Golf is tiring, sweaty and can take time and energy. No, seriously. It’s a workout. So, instead of playing actual golf and dealing with people, weather and effort, why not use VR experiences to replace it? Well, that’s what has happened with VR Golf Online and for the most part they got things right.
A little bit about my background — I ‘lettered’ in golf in high school before it was cool to letter in golf. I adored the game and had a family history of playing the sport. My grandmother helped teach me to play, even going so far as to mock me multiple times on the course by saying things like, “Honey, do you need to hit from the girl’s tee? (insert grandmother cackle)” She was great at the sport and smacked people around on the course all the time. Anyway, she played the game, my uncles played the game, my father played it and I played it. It was the only sport that I was good at…because video games weren’t a sport. Anyway, I played as much as I could while I was in high school and even more so when I reached college, ya know because I had a lot of time on my hands. As I have gotten older and less mobile in my 40s, also less caring because I’m comfortable now in life, I have had less ambition to get out on the course and go 18 holes. I feel like the ‘all-day’ time could be spent doing something better…LIKE PLAYING VR GOLF!
Let’s get right into this VR experience and break it down.
Simplicity is the Best
At the start, the game puts you in a makeshift country club, where you can choose your player (males/females) and gives you some brief, yet good instruction on how to play. The game also allows you to peruse several courses, which are broken up into three holes at a time (you can choose to push forward after each course by simply pressing ‘continue’ or you can ‘exit’). The menu system here is simplistic and not at all confusing, which is a great way to start off a game in VR. I’ve seen some awful menus before, but this is not one of them. It wants to get you into the game quick and that is evident immediately.
Now, once you choose between single player or going head-to-head against NPC players, you are shown each section of the course that you choose (and there is a small variety of them), which is broken into three holes at a time. Your efforts on the course have the potential to gain you three stars, depending on performance. Think about how you would earn stars in Madden NFL as you complete tasks and you get the idea of how the star system works. If you get double bogeys/double pars, then you’re more than likely going to fail passing the holes. Birdies and pars will earn you good marks and more stars. It’s not rocket science, so just practice and do well in the game, just like in real golf.
Speaking of real golf…
1:1 for 18
My biggest worry for sports-driven VR experiences is the responsiveness between controllers and what is going on onscreen. It’s one thing to advertise that you have a product that replicates an experience, such as golf, but it’s quite another to actually deliver that experience (see Wii Sports for details — fun, but not at all accurate). The point of virtual reality is to bring the reality to you and convince your brain that you left the room. If you fail in duplicating the experience via VR, then your game isn’t worth a damn. I have seen a few games on SteamVR that truly aren’t worth a damn when bringing the experience.
Thankfully, VR Golf Online does a pretty good job of putting you on the course. You get a great 1:1 feeling from the golfing experience, including a nearly perfect swing when hitting the ball and achy muscles after 18 holes that really remind you that golf is a tough sport to play. I found myself thinking about my stance, looking at the ball and making sure contact was where it needed to be, when it needed to be, and with power behind it. The swinging and moving portion of the swing put me in the experience.
Having said that, the controls weren’t completely perfect when it came to aiming.
I didn’t like the fact that you had to hold up your club, press the trigger button on the HTC Vive controller and slowly move the aiming indicator left or right when trying to reposition your shot. I feel like there should have been a bit more work on taking into account the stance and physical position of the golfing gamer. You have two sensors scanning the body from the HTC Vive, the game identifies where the player physically is, but it doesn’t match the position with where the gamer is aiming himself/herself. If it does, it’s subtle at best. If I want to golf without going to the course, I have to have at least the position part correct. If I slice or I’m aiming badly, I want to go through that frustration. That’s golf. That’s what I want. Because it doesn’t go one step further, I have to ding it just a bit. This issue doesn’t make the game less fun, but it does take away a potential challenge, and some experience, that come along with the game of golf.
Golf is a Difficult Game
The one bright spot for me in this game is the difficulty of it. Hitting the ball with the right amount of power and getting the aim correct is what makes this fun. Like I said before, you start feeling like you’re playing golf when you start getting into the groove of swinging, which is a beautiful thing — unless a room full of people are watching and you miss the ball completely (this happened to me early on). Anyway, the game does require a lot of strategy to get good marks, it’s not simply a game of hit-hit-hit-putt. You have to try and you have to estimate out power to get what you want out of the ball. There’s still quite a bit of golf in this virtual game of it.
Having said that, putting is tough.
The short game is a killer, just like in the real world. You have to be very careful on how you hit the ball and where you hit the ball. I had a bit of a problem with aiming when it came to putting, something I couldn’t figure out how to correct for a while, but regardless I still had some issues with getting my putting right. I will honestly say that it was more me than the game, but it was a little bit of the game’s fault.
Overall, the difficulty of the game was up there, but as I said before, that fits the bill of golf. VR Golf Online is a tough game that offers up some frustration, though the learning curve isn’t that bad, especially if you haven’t played the game of golf before. The game is built to help you through and does offer up a tiny bit of forgiveness to some elements that would be killer on the real course. It does a nice balanced job of making the experience fun, even when you’re losing, while putting you through the golfing ropes that real golfers would experience.
If you’re an HTC Vive owner, then you need to try this out. It’s definitely a good VR experience.