Par four on the ruins of society
By Alex Orona
Golf Club Wasteland (GCW) is a new freshman outing for Demagog Studios. In it you are a lone golfer playing 35 holes of relaxed golf in the ruins of Earth after humanity has escaped to Mars. The holes are more on the miniature golf side with silly obstacles or obscured placement of the tee but the real draw is the environmental storytelling. Golf acts as a table dressing to what’s really a meal of a crumbling society with a side commentary on classism. For a surprisingly simple premise there’s a lot to unpack.
The gameplay of GCW is a single button press. The left stick chooses the angle and power to which your swing will be hit. Then once you’ve got your angle you hit with a button press. There’s a sweet simplicity to it that you can just pick up and play. It’s also got one of my favorite factors of being able to jump in for ten minutes, quit it and come back. That jump in aspect is a sweet spot for those not wanting to dedicate a ton of time but there’s a learning curve to mastering these holes. Added flares to the courses include subtle background details about corporate companies, human revolution and even whether life continued on Earth after civilization had abandoned it.
The holes in question are complicated messes amongst the rubble of destroyed irradiated cities. The deserted planet Earth is your playground here. One hole could have you playing on top of skyscrapers going from rooftop to rooftop, while another can have you putting in the VIP lounge of an abandoned disco. They vary wildly in both environments and difficulty which can be a point of frustration. There are difficulty spikes that make some parts of the course feel overly complicated or like it took forever. Some were a breeze but other times 5 minutes felt like an eternity. There’s more good than bad but it’s still worth mentioning that not every hole is a delight.
Along with the environmental storytelling, there are a few other ways the writers tell the tale of Earth’s last days. While you golf, there’s always the sweet sounds of “Radio Nostalgia from Mars” in your headset. It’s a radio station that tells the stories of the survivors and new radio hits about their lives on the Mars Colony. It’s a cute way to present stories that will tug on your heart strings and catchy hits about astronauts arguing about art. The voice acting and songwriting quality are top notch here. The stories feel believable and the songs had me confused with real songs on the radio.
The last story telling element are the diary entries that accompany each hole. They are presented before each hole telling the story of the player character but getting below par on the course will unlock secondary entries from an unknown third party observer. Both are cryptic and mysterious leading to a full story conclusion by the last hole. It’s a nice surprise that wraps up what started as a basic golf game with a full fledged ending. GCW has something to say and slips in it’s message subtly until you finally face what you didn’t know existed under the surface. I won’t say what it is, but it’s worth exploring the 2-3 hour play experience for a satisfying conclusion. There are also challenge modes and hardcore modes to round out the full experience so there’s lots to master in this neat little indie package.
Golf Club Wasteland tells a compelling story within a very basic gameplay framework. It takes golf mechanics to subtly build a world that feels full of real people and real issues. The way the developers have fit such a detailed story into such a small indie game is a triumph. The golf itself can be frustrating with some holes feeling like they are padded or too difficult for their own good but it never gets in the way of the fantastic narrative. I will also note that this game is in dire need of a quick reset button to restart a hole for those perfectionists like myself. The amount of clicks it takes to pause and reset was consistently disheartening. Especially being half way through a particularly difficult course. Otherwise, there’s a lot to like about the Golf Club Wasteland experience and I for one will be continuing to listen to “Two Astronauts Argue” from the soundtrack.