxOne and PS4, a lot has been made about people using manipulative measures with controllers to gain an advantage. Do you have anything in place to limit this kind of activity?
AK > Yes we do, we know if people are cheating. We won’t give away our methods but we know. From my point of view, I don’t understand why you would cheat. What’s the point? Surely you can’t look at the posted score and be pleased with it. It’s a video game, there’s no glory or stardom to come from it. You’re just losing the sense of achievement that you could have had by seeing yourself improve
JPS > Gamers have typically felt jilted when it comes to post launch support of a game. What can a customer expect from HB Studios when it comes to future updates and support of The Golf Club?
AK > From the beginning we set out a plan to continue to support the game long past launch. We want to get away from the yearly update model that most sports games have. We just want to update with features that will improve the experience. As I said earlier, I’m working on a plan at the moment that will give us an idea of targets over the next 6 months to a year. These are loose plans as community feedback will dictate a little where we go but we need to make sure we have the staff in place to work on these things.
JPS > Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions during a very busy launch period, I truly appreciate it. I'd also like to send a shout out to Lorin and Derrick who had also taken time out from a very busy week to help put this together for me.To everyone reading, if you haven’t done so already go to your platform’s store and grab The Golf Club!