Golf Club: Wasteland Review: Below Par
Golf Club: Wasteland has a really cool hook. After life on Earth is over, the rich survivors on Mars like to come back and play rounds of golf among the remnants of civilization. It’s dark, funny, and had me super excited to check it out. All of that comes through in the final product, too, with surprisingly strong worldbuilding being the best part about Golf Club. The problem is that you actually have to play the game, and things quickly start falling apart.
Welcome To Earth
There are thirty-five holes to check out, and it becomes apparent quickly that there’s very little here that feels like golf. This is more a physics puzzle, which I suppose is true of real golf too, but little connects things here to what we expect from a golf game. There’s no choosing of clubs, or three-click system, or anything like that. Instead, you point your stick in a direction, tilting it further to provide more power, and then click a button to swing. It’s all about judging the power of your swing and lining up your shot.
That would be fine if lining things up felt good, but at least with a controller, that’s never the case. I suspect Golf Club: Wasteland might provide a stronger experience on PC, with a mouse and keyboard, but I never got to a point where I felt comfortable lining up my shots. The game’s pointer isn’t particularly helpful in gauging how hard a shot will be, often leaving my shots short or having them go way long. Even when I did line one up well, the game’s pointer feels strangely floaty and imprecise, a problem when the whole game relies on making very precise shots.
Problems With The Curve
I feel like the development team behind Golf Club had to have a clue this might be an issue. Par on the holes never feels right. Early ones are so high that you could only miss them by massively messing up repeatedly. Later, as courses grow more complex, they get as high as 20. Yet even in those late stages, if you feel in control, it would never take nearly that many shots. The only way for that to be the case is if you’re regularly messing up.
Some courses I crushed far under par. Others I went so far over that the game offered me the chance to skip to the next level. While this will stop players from getting stuck and allow them to see the whole game, I’d much prefer a game with strong mechanics to one that knows its mechanics have problems and gives you a way out of them.
A bit of unpredictability could work if levels were designed around it. There were times when missing a shot wasn’t so bad. I’d end up more or less back where I started. Only now I would have more knowledge, knowing I needed to aim a little higher or add a bit more power. Other stages, however, make it far too easy to fall back to a far earlier point in the course. Many of these stages are filled with water hazards, which are actually a blessing. Going in the water puts your ball back where it was before. Being one or two shots away from finishing a 15 stroke course, having navigated over a dozen tiny platforms, only to end up back on the starting platform feels a lot worse.
All of this is a bigger shame because the atmosphere and worldbuilding here is strong, even if it isn’t always well presented. Each stage tells a story, painting a picture of something of how our society fell. Unlike many games which want to engage in political commentary but then deny it, Golf Club: Wasteland seems to embrace it. The city on Mars is named Tesla City. Many characters referenced are clearly based on real people. This may not be how the world ends, but it’s based recognizably on a version of reality. Taking place in shopping malls, parks, skyscrapers, boats, these destroyed ruins look great, even if actually playing them doesn’t feel good.
You get more of a picture of how the world fell apart from the radio playing over every level. A chill DJ plays chill tunes while talking about society on Mars and as call-ins remember the past. It’s a vibe for sure. I could spend a lot of hours listening to this radio station. I’m just not sure I want to play Golf Club in order to do it.
A Dead World
While the dead world is well developed, the developers made some odd storytelling choices. Through your initial playthrough of Golf Club, there’s virtually none. Not much tells you about the guy you’re controlling, why he’s on Earth, any of it.
Upon completion of the game, you unlock a graphic novel telling the story of Charley, your golfer. It’s surprisingly emotional, making me question my lack of feeling at an ending I’d just seen, which felt designed to pull on my emotions but left me not feeling much. In context, it all worked better. However, this calls into question: Why am I only given that context when I’ve completed the story mode? Delivering it throughout the story would have allowed me to really feel that ending, to feel the power of it. As is, I didn’t feel anything until after the fact.
Golf Club: Wasteland frustrates me because there’s so much about it I like. With tighter controls, a few tweaks to certain levels, and a better-integrated narrative, this could be a truly special game. As is, it never comes together and is hard to recommend.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: Xbox One (Reviewed), PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC; Publisher: Untold Tales; Developer: Demagog Studio; Players: 1; Released: September 3rd, 2021; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $9.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Golf Club: Wasteland provided by the publisher.