Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, diabolical golf course creation in The Golf Club.
It's been a tough round of golf. I got a ball stuck on the balcony of a clubhouse. I got mired down in a sand trap that was five hundred yards long. I've had to play around trees, boulders, and a fairway covered with sailboats. And now I'm attempting to sink a putt through a massive crowd of grazing deer. Who the hell designed this terrible golf course? Oh right, it was me.
Before I get to the golf nightmare I made using The Golf Club's custom course creator, I guess I should try to describe the game itself. It's a golf game, and you play golf, and it's, you know... it's a golf game. I guess the real breaking story here is that it's a sports game and it's actually available on PC, which is something that only seems to happen about as often as I actually play golf (essentially never).
Since it's in early access, not all the features are available, but it's currently got local multiplayer (up to four players) and the ability to play against "ghost balls" -- their term, not mine -- which are the spectral, historical drives of other golfers. You can also turn this feature off when you realize you have no interest in it watching ghost golfers drive balls further and sink putts faster than you.
Whacking a ball is, essentially, a simple up and down motion, easier with a controller but do-able with a mouse. There's no traditional power-bar or swing-meter, which is refreshing, and if your motion isn't straight and neat you'll slice or hook your shot. You can complicate things by adjusting your stance to add fade, draw, or spin, giving you more control but requiring a more precise swing. You can (and should) also turn off various helpful features like automatic club selection, the wind gauge, the free-roam camera, and the gridlines that show you the slope of the greens.
Character customization currently boils down to "black guy or white guy?" though they show women golfers in some of their promo pictures, so I can only assume they're on the way. The clothing is similarly unimaginative: some ugly pants, some plain shirts, but nothing awesomely hideous or outstandingly cool. Note to H.B. Studios: you only have one hat. We PC gamers like hats for some reason. Give us bunches of hats and we'll be happy.
Okay, enough of that! Let's get to the true highlight of The Golf Club, the course creator. You can tell it to whip you up a new procedurally generated course with just a few clicks, which is cool, but you can also craft your own custom golf course, down to specific details such as massive herds of deer crowding the green or a fairway full of land-locked sailboats. I guess you can probably also create an actual, non-silly course to publish and share with other players, though if you can look at an "insert rabbit" button and only press it twice instead of, like, fifty times, I don't know what the hell is the matter with you.
Naturally, I wanted to devise the most difficult and ridiculous nine-hole course I could, and I think I did an okay job my first time out. Hole #1 of my course seems straightforward at first, with its standard fairway and only a small water hazard giving the player no reason to suspect they've wandered into a Sisyphean nightmare. That is, until they approach the green and discover the hole is at the top of a sheer 21-foot-tall hill. Not even on the tippy top, sort of on the side of the back of the top. I tried chipping onto it and putting up it and I never even got close. I think the hole is unwinnable. Excellent!
In contrast, Hole #2 has a nice flat green, though it's covered with several dozen deer and rabbits who, to be fair, don't actually interfere with the ball apart from blocking the golfer's view of the hole. Hole #3, meanwhile, does have some scenic obstructions: a number of landlocked yachts, ships, and schooners are spread all over the fairway, half-submerged into the earth. These do actually block the ball: my first shot bounced off the sail of one ship, and another caromed off the back of a yacht.
Hole #4 is neatly surrounded by various rocks and boulders, forming what looks like a mini-golf challenge, though I'm disappointed to discover the rocks are merely decorative and don't actually deflect the ball at all. Lame! The trees I've planted around the hole on #5 do block the ball, however, and it takes a number of small, careful putts to line up an unobstructed shot. Hole #6 has only a single sand trap, though it should be noted that the trap makes up almost the entire fairway, nearly 600 yards of desert. Even the pin itself is in the sand, making putting difficult except from inches away.
Hole #7 is uh... a little hilly, I guess? Despite dozens of mounds, it's not too difficult to reach the green within a few shots, but the hole is built into one of these knobbly little hills, specifically, the side of one. I did come pretty darn close to hitting that hole a couple times, but I'm not sure it can actually be done. I certainly hope it can't.
The 8th hole is a simple par 3 because I apparently forgot to add anything horrible to it, but consider it a nice breather before the final hole, which is covered with buildings. Clubhouses, bathrooms, and caddyshacks are spread over the course from end to end. These are actually a lot of fun to play around and over, especially chipping a shot over the clubhouse onto the green. I even landed a ball on the balcony once and had to play through.
If you're in the beta for The Golf Club, I've published my terrible course which can be searched for under the name "The Golf Curse." My personal playthrough fittingly scored a 66, which is only 31 over par! Sadly, no one else has played it yet. I can't imagine why.