Ever the underdog, HB Studios’ The Golf Club was Rocky to the big budget Rory McIlroy’s Apollo Creed, and though neither of them came away brandishing the undisputed title, The Golf Club undoubtedly impressed with its heartfelt take on the sport. Now, while I’m mixing sporting and movie metaphors, The Golf Club 2 returns and while EA seem to have relegated golf to the sidelines for the foreseeable future, HB Studios are set to walk away with the sim-golf crown.
So, this is golf, and as with the original game there are no gauges here, just the option to use the left or right stick to perform your swing. Accuracy feedback appears in the bottom right of the screen after each shot, with a cone showing where you want to be, and the arc of your swing showing where you really are. As someone who almost unfailingly pulls to the right using the analog stick in golf games it’s a handy tool to help keep you on track and understand where you’ve gone wrong.
You now have to hit your shot at the right tempo as well, with feedback on each swing also appearing to tell you if you’re on the money. Going too fast or too slow could see you losing power or affecting the accuracy of your shot. While the opening tutorial tasks you with practicing a number of techniques, it won’t let you advance till you can do them accurately enough. It may take a little time if you’re not in the right frame of mind, with the commentator gently berating you as you struggle.
Putting is “all about feel”, though you’re going to see a very familiar grid appear overlaid, should you want to get a read on the break of the green. It gives you all the tools you’ll need to sink a putt though, with max distance ratings there to show you just how far you can fire it. All in all, the basic controls and their implementation are all as you’ve seen before, but they’re clear, concise and, most importantly, accurate.
On top of getting the basics right, The Golf Club 2 also boasts the ability to perform a number of advanced shot types, such as hitting a partial shot, adjusting loft or applying fade or draw. This is all a refinement of the experience found in the original, but where there was a pervading sense of shonkiness previously, it’s been replaced by a much more solid and polished experience this time out.
The Golf Club 2 grants you plenty of option to further customise your experience, with your Golf Bag letting you tinker with different sets of equipment before taking them out to the Driving Range to see how they pan out. You can also put the fully featured character editor to good use, recreating yourself, or perhaps your favourite golfer, with the range of options expanding as you progress. Despite the lack of licensing, there’s now no reason you can’t take your own Tiger Woods out onto the course, despite EA having left him by the wayside.
The Golf Club 2 makes some much-needed visual advances over its predecessor, and the courses themselves appear crisp and clear, while your golfer’s animation looks much more realistic than before. There have been huge improvements to both the in-game graphics and the game’s presentation, but there are still a few technical hiccups that will remind you about the game’s modest origins.
As with many games, it’s the fly-bys that seems to cause the most problems, with plenty of instances of pop-in. Fortunately there’s not too much sign of it when playing the game itself, barring the occasional skipped frame, or brief spate of screen tearing to contend with. Despite the inclusion of some PC-esque visual toggles to turn off such niceties as motion blur and anti-aliasing, I really couldn’t discern much improvement to the game’s performance without them on. The only tangible thing they do seem to fix is the crazy shadow flickering during shot replays. Hopefully all of these issues will continue to be worked on, as there’s plenty of good work been put into it thus far.
All of these improvements would be for naught though if there wasn’t any actual content to sink your teeth into, but The Golf Club 2 delivers in spades. While the game itself features a number of included courses, including some returning favourites, it’s the 100,000+ user-created courses – which includes courses created in the first game – that will undoubtedly provide a near-infinite amount of golfing.
The course editor returns from the first game, but as with the rest of the sequel’s content, has seen some welcome improvements, and it’s now an even more powerful tool. You begin with setting the parameters for course layout, terrain and its visual theme, before the game generates a new course which you can then begin to take apart and customise. Finally you can upload it for the whole world to see and play, all of which is wonderfully easy.
The Career Mode meanwhile sees you playing the role of a Society President, and you take control of your own event schedule, adding in both regular and major tournaments, setting fees and bonus purses, or adding specific requirements to participation. The only downside here, and indeed to the breadth of content included overall, is that it can actually feel pretty overwhelming at times. There is a literal deluge of content, but once you find your way around you’ll sink into it.
Societies are in effect in the online portion of the game as well, and you can create and join a number of groups that suit your level or interests before taking part in whatever events they have coming up in their season. It’s a wonderfully interactive and ongoing setup, with your society growing over time, and the real-world competition really adds an extra dimension to every missed putt or sunk birdie.
The Golf Club 2 improves on the original in every way, and most importantly it plays a fantastic game of golf. It’s a shame then that there are still some technical hiccups, as they do take some of the sheen away from it, but I don’t doubt that HB Studios will continue to improve on what has clearly been a labour of love, and one which shows that sports game development isn’t solely in the realms of the biggest publishers.
Version Tested: PS4 Pro