Golf isn’t supposed to be fun. It is a serious pastime played by serious people while they talk about serious things, and anybody that doesn’t do that is clearly doing it wrong. However, nobody seems to have told Sony or Clap Hanz, as despite all of the obvious reasons not to, they’ve been plugging away making golf into a fun experience for the past twenty years. While fans will be glad to know that this year’s Everybody’s Golf is the most expansive entry yet, with more content than you can shake an oddly shaped golfing stick at, there’s a potential bunker looming if you’re wanting to play online.
Unlike its more serious brethren, Everybody’s Golf forgoes the use of an analogue stick for its shot types, holding onto the more welcoming gauge that has been a staple of the digital version of the sport for, well, forever. Using the ‘three tap’ principle – which starts, sets your power, and then your accuracy – you’ll soon be performing like a pro, and everything is made nice and clear for you to make the most of it. I still think a gauge is a hugely enjoyable way of controlling a golf game, and it still requires timing, skill, and practice, in order to succeed. Everybody’s Golf will take charge of a lot for you if you let it, from choosing your club to showing where you need to hit on the gauge to reach the pin, but again, all it does is streamline the experience and essentially keep it fun.
That’s the pervading sense of the whole package here, from creating a character using the extensive creation tools, teeing off at the same time as multiple opponents, and then watching the arc of four different balls heading out across the course before running after them, to the wilder moments such as the golf buggy racing and fishing, which both become available to you after beating certain challenges. Neither of them are exactly essential pastimes, but Everybody’s Golf is more interested in keeping you involved in its world through sheer exuberance rather than technological might.
Being an Everybody’s Golf game, nobody is likely expecting to be wowed by its visuals, but this is still the most handsome rendition of the game yet. Everything is crisp and clean, while the character models and the courses themselves are bright, colourful, and full of life, with some very nice depth of field effects to finish it off. Most importantly all of this serves its purpose, from the wild character creations through to the cheerful little island that serves as your golfing hub.
Offline Mode sees you climbing the ranks by participating in Challenge Tournaments. Winning tournaments will gift you new clubs or outfits to wear as well, so you can deck your character out in all sorts of fancy attire, and beating the computer by a set number of strokes will see them appear in the gallery on that particular course. When you rank up you’ll unlock a new vs. character to go head to head with across a Match Play game, which makes for a welcome change of pace, and always keeps you trying to get ahead even if you’ve had one particularly bad performance at a hole. They won’t cause you too much trouble at first, but they steadily increase in challenge as you progress, gifting you useful things like new shot types or yet more finery to clad your avatar in when you get past them.
Doing well also has other more meaningful rewards, so if you make a good shot during a round your character’s abilities will actually improve. Repeatedly managing to hit 100% power with a 1 Wood club will see your proficiency improve with that club, which in turn will allow you to hit the ball even further. Likewise, repeatedly landing the ball near to the pin will increase your control over that club as well. It feels like a great progression system, and one that gives you more or less instant feedback and growth after nearly every shot. However, it only later becomes apparent that not only is this progression for naut, Sony are hoping you’re going to spend even more money, as Everybody’s Golf’s micro-transactions come into focus once you hit the endgame.
Online should be where things really begin to heat up, and the manic Turf War mode sees opposing teams of players running around a series of holes trying to do as well as possible within a set time limit. It’s not always that easy to concentrate when you’re under pressure from both the clock, and your opponents, and it makes for a chaotic, but very fun little mode. Sadly this fun can be disrupted by the availability of micro-transactions for warp crystals that let you get around the course much quicker. Giving players the ability to pay for a speed advantage completely unbalances the mode, but it’s only the first of such things that Sony and Clap Hanz will need to have a good look at if they want to keep any kind of active community around the game in the long term.
Once you reach Level 7, you’re gifted a new, better set of clubs, which immediately diminishes anything you’ve already achieved or levelled with your original set. You can then level this set up further, but only by using gems, which can be found in small quantities out on the open courses, won in tournaments, or bought from the Playstation Store. Not only that, but there’s a random chance that when you upgrade you can double the potential increase, which invites players to keep resetting their clubs and trying for a ‘perfect’ set. You’d better be very well prepared though, as these new clubs also degrade, requiring repairing using those same gems again. Given the required grinding and the advantage that having a set of top end clubs can give you, it feels as though lots of people will be drawn into spending to remain competitive and get ahead.
PS4 Pro players are also privy to a definite advantage over their amateur console-owning compatriots. The option to play in high performance mode with a 60fps refresh makes a huge difference to the reaction time and feedback of those playing at 30fps. I’m not sure if the game segregates those playing on the more powerful hardware – hopefully it does in the name of fairness – but for some Everybody Golf fans, it’ll be more or less essential in order to get the best performance.
In some ways Everybody’s Golf has been well worth the wait. This is still the same gentle and appealing brand of arcade golf that fans have come to know and love, and it’s easy to get caught up in the sheer fun of it all. However, once you venture online you’ll discover that the game is currently deeply unbalanced, with micro-transactions and mobile-esque grinding sapping any sense of competition from proceedings, while asking players to reach for their wallets in order to gain an advantage. In a game that’s supposed to be all about the golfing fun, Sony have categorically found a way to put you firmly in the rough.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4 Pro