What is it? A realistic golf simulator with a course editor.
Expect to pay £30/$40
Developer HB Studios
Publisher Maximum Games
Reviewed on GTX 1070, Intel i7-5820K, 16GB RAM
Link Official site
Once upon a time, PC was the home of golf games. PGA Tour, Links, Jack Nicklaus. You were spoiled for choice. But then, slowly, the genre faded into obscurity. Which made the arrival of the original Golf Club back in 2014—four years after EA stopped bothering to make PC versions of the Tiger Woods games—so exciting. Golf is back! But while it was a decent simulation with an admirable lack of flashy gimmicks, focusing squarely on the purity of the sport, it was lacking in a few key areas—some of which this sequel has, I’m glad to discover, confidently dealt with.
There’s a career mode now, and with a bit of a twist. Instead of just playing through a prescribed series of tournaments provided by the developer, you can create your own season, choosing which courses to play on, how many rounds there, and so on. The downside here is that a career doesn’t feel as hand-crafted as it could have been, with cinematics and visual flourishes to make you feel like you’re playing in something like the Masters or the British Open. This is one area the later PGA Tour games, for all their flaws, excelled in. But I can forgive HB Studios for not having the financial clout of EA to buy the rights to these events.
Tournaments feel livelier too, with crowds watching and reacting with cheers, groans, or sharp intakes of breath as you play. This is a small touch, but a big improvement on the lifeless first game. And while the tutorials in the original were relegated to external YouTube videos, here there’s a slick, interactive, and easy to understand guide to the intricacies of the game, from something as simple as taking a shot, to advanced techniques like drawing and fading the ball. As a result, the game should be a lot more welcoming to new players.
The lack of a career and tutorials were some of the most common complaints about the first game, and it’s clear HB Studios has been listening to the criticism. Elsewhere, though, the core golfing feels very familiar. I advise playing with a controller, because the swing mechanic feels tailored to an analogue stick. Pull it back to determine how hard you’ll hit, then push forward to swing. The straighter your push, the straighter the ball will go. It’s an elegant system, but lacks the precise feedback of the power bar seen in older golf sims.
Tempo is new in The Golf Club 2, however. Pull back or push forward too slowly or too quickly and your shot will suffer. Get both just right with a smooth, even swing and your ball will soar with increased accuracy. It’s a nice addition to the swing system, bringing an extra layer of depth. Putting is still a bloody nightmare, though. At least for me. The learning curve is either extremely steep, or the green is just hard to read. I can’t figure it out, and I never have more trouble than when I’m trying to sink the ball at the end of a hole.
I’m glad to see (well, hear) the return of commentator John McCarthy, whose encouraging, and gently critical, commentary is, once again, a highlight of the game. He’s the only real personality the game has, which otherwise feels quite cold and clinical. It’s had a noticeable visual boost too, but shadows pixelating at certain angles and trees and foliage popping in during hole flyovers are a few of the visual niggles that stop the thing from feeling completely polished. And the course editor is back with an array of new features, should you ever feel the need to craft your own dream links and share them online.
As for multiplayer, you can play locally, which is a nice throwback to golf games of old, or in a turn-based mode with a ghost ball that isn’t quite the same as playing in real-time with a pal. And Societies let you create and join guilds of like-minded golfers. Be warned, though: if you’re planning on playing a single-player career, you’ll need an active internet connection. An option to download courses to play offline would have been nice, but alas, it’s online or nothing. This seems like the kind of game that would be good to take on a laptop on a train journey or something similar, and it’s a shame to limit that.
The Golf Club 2 improves on enough from its predecessor to justify its existence, and feels like a much more refined package overall. Even with all the new bells and whistles, I still like how it’s a gimmick-free experience. HB knows that, first and foremost, we’re here to play golf, and that's remained its focus when making this sequel. With a bit more polish, proper online multiplayer, and a more bespoke, hand-crafted feel, this series could become something special. And it’s not like there’s any competition to worry about.