The Golf Club (HB Studios)
With Electronic Arts dominating the sports genre with their licensed titles I was surprised to see The Golf Club from HB Studios entering Steam Early Access a while back. The genre could definitely use some competition, but the question was whether anything would be able to match up to the might of Electronic Arts. I only had to play a few rounds in The Golf Club to find the answer.
The Golf Club is a unique entry in the sports game category that doesn’t try to emulate the sport on a professional simulation level, but instead focuses on what makes golf so fun and relaxing. This means that instead of spectators and sponsorships you are given procedurally generated courses and a very chilled commentator. There is no in-game economy, no player progression or leveling up and nothing that has to be “unlocked” through play. While some players might consider the omission of these features a loss, it actually ensures that the focus of the game is on having fun and improving through practice, not grinding.
I’ve mentioned enough things that the game doesn’t have, so let’s look at the things that are there. Firstly, for an Early Access title it is pretty complete and apart from some optimization issues it feels like you are playing a finished title. There are zero loading times between courses which is mightily impressive and the physics feel pretty much spot-on. Instead of going the swing meter or power bar route the developers have opted for a more visceral approach using the analog sticks on a controller. Pulling back to raise the club and then flicking the analog stick forward to smack the ball feels natural and while not everyone is a fan of this type of control scheme it works well. Playing with a keyboard and mouse is also supported, of course, but using a controller just feels better.
The thing that sets The Golf Club apart from other golfing titles, apart from the heavy social focus, is the procedurally generated courses. The game features a selection of pre-designed courses, but you can generate new ones in a matter of seconds. The course editor also allows you to get your hands dirty and really customize your own courses by altering the terrain and meticulously placing all the objects if you so wish. It’s quite impressive and a user rating system allows players to assign a score to the courses they have played making it easier to find the really good stuff.
The Early Access version we played featured local multiplayer for up to four players as well as online multiplayer. When playing online you can take turns with other players or simply play simultaneously against the stored ghosts of players. With the amount of courses that are already available you can spend hours taking part in tournaments or tours without getting bored.
The Golf Club doesn’t have the same level of character customization seen in other sporting titles, but you can change the appearance of your golfer. Just don’t expect to see any branded clothing making an appearance. Overall the visuals of the game are really solid and some of the courses look downright beautiful. The audio is very mellow and low key while the commentator is quite laid back as I’ve mentioned earlier.
If you are a fan of golf and want a game that recreates the relaxed club atmosphere of the sport, then you will want to get your hands on this game. The developers have been updating the game steadily and it has just been getting better and better. There is a lot more to praise about the game, but we will save that for the full review when the game leaves Early Access. If you are eager to jump in and enjoy some great golfing action though, this Early Access version already features everything you need.
This preview is based on the Early Access Version 1.0 of the game.