Earth is destroyed and you’re here to kickback and play golf. The Finger Guns review:
As I measured out my next shot, lining up the perfect trajectory to glide that shiny orange golf ball over Ursula, the acid tentacle monster lurking in the depths, I couldn’t help but notice a certain blissful enjoyment overcome me. Radioactive cows, enticing basketball hoops, bastard ball-stealing squirrels. Golf Club Wasteland stole my senses and endeared me to its quirky, gorgeous world, while being one of the most serene and relaxing games I’ve played in a long time.
Straight up, I had no expectation of getting much from this game, which probably aided it in completely capturing my attention and my focus. I couldn’t put it down for its short run-time and it even distracted me short-term from getting on with work on other chores, as it just felt so calming to play. Even as someone who has no love for the real-world game of golf, Golf Club Wasteland was a brilliant experience.
A Tee-totally Glorious Wasteland
The first element you’ll notice with Wasteland is how beautiful it looks. The art style and aesthetic design are top notch, relying more on creativity and vibrancy than masses of polygons. Each level is filled with bright, popping colour as you traverse broken down buildings, maneuver over crates, containers, cars and all manner of desolate human creations. The 2D maps have excellent backdrops, littered with neon signs and recognisable landmarks from the globe’s countries.
Moving through each course is akin to seeing another part of civilization’s broken down remains, the wreckage of what would be left behind. It’s gorgeous graphical work and it helps that there’s so much detail and little colourful touches that bring the world to sparking life (despite all the lack of life). Who would have thought the wasteland could look just this good?
Your golfer-extraordinaire character animates nicely, as do the other animals and creatures you’ll occasionally come across on your escapades through the levels. Everything is designed to be distinctive and relatively clear, though there were a couple of occasional bits which blended into the colour palette just a little too much, making some navigation with shots a minor pain. In total however, it looks damn good and I loved the direction of the art style.
Putting for Success
Not only is Golf Club Wasteland a fantastic game to look at though, it’s also a highly enjoyable title to play. The levels start off straightforward enough, there’s a hole and you have a bright orange golf ball you need to plug said hole with. Your only input is using the left analogue stick to guide the trajectory and amount of force you apply to each shot. Sounds easy, right? It isn’t. Mentally mapping the right shot given the distance and potential obstacles is a feat in itself, with enough the simplest shots sometimes going awry through miscalculation.
As levels progress, more elaborate and numerous obstacles are introduced through clever level design. Animals will gobble up your golf balls, hitting water means a lost stroke, acid and electricity devour your shot. Obstacles will begin to be dynamic through movement, wind physics will suddenly apply. Wasteland does a fantastic job at mixing up each course with new factors you have to account for. Some levels are damn long too, requiring you to work out optimal routes or seek out hidden shortcuts for progress.
The way the game coalesces the abandoned and broken nature of Earth with its level design impressed me greatly. One level has you delicately firing up a building, going from balcony to balcony, with one over or under hit shot spelling doom. Another takes place at the top of a damaged skyscraper where the wind will happily ruin your calculated plans.
While the creativity is appreciated and glorious, it does cause a couple issues with difficulty spikes. Nothing is insurmountable, especially in story mode with unlimited shots per course. But, the middle section of courses feels significantly more difficult compared to any that precede them and the ones after felt like a complete breeze in comparison. It didn’t affect my enjoyment of the game overall, but it’s worth noting you might come up against a bit of a barrier that’ll stall your otherwise speedy progress.
Drive(r) Those Fears Away
Despite the random difficulty spikes though, I never felt frustrated, annoyed or even bothered, surprisingly. Golf Club Wasteland perfectly balances its more challenging element with its relaxed and chilled atmosphere it completely nails. As you play, you’ll have the consistent tunes of Nostalgia Radio from Mars, which range from blissful, easy-going ambient tracks to dance music and even satirical songs mocking all manner of society’s vices.
Nostalgia Radio effectively acts as one big sarcastic voicing of humanities silliness and idiocy, as it lays out how life on Mars for the super rich is anything but the idyllic haven it was painted to be. Guests will voice their remembrance of that “repetitive” song, only for the song to be a minute of a dude singing “repetition”…. Over and over again. Another highlight was how everyone on Mars, no matter rank or position, is forced into mandatory “wellness” sessions, completely anonymously of course, the radio host announces. Before the T&Cs state they have to wear badges, sign in and all sessions are recorded.
It’s silly and blunt, but in a genuinely funny way which had me chuckling on more than one occasion. It really puts you at ease as you play, taking in the ridiculousness of the parody of capitalism and materialistic humanity. The music is on the (w)hole calming and easy-going, having me gently cruise along with it as I progressed through the game. Very rarely can games nail a feel or atmosphere quite so well, and it goes a long way to cementing the enduring appeal of Wasteland.
A Worthy Course?
With 34 levels in total (the 35th doesn’t really count…), my story mode playthrough took me just over an hour to finish up. In story mode, you have unlimited attempts to complete the level and if you really get stuck it’ll even take pity on you and offer a level skip. I didn’t take up any skips myself, on account of being far too stubborn to accept defeat, but it adds a good touch to making the game more accessible for players. After finishing story mode, you unlock challenge mode, where you run through the same levels again but with the caveat that you have to hit the level under-par. Failure to do so means starting the level again.
Challenge run is more rewarding but does increase the pressure a notch as a couple of levels have relatively tight requirements. Again though, it never felt overwhelming or frustrating, the only annoyance came from my own incompetence or impatience and the mode acts as a nice increase in difficulty for those wanting to spend longer in this world.
Finally, there’s Iron mode. Which, well I didn’t fancy putting myself through that kind of torture. Fail to hit a level under par? Accidentally knock the ball off the building or into that pile of leaves? Tough luck, start from level one. Acting as a hardcore difficulty, you have to make it from level 1 to 35, with no mistakes. Not for me, but if you really want to assert your post-apocalyptic dominance then you have your opportunity there.
Mars, the Rough Bogey
There’s not really any major story that’s delivered throughout Golf Wasteland as you play, but there’s a lot of environmental storytelling and subtle delivery which gives you some exposition through the levels themselves. The basic premise is that Earth was wiped out by an ecological disaster, with your leading astronaut golfer having escaped by piloting a one of the rockets that left in time, eventually resettling on Mars with the remnants of humanity.
You’ve returned to Earth for a nice, nostalgic round of golf designed by a corporation for the mega-rich on Mars to entertain themselves. Snippets of story are delivered when you enter new levels and through diary entries unlocked after hitting par scores. After finishing story mode you’ll unlock an “Odyssey” option, which gives a tiled backstory fleshing out your character’s history. It’s nothing spellbinding, but I appreciated the effort put in to provide some context and believable grounding to the game. A couple of moments have some genuine emotive contemplation scenes too.
Give the Green a Shot
When talking about Golf Club Wasteland yesterday I was told someone had considered it one of their game of the year contenders. I chuckled and immediately shut the idea down. Coming back to it, playing more and reflecting on my time with it however, I can’t shake the feeling that there’s nothing else this year that’s been so serene and just so enjoyable to play.
It doesn’t have a great amount of content, but given its price-point, three-mode offering and undoubted skill ceiling, there’s plenty to keep enthusiasts entertained despite its simplistic mechanics. More than that though, the world-building, art direction and blissful sense of relaxation had me peacefully introspecting its background lore and themes, as well as my time playing it. I highly recommend giving it a go, as even if, like me, you don’t like golf, there’s just so much more to like here.
Despite a short run time and relatively straightforward golf mechanics, Golf Club Wasteland wows with its world, vibrant graphical direction and amusingly sarcastic and critical story notes. I haven’t played anything quite like it this year, but I’m absolutely thrilled that I gave it a go as it’s cemented its place as one of my favourite little titles. If the idea of a beautifully desolate round of golf on a decimated Earth appeals to you, grab your 9-iron and get hitting, you won’t regret it.
Golf Club Wasteland is available now Xbox One, PlayStation 4 (reviewed on PS5), Switch and PC.
Developer: Demagog Studio
Publisher: Untold Tales
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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