We aren’t short of grim, dystopian futures in games these days, but it’s refreshing to finally play one that doesn’t involve clubbing neon thugs into paste while raging against your big man megacorps. Instead, the only thing you’ll be whacking in Golf Club Wasteland is tiny orange space balls around the ruins of Earth. Having clearly failed to save our planet from all manner of looming crises, humanity’s now jumped ship to Mars while the rich and powerful jet back home on the weekends to indulge in a round of golf.
Or maybe that should be extreme golf. Instead of fairways and putting greens, you’ll be chipping your way across abandoned warehouses, crumbling apartment blocks and leafy, overgrown parks full of ball-eating (and stealing) squirrels, cows and escaped giraffes, with your rotund, balf golfing man hovering from hole to hole with their trusty jetpack. Demagog’s challenging sports game is crazy golf writ large across the landscape, and let me tell you, it’s great fun.
There are two flavours of Golf Club Wasteland to choose from when your spaceman first descends to Earth: a story mode that effectively grants you infinite shots and doesn’t worry about keeping score, and a challenge mode, which gives each hole a proper par you’ll need to keep to, otherwise your ball will self-destruct and send you back to the start. I’d strongly recommend the latter if you’re a keen golfing fan, if only because it’s more sportsmanlike and it’s good to set proper goals and all that, but you can (mercifully) switch over to story mode at any point should you get stuck on any of its 35 holes.
Golf Club Wasteland is very easy to get to grips with, too. Some stages are much larger than others, encompassing multi-storey apartment blocks, or even golfing across the tops of skyscrapers. But you can zoom in and out with your mouse’s scroll wheel (or the right and left shoulder buttons for those playing on controllers), and pan around the using the right click / analogue stick to get a sense of where you’re heading. Otherwise, it’s simply a case of using your mouse / left analogue stick to aim and determine how much force you want to apply (there are also options for inverting your aim and adjusting the sensitivity in the options menu), and letting it fly. You don’t have to worry about choosing the right club or taking into account things like wind direction (and if you do, the wind is clearly marked onscreen). All you need to do is aim and shoot.
The challenge comes from shepherding your ball from one end of the stage to another. Working out where you need to go is usually the easy part. Stages are never so large that it’s unclear where you’re meant to be aiming next, and while there’s a little bit of wiggle room in how you approach the flag in certain circumstances (do you aim your ball down a mysterious pipe to see where it goes, or do you head skyward and come crashing through the broken glass in the roof, for example?), there’s always a pretty clear throughline in how you’re meant to get through each stage.
Instead, the main cause of my little spaceman letting out a brilliantly observed groan of exasperation was me misjudging how much force I needed to get the ball where I actually wanted it to go. Naturally, there’s always a degree of ‘feeling things out’ in golf games – that’s part of the fun. But there were some points during my playthrough where I wish the dotted line that acts as your force meter was also accompanied by some sort of additional colour coding to help better judge my shots. Putting was particularly tricky to work out, as very tiny taps moved the ball about two millimetres, and shots I thought were pretty mild ended up shooting it much further than I thought.
On the whole, though, Golf Club Wasteland rarely veers into the realm of frustration. It’s challenging, no doubt about it, and some of the pars require very precise and exacting shots. But when you’re playing on such wonderfully imaginative courses, whether it’s hitting balls into moving cargo lifts, down slides, through basketball hoops or whacking great big red switches that reveal secret doors and platforms, it’s hard to begrudge the odd self-destructing golf ball.
If anything, the game’s built-in radio station is its greatest weapon against any grinding or gnashing of teeth. It’s just so darn soothing, playing a mix of poppy, lo-fi music and calm, softly-spoken listener stories that help fill in some of the game’s wider backstory (in multiple languages, too, which is a nice touch). I’d happily listen to it as a real-life radio station if I’m honest, and I liked how constant and uninterrupted it was, too, playing whether you’re navigating the menu to restart a level or moving between stages. It really helps to keep you in the overall golf groove, and it was one of my favourite parts of the entire game.
Sure, life up on the red planet might not be much better than it is down here, based on the little story snippets you glean from the radio now and again, but man, when the golfing is this good, what an extraordinary bit of escapism. Let’s go another round, shall we?