I don't wanna join The Golf Club.
As someone who loved the old Tiger Woods games and hasn't really played a golf game since, this seemed intriguing. For the record, I'm a decent golfer in real life as well, so I have some appreciation for both the game of golf itself and golf video games. With The Golf Club 2019 showing up on this month's Xbox Games with Gold, I was moderately excited to give this a try. I'm not typically big on trashing stuff that I get for free, but man, this game is devoid of fun.
First off, it starts with an unskippable, mandatory tutorial. Whether you're familiar with the fundamentals of a golf swing/differing types of golf shots or not, there is no way anyone could have fun with this. Your teacher/narrator is wildly annoying, and manages to both be apathetic and snarky at the same time. Imagine someone who is clearlybored reading a bad script, and you've got it. This tutorial is rife with fail states, and the terrible, repetitive voice acting really drives it home. I guarantee that there were people so turned off by this that they just quit the game entirely and never played it again. It makes a horrible first impression. Things don't improve much from there. You get a character creator that is about the quality of a late-90s RPG, and your character itself looks more like an Xbox avatar than an actual person. Actually, all the graphics are laughably bad. It's weirdly flat, and has a bit of a cel-shaded look that doesn't even seem intentional. The trees don't even attempt to have leaves, because why should a golf game have decent-looking trees? If there was ever a game that needed Speedtree...
This would be a sub-par Xbox 360 game in terms of visuals, and that isn't an exaggeration. They licensed actual courses, but they look so crappy that they're barely recognizable. The awful voice actor from the tutorial returns during your round, and worse, he's pretty much the only sound there is. There is zero ambient music with precious few nature sounds, so a sport that's inherently a little dry feels drastically moreso until the narrator says something irritating. Control-wise, it is quite unforgiving. On a certain level, I can appreciate this because it approximates how little margin for error there is in actual golf, and to their credit, my scores on the game were projecting fairly in line with what I actually shoot on a given day (high 80s/low 90s), but it also kinda doubles down on the worst parts of golf. It's like they perfectly captured the frustrations of the game of golf with none of the satisfaction when you actually hit a good shot.
Sports video games have generally deferred to making your athlete ridiculously capable or simplifying the sport in the interest of fun so you, too, can feel like a great player. The Tiger Woods games were fun as hell, partially because you could do a rather silly thing of being able to add spin to the ball while it flew towards the green. I'm not saying this game needs that, but in several ways, it makes the game either too realistic or even more difficult than it actually is. The putting strength meter in particular is nebulous as shit, with your golfer's drawback varying from 0-131 feet, and the only feedback is the questionable visual of how far it looks like he's drawn the club back. Moreover, the grid layout thing to read greens that most golf games have is near-useless here, as the break indicators are either very slow moving dots or marginally less slow moving dots. Even despite the lacking visual feedback, I'm typically able to eventually just get it due to feel/repetition, but noooope.
Chipping is pretty much flat-out luck. I'm not unfamiliar with the concept of golf games making your lie a "percentage" situation where you essentially add the difference of the percentage from 100% to your shot, as many games have used a similar system. Here, however, it just feels completely arbitrary, almost as if a 50% lie has a 50% chance of actually going where your "150%" shot should theoretically land. Driving the ball, on the other hand, is too forgiving. I love that my virtual golfer can consistently crank it 280-300 yards down the middle of the fairway, only to be undone most of the time by his hilariously inept short game. I'd almost respect the game more if this was also ridiculously difficult and your golfer shanked it easily like average golfers often do. This is somewhat backwards in terms of actual golf difficulty.
The Golf Club also needs better presentation on, well, everything. The TW games had animations that made you feel way cooler, with little cutscenes, sound effects, zoom-ins, etc. when you hit a big drive or put a shot really close. I hate to keep using this comparison because it seems like that's not even the type of game they were trying to make with The Golf Club, but holy shit, I can't ignore the complete and utter lack of excitement within this game. There are so many missing gameplay touches as well. When aiming, you don't have the ability to just move your landing area around. You can only move laterally based on what the current club's max distance is, and have to manually club up/down for anything else. It is unnecessarily restrictive, and you often don't have a good visual of where you actually want to land it or at what percentage of the full swing that would be.
This is the Gran Turismo Sport of golf games. I don't actually mind that it's challenging. The problem is that it is no way rewarding and is so goddamn lifeless overall. Throw in that it's ugly and that the lone bit of "personality" is in the form of Mega Man 8-caliber voice acting, and it's impossible to recommend this. I haven't actually made it through a full round yet despite multiple attempts, and I never will, because I've deleted the game. I'm giving it two stars only because it's somewhat realistic in its depiction of the sport.
2/5. Please go play actual golf or an enjoyable golf game instead.