The Golf Club Review (Xbox One)
For a long time the go to game for golf fans has been the EA Sports Tiger Woods/PGA Tour series. However, with the next generation of consoles comes a new contender to the title. HB Studios have developed the Golf Club using the Unity3D engine and comes to us on Xbox One, PS4 and PC. The PC version went through Steam early access, and we previewed that version, but this review is based on the Xbox One version.
The first thing anyone will notice, and it’s something HB Studios are proud to shout about, is just how quick it is to pick up the controller and jump into a round of golf. From the start menu you can select “Tee off” and away you go on a randomly selected course. There is very little load time before you are on the first tee, and impressively there is no load time between each hole. The entire course is loaded in when you start, allowing you to see the adjoining holes alongside you as you are playing. If you have a friend online playing a course, you will get a notification at the side of the UI, and pressing the share button on the Xbox One controller will drop you straight into that same course. What’s really nice here is that your friend might be a few holes ahead of you, but because the whole course is loaded you will occasionally see their shot being played in the distance.
If none of your friends are playing online, you can set up to play against their ghost, or the ghost of any player that has played the course. Pit yourself against the player with the record score and see their shots as you go. You don’t ever see other player models, just the path of their shots and the ball itself. Don’t like one of the rivals? You can switch them out mid round. The only nuisance here is that you are playing online, even when nobody else is live, so if your connection drops you will be kicked out of the round, unless you leave it sitting there until the connection comes back. However, you can go and play an offline round and once your connection is back you can jump straight back in to where you were. The commentator even welcomes you back.
The commentator is as unobtrusive as they get, and actually sounds more like a caddy than a commentator. He makes the round personal, updating you on your score and how far you have to the pin. When playing with a live friend he’ll even update you if they score a birdie or a bogie. The Golf Club doesn’t have the same TV presentation style of the EA Sports PGA Tour games. There’s no crowd, no cut scenes or over excited commentators. There is also no career, player customisation (beyond a few outfit choices) or progression. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it may put some players off. What you are left with though is a fair playing field when it comes to online play, and a straight up relaxing round of golf experience.
Where the Golf Club really shines is in the course creator. Even before it was released to the public the course designer was recognised as being a powerful tool. So much so that former world number one golfer Greg Norman wanted to put his name to it. Greg Norman Golf Course design is one of the worlds leading golf course design companies, and they have not only endorsed the Golf Clubs course designer tool, but have actually said they will use it to help with some of their real life course design projects. And a powerful tool it is indeed. When you launch it, you get to select a few predefined variables such a how hard the greens will be, how long the holes will be etc. and the game will generate a course for you. Once you have your base design you can then go in and modify it in almost anyway imaginable. Alter the land, narrow the fairways, undulate the greens, add some trees of rocks, put bridges over your water hazards, even add a sperm whale. In fact there are a host of wildlife that you can add around your course, if you so wish to. While designing the course you can choose to play the hole you are editing, drop the ball somewhere specific and play from there, or just start from the first tee. At any point while playing you can jump straight back into edit mode to make some refinements. Once you are happy with your creation, publish it for all the world to play.
The course designer adds a huge amount of depth to the game as you will never run out of new courses to play. HB Studios have provided a selection of official courses, but you can easily search for user designed courses or even ones your friends have designed. The only fall out from this is that some users have abused the course designer in order to unlock the achievements. The best one I’ve seen was a course of par 3s that had volcano like greens, guaranteeing a hole in one so long as you hit the green.
The game does look really nice. If you saw the pre-release press shots then you might be slightly disappointed by the quality on Xbox One, and undoubtedly PC users can get an improved version if they have a really good PC, but it is a demanding game even on top end PCs. The compromise though is the seamless load times between holes. The UI is also crisp and really intuitive. In terms of audio there isn’t a lot to talk about, but the music that’s there is aesthetically pleasing enough for you to not hate it.
The Golf Club has set a good score in the opening round of the golf simulator challenge against EA Sports. It will keep golf fans happy for a long time with its unique course designer feature. If this was a review of the PC version it might get a slighter higher score based on the graphics, but for the Xbox One version there can be only one score given: