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The Golf Club Review: Bogey start for next-gen golf

on 8 September 2014

HB Studios’ The Golf Club is a novelty on PlayStation 4. It’s the only next-gen golf game you can play right now, so if you’re desperate for something in the 2014 absence of EA’s licensed PGA Tour series, you can’t do better or worse than The Golf Club.

The game itself could have gone either way. The Golf Club’s simulation take on the storied sport understands its nuance and unpredictability a little better than the Tiger Woods series and its game-y precision. But with sorely lacking content and options, almost zero in-game guidance, and some course creator quirks, The Golf Club comes up well short of being the enthusiast fan’s dream package.

Let’s start with the good. As you point the right analog stick down for your backswing and forward for the stroke, there’s great potential for error. Ever-so-slight deviations in your analog stick motion could produce all manner of draws, fades, hooks, and slices. As with the real-life game, it’s sometimes easier to set your mind on a particular deviation, like a slight draw, than it is to plan for and attempt a perfectly straight shot. Coupled with not having an exact target indicator (The Golf Club’s shot zoom only shows the general area you’re aiming for), shots results can be quite varied. Rounds are more interesting for the unpredictability, and the game carries an especially strong notion of “easy to play, difficult to master.”

With putting, it’s more like “hard to play--don’t even think about mastering.” The diversity that less precise systems grant for fairway shots is rather intensely magnified on the green. You still get a grid with beaded lines showing the inclination of the putting surface, but with the game’s unforgiving analog aim and the lack of a distance reticle, it’s tough to make putts with much confidence and discern how bad strokes went wrong. The game is fairly accurate in its simulation of putting’s weight and push, and it’s possible to get just about any camera angle on the scene before putting, but I’m tempted to rely on my real-world instincts as a result and that’s tough to do without a more overhead angle during the stroke. Essentially, good simulation demands a more realistic view of the action, and my putting game suffered without.

Through all this links action, The Golf Club conveys plenty of information with a sleek, minimal HUD that stays out of your way. The same goes for the aesthetically pleasing tile overlay of the menus, which make it easy to quickly find the modes and content I’m looking for. But it wasn’t long before I started to realize there wasn’t much content to find. Three game types--Stroke Play, Match Play, and Four Ball--are all fine inclusions, but golf’s many variants are part of its rich tradition. Right next to rule selection is the character creator, but don’t expect to spend much time here. A few clothing options and gender/skin color presets are all you get.