STAFF REVIEW of The Golf Club (Xbox One)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014.
by Stephen Cameron

The Golf Club Box art From the days of playing Leadboard Golf on the Commodore 64 (yes, I’m aging myself), all the way to XSN Sport’s Links 2004 on the original Xbox, golf titles have been quite frankly like a drunk driver; all over the road. Even Powerstar Golf left me scratching my head in total confusion. The new one in the confusion department is EA’s display of their “PGA Tour” title at E3, as it left me with more questions than answers especially with that battleship. We’ll see what “Golf without limit really means”.

The Golf Club (referenced as TGC from here on) is the new kid on the block, and hopefully here to rescue us all! It’s created by HB Studios, located here in Canada (represent!) in the small community of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and they are no strangers to building great sports titles. Has their self-publishing gamble to create a revolutionary golf title been a success? I’ll let you guys be the judge. Also, I have to say this upfront that this review is solely based on the Xbox One version of the game, and while I did play the Steam version for the past four months, I have an obligation to my Xbox peeps.

When you launch TGC you are presented with a rather unique menu. Intentional or not, it leaves you exploring on what the game has to offer. When you select “Play” you start off by selecting the type of round you want to play: Play Round, Play Tour or Play Tournament. After selecting Play Round you create a golfer for your single and multiplayer sessions and you select the round type. Then you have the choice from the thousands, yes, you heard me right, THOUSANDS of golf courses. Some of these courses are complete garbage, some bog down your Xbox One, and some are wonderful pieces of art. Flipping through all these courses can be very frustrating at times though. Left to your own devices to discovering the good the bad and the ugly, I’m not sure if console will have a clear road map to all these wonderful courses.

While playing on the steam version. I used the friendly forums as a tool to discover new courses and its creators. However, what worries me is that the casual console community may not wander to the forums or know that all the informative tutorial videos even exists as there is nothing within the game that informs you of these cool resources. A simple call out within the game would valuable to help discover the golden nuggets of this game, especially since the Xbox One has Internet Exploder built-in.

The thing to remember about this game is that you’re always going to get new FREE courses for months to come. While there hasn’t been any formal announcement about DLC to buy, you have to ask yourself the most important question: when was the last time you bought a golf title that had 4000+ courses within it at launch? Never. I’m sure there will be premium courses or gear to buy later on, but for the time being, the community creators are the rockstars of this game. They are the fuel! Already on Steam, I’ve met wonderful course creators such as ObsoleteNexus, bradleystuart, CSUGolfer69, elz41, theclv24, guitardude_324, testegw, and Dr. Yeti just to name a few! These people take great pride in their offerings. Sadly though while playing the console something became very evident to me. Having played the steam version for the past four and a half months, if the console players don’t participate on the HB Forums, or stay on top of the new courses being created or know who the top creators are, there is no way for them to know that within the game itself. None.

There is no way to follow or thank them for their hard work, and they remain anonymous. As I stated earlier, the community course creators will be the rockstars. My suggestion would be to label the creators across all platforms, such as Kamshaft (Steam), Kamshaft (Xbox One), or Kamshaft (PS4). “TGC Member” doesn’t pass along their username at all, thus not fueling the creator’s followers. Like twitter, the more followers a user has, the more popular you feel and in the end, encouraging you or just plainly enough boosting their ego. Hopefully they will address this in the future.

Let’s talk about the gameplay. The Golf Club is turning what we know about golf games on its head. With not only access to all those thousands of courses, but with the carefully crafted and simplified control mechanics, yet hard to master. Most people coming into TGC will have Tiger Woods buried deep within their psyche. Well, forget all that. These controls are polished and you have to give them a chance. The putting is the hardest to master, you have been warned.

The global wind feature is very cool. What is it, you ask? If anyone is playing that same course, you will have the exact same wind speed as everyone else, globally. Very cool!

The interface is terribly awkward for console users. Sure, it's the same as the Steam version, but none of the social features that make Xbox Live great are there. Also, there is no way to directly jump into a friend's round if you see them playing on Live. While playing with a staff member, he said, "There's no way people are going to figure out how to group up, the menu has everything buried." - I had to agree with him.

The game is visually stunning. Even sitting at 720p on the Xbox One, on my fifty inch plasma HD television, the game looks great. Again, with the build I was given there was a lot of screen tearing, especially noticeable when it faded in and out of black. With some poking around I found the VSync option (It was off), in which it should only exists on the PC version. I quickly turned that ON and everything was much better. Another visual issue I had with the Xbox One version is reading the elevation number underneath the yardage left to the cup while on the fairway. That number is way too small at 720p. Maybe a larger and different coloured font would help alleviate this issue. Another visual issue I had was the ability to see the cup on certain courses. I found myself squinting trying to find it. I knew it was in front of me, but how far was the big question. On the PC version, I’m sitting two feet from the screen and the monitor is much sharper than the television. They maybe should have made the inside of the cup bright white, a visual queue or something.

In the audio department you are quickly introduced to our good friend John (@NewVoiceofGolf), as he’s your voice for the game. He doesn’t deliver the candidness and edginess of David Feherty but John keeps it casual and not terribly annoying, sort of like golfing with a friend. However, after 20 rounds of continuous golf, you’re left giving John the bad news. “I’m muting ya man. Sorry John.”

The music in the game is exactly what it should be, energetic and well put together. With the build that I was given there was an annoying audio stuttering bug but I have complete faith that this will be quickly resolved in the near future in a free update.

Before I wrapped up this review I wanted to try something; to test drive a few courses that some community members had created with an elevated number of objects in it. In the interest of not making any these particular creators look bad, they will remain nameless. On the steam version, these courses were completely unplayable on my personal rig. Is this a bad thing? Yes! The problem with these high object count courses is that if an unsuspecting player stumbles across these, it makes the game seem slow performing. Sadly, aggravating the console player.

An idea I had was to count the number of objects before the course loads up, and if it falls below a certain threshold it could display a warning with a disclaimer. On the Steam version these courses will load and play fine with players with a high-end video cards and machines, but sadly for the Xbox and PS4 player these can be a problem. The reason that I have faith in HB Studios patching abilities is not only did they verbally tell us that they were committed to this title for the long haul, but during the Steam early access builds these guys were religiously patching the game every single week. So, these bugs don’t really bother me at this point as I know they are on it. They’ve proven that. I’ve seen companies not release a single patch for months, and people end up leaving that game and never come back.

Personally, I spent most of my time in the Greg Norman Course Creator during my time with the Steam version, which is exactly the same as the console version. You will lose yourself in this part of the game for hours on end. It happened to me. Seriously, I’ve made four courses. Swan Hills, Sharp Lake, Rattlesnake Canyon and Knotty Pines (9 holes) they were a blast to make. So give them a try, favor them, and have fun! I want to play your courses too! That’s what's going to this game alive for months or even years to come!

The coolest thing is creating the course on my PC then sharing them across all three platforms. PC, Xbox One and PS4! The only other game that has allowed us to do this was the Trials series. Love it! The game does have its faults at launch and the biggest one is the Xbox Live specific social features. Party join is painfully cumbersome, and since golf is a social game, HB Studios needs to integrate these features, yesterday. The guys I was playing with online, all complained about it.

My score below is based on track record and faith in HB Studios. Thus far, The Golf Club is the best, most complete, not trying to sell you something at every turn, golf title for the Xbox One. Period! Despite the few launch bugs which I’m positive HB Studios are going to fix, the reality is that it's the best $34.99 you’re going to spend on a golf game this year and you’ll be supporting a Canadian indie title! See you on the course.

Fix the minor bugs. Make the menu more intuitive. Add the console specific social features.

Overall: 8.1 / 10
Gameplay: 8.2 / 10
Visuals: 8.8 / 10
Sound: 7.9 / 10



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