Golf Club: Wasteland
Golf Club: Wasteland is a strangely compelling experience. I found the gameplay frustrating, yet your protagonist isn’t playing golf through the ruins of a post-apocalyptic Earth to “win”, and to get the most from this game neither should you.
At a Glance
|Positives||+ Radio Nostalgia from Mars|
|+ Intriguing World-Building Nuggets|
|+ Very nicely animated|
|Negatives||– Imprecise, clunky controls|
|– Character story quite minimalist|
|– Whilst story driven, you might need to be a golf fan to get the most enjoyment out of it|
|Our Playtime||4 hours (game) + 2 (soundtrack)|
|Available On||PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One|
The premise of the game is a future in which Earth has been ravaged and destroyed by unchecked capitalism, the wealthy elite eventually fleeing the planet for Mars only to return to play golf among the ruins left behind. Highly fantastically, I’m sure you’d agree. The game is prefaced by a claim that it is, of course, entirely fictional and any references to real people are not to be taken too seriously. Immediately after this we are told the colony on Mars is named “Tesla City”, so don’t go in expecting subtlety in the satire.
The animations of your pot-bellied, bald, spacesuited golfer sum up a lot of my experiences with this game. Demagog Studio’s artists have brilliantly captured the frustration of a putt falling just shy of the hole or of a long shot bouncing off some obstacle and ending up right back where it started; the slap of his hand on his helmet a perfect accompaniment to the plop of the ball splashing into water or the rustle as it disappears into a pile of leaves, never to be seen again. When a shot lands perfectly, though, rolling into the hole with a satisfying rattle? Nothing. He just jetpacks on out of there, on to the next one, going through the motions.
The storytelling in the game is quite minimal. A single paragraph of exposition is all the set up you get, or really need, and from there on out there are single-line level prompts from the perspective of a survivor watching you play. Beating levels under par will grant further diary entries, giving insight into your own character’s journey and mindset. I’m not a big fan of this last point – the gameplay (we’ll get there) and level difficulty acting as a barrier to your own character’s motivation is a pretty big misstep, and I’d have much rather access to these plot points were swapped – give me the story of my character for “free”, and lock the observer’s viewpoint behind the challenge.
There’s one more aspect to the story telling that I’ll come back to – I’d like to finish on a positive. First, though, the actual golf.
It’s not very good. I’ll confess that I don’t really care for the game in either its real life form or in other video games, but in Golf Club: Wasteland I found the controls to be imprecise and inconsistent which, coupled with the challenging minimum shot limitations, led to frustration coming pretty easily. You can disable the shot limit, and even skip levels if you get stuck for long enough, but doing so means you lose out on the character journals so you’ll end up – in what is presumably unironically called “storymode” – missing out on the actual story of your character, why he is on Earth and what he is really looking for (hint: it is not a good score). One caveat to this worth bearing in mind is that I have heard the gameplay is significantly more precise on PC, specifically with mouse and keyboard, than console (I reviewed this game on Playstation).
The environments you pass through tell part of the story as well, though I found the art to be a little hit-and-miss. Some details are beautifully drawn, again I’d return to the wonderful animations of your golfer, yet at other times the environments – especially where they expand into larger levels – feel overly simplistic, sometimes quite poorly concealing the necessary contrivance of a 2D platform level structure. Compounding on the control issues they can also sometimes be hard to read, leading to more guesswork than I’d like as to what is background detail and what is an actual wall or floor that will affect my ball.
So, overall we have a mediocre golfing game, your enjoyment of which will probably depend pretty heavily on how much you like that kind of thing; some interesting world building and a satire of extinction-level capitalism in a game you can probably finish in a few hours. For the asking price that’s not too bad, but the saving grace that I’ve left until last is the game’s soundtrack: Radio Nostalgia from Mars.
This hour or so of a fictional radio show wears a lot of hats. It delivers much of the world building and ambient storytelling, conveys the melancholic, laid back atmosphere, even – quite seamlessly – injecting itself into the actual story of your protagonist. The character stories, framed as callers to the radio station telling their memories of the lost homeworld, are diverse and varied, consistently well written and delivered, painting a strikingly human picture of the loss, rather than the cataclysm. It’s genuinely moving stuff, and tonely perfect for the game. There were times I’d set the controller down and just listen. I’m listening to it right now while writing this review. If your experience of in-game radio stations is limited to the likes of GTA then Radio Nostalgia shows how much more can be done with this medium when it’s working fully in cooperation with the mood that the game is trying to evoke. It’s a beautiful lament to a lost planet from the bereaved escapees, and the atmosphere it gives to the game is fantastic.
If a lonely journey through the ruins of civilization sounds at all appealing then I’d still recommend Golf Club: Wasteland despite its shortcomings. The mechanics of play might be imprecise and somewhat lacking, but the ambience is superb and, if you really don’t like the golf, then the soundtrack is on Spotify.