Occasionally, a game just sticks out. Sometimes for it’s cinematic polish, or it’s finely tuned gameplay…but every now and then you happen across a game that’s simply a labor of love - a game that conforms only to the unique creativity of the developers and not to market demands or existing conventions. Golf? (golfquestionmark), despite being a game of golf with standard golf rules, is one such game. Its unique visual style and its unrestricted physics-based movement both create a refreshingly new experience out of a tired old concept.
One Cup, Abstract Minimalism
The first thing to leave an impression is the art direction. The ground is more or less standard golf course stuff, though colored entirely in shades of grey. Each course is contained within a giant black cube with a glowing ceiling. Birds made of single lines fly overhead. Trees litter the grounds, many looking like they belong on the corners of playing cards, others with bursts of solid color which contrast the surroundings, and some which are simply vector outlines off in the distance. Some courses are inhabited by giant, abstract robots (boxes with legs, I suppose) frozen in mid stride to provide obstacles for your golf ball. Player models are brightly colored, low polygon, robots whose heads might be anything from guns to teapots depending on what you’re doing. Your caddy–who doubles as a controllable free camera–is a flying box robot with a respectable face on the front of his rectangular head, though he seems to enjoy his low-polygon grog. The flagpoles at each hole are adorned with a little robot wearing a top hat.
This is a game which celebrates its digital nature, outlining polygons with artistic, surreal pride, rather than trying to fool you with some attempt at realism. It’s classy, silly and atmospheric all at the same time.
A Teaspoon of Physics
None of which would mean a great deal if the game wasn’t fun to play. Thankfully it is, and this fun is complemented by the complete physical freedom the player is given at all times. When taking a shot, you swing your club manually using the mouse. The ball’s path leaves a permanent dotted line in the air, allowing you to analyze the trajectory and find your ball. Rather than simply moving you to the ball, like most golf games do, you have to make your way there yourself. Walking around the courses plays like a standard first person game, although to help speed you on your way, you are given a “rocket sauce” powered golf cart which you can drive around freely, bouncing over hills or flinging yourself off ramps which appear on and around a few courses. The physics engine behind all movement in the game is straightforward yet effective, making cart movement entertainingly bouncy, and ball movement reliable and solid.
Most importantly, the free physical approach does not detract from the depth of traditional golf gameplay. You can select from a complete range of golf clubs, and each acts on the ball differently and as you would expect. At first, you might find the freedom of club swinging a bit loose and uncontrolled, but you will quickly learn to ‘feel’ it, as you would with a real golf club, and you will most certainly improve with a little practice.
Stir and Enjoy
Overall, Golf? provides a distinctively unique, and surprisingly polished gameplay experience (especially considering it’s just a beta). Four players can play simultaneously over the internet or a network, but even the solo experience is fun and rewarding. The game has nine holes, and the occasional creative surprise which, when noticed, can put a slightly different spin on gameplay. The game is highly replayable (it gets more fun as you get better), and feels more or less complete in it’s current form, so there’s not much reason not to give it a try. Just ensure your graphics card handles OpenGL comfortably, grab the download, and have a swing.
Download Golf? Public Beta (22 MB)
Or visit the Golf? website for more information.