Written by: Rik

Date posted: September 25, 2014

Extras:

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I think that might have actually been a rather good approach shot.

As previously mentioned, I’m not the biggest fan of golf, but I am interested in it enough to dabble occasionally with its virtual counterpart. Childhood affection for Microprose Golf aside, I’m the kind of guy to be tempted by an old copy of a long-running EA Sports series for cheap, only to play it for no longer than 10 minutes. Last time the urge struck, I found my brow becoming furrowed by a bewildering array of golf shirts and shoes, perusal and purchase of which was seemingly compulsory for progress, and, lo, the cycle was complete again (that’d be Tiger Woods 07 on the PSP, if anyone wants my copy). My interest doesn’t extend to club selection, never mind jumpers and shoes that can be upgraded to improve performance: I want to choose the loudest shirt possible and then head onto the course and get going.

To be honest, when it comes to golf, I don’t want a career mode with a plotted upward trajectory. In fact, I’m not sure I even care about winning, or doing well; Tiger Woods 07‘s extremely distant predecessor, PGA Tour 486, was another golf game I briefly favoured, because, by accident or design, it was a relaxing and solitary experience – it felt like you were out for a stroll, just you against the course (and maybe one other similarly (and badly) dressed bloke too). Plus it had some really chilled out, home shopping channel-style music and a pre-hole voiceover delivered by a man who sounded like he could have been a distant and benevolent golfing uncle, talking you through the tactics you might employ.

Payne may be in the trees, but he's doing better than me at the moment. I bet this goes straight in as well.

Payne may be in the trees, but he’s doing better than me at the moment. I bet this goes straight in as well.

But anyway…my search for a simple, no-frills game led me to Sensible Golf, about which I knew nothing, save for the fact it was one of Sensible’s less celebrated efforts, with no sequels or spin-offs, and an assumption on my part that it was unlikely to focus on the more technical aspects of the sport.

And sure enough, it’s as simple and accessible as they come. After minimal tinkering with your golfer’s name and appearance, you’re out on the course. The controls are pretty straightforward: you aim a crosshair with the left and right arrow keys, select a club with up and down, and hold the space key to view a map of the hole. Once you’re ready to play the shot, you press space to start the swing, again to stop at the desired power level, and once more at bottom of the downswing to strike the ball (colloquially known as the ‘tri-click’ method in mouse-based golf games).

It’s all cheery, knockabout stuff, with the trademark Sensible graphical style and some comedy sound effects proving sufficiently amusing to calm the rage caused by misjudged strokes. The thwacks, sploshes and thuds that accompanied a drive into a sand or water trap genuinely provoked audible laughter from me at various points, which is not my trademark reaction to gaming disappointment. I could be getting calmer, or weirder (or both) in my old age, but I’m sure the slapstick element will appeal to most, especially non-aficionados, who will also enjoy the breezy pacing, with a round of 18 holes passing in no time at all. You can also save mid-round, too, making it ideal for casually dipping in and out of.

The player sprites lose some of their appeal in this zoomed-in view used for putting.

The player sprites lose some of their appeal in this zoomed-in view used for putting.

Still, that’s not to say it’s easy going. While you’re getting used to the clubs, the courses and mastering your swing, the AI opponents are likely to be giving you a good thrashing. Even on the easiest setting, they’re remarkably consistent, occasionally performing a truly moronic stroke that almost beggars belief, only to immediately save themselves with an equally unlikely recovery shot. Sometimes these go straight in the hole from fairly inconceivable distances and angles, and you almost wish they’d have just played a couple of okay-ish strokes in the first place rather than getting your hopes up.

In general, Sensible Golf is best played for a laugh; a quick blast of an arcadey approximation of the real game, in which details such as the lie of the ball and club choice aren’t essential factors (though the former does have some effect on the likely success of your shot, you can still thrash with a driver out of the sand, while canny switching of clubs can bring good results). The main focus is on the fundamentals: of aiming and execution of strokes, and your strategy for the hole. Crucially, it has that “YES!!!!” *fist pump* factor when you nail a shot as intended. Improvement comes with practice, although as mentioned the AI remains a bit too handy: I can imagine this could be a lot of fun in multiplayer mode though.

Loud shirts aren't really Sensible Golf's thing. I found it amusing to make my guy look as if he was playing in his school uniform. [Hilarious! - a reader]

Loud shirts aren’t really Sensible Golf’s thing. I found it amusing to make my guy look as if he was playing in his school uniform. [Hilarious! – a reader]

As a single player game, there are tournament options to add longevity, although none of them have any particularly distinguishing features, with the same holes cropping up now and again as you progress, indicating that they’re drawn from a rather limited pool (my internet research reliably tells me there are 72 in total). While this certainly helps you familiarise yourself with each one, it does render the individual tournaments rather interchangeable. You can also choose to play a whole season, during which prize money awarded at each tournament is totalled to give you a position in the overall money list as you progress. It’s a nice idea, but that’s about all it amounts to, and it’s not quite enough to overcome the general lack of variety and keep you playing over an extended period of time.

That the range of features is a little on the sparse side does seem a little odd, given that Sensible made their reputation with another sports game that boasted a host of tournaments and customisation options, and whether this is to do with the game’s supposedly troubled development or not, there is bit of a feeling of a rush job at times. In-game, too, there are things that could have been done better. The putting, for example, is iffy to say the least: making any adjustment to line to allow for a slope – here represented by a baffling array of arrows – rarely goes well, but to compensate for this, if you just give it plenty of power and get somewhere near the hole, the game becomes rather more forgiving and just sort of goes, ‘close enough!’ – giving it to you as a successful shot when you were just about to curse your misfortune and/or bad judgement.

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Whatever I’m attempting here, I don’t think it’s going to work.

On top of that, you sort of feel there should be a visual aid to give you a bit more of a clue about the range of your shots, factors such as wind are ignored altogether, and the ball seems rather bouncy at times. Some of the holes are also a little bit on the ‘zany’ side, either surrounding you with sand or making it virtually impossible to miss a water hazard with anything other than a perfect shot.

All that aside, though, Sensible Golf does what it sets out to do, it does it pretty well, and it did what I wanted, so I had rather a lot of fun with it. I’d have gladly played for longer if there had been just a little more substance, but it certainly satisfied my craving for golf while it lasted. Worth a look for the casual golf fan, even if you never really cared much for Sensible Soccer.