Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
I have played maybe 20 rounds of golf in the past week. I have stood beside the tee, tossing grass clippings to read the wind direction. I have knelt down to get a better sense of the lie when approaching the green. I’ve shaken my club at my caddie in frustration after a particularly crappy shot. And I’ve endured rain and sun in equal measure, the weather a negligible impediment to the completion of my rounds. After all of it, I have reached a decisive conclusion: I may not be zen enough to find virtual-reality golf sufficiently rewarding.
Everybody’s Golf VR, the new release for PSVR, is the kind of admirably old-school entertainment that possesses a single-minded commitment to replicating, as best it can, a leisurely round of the title activity. There are no bells or whistles, just a set of clubs and a caddie to cart you from fairway to fairway, taking your shots and sinking your putts until the ninth hole. You can’t really walk around or do anything but golf—the clubhouse you see behind you when talking to the receptionist is just there for show. Outside of a driving range and putting green, there’s nowhere to go but on to the next course (I’ve unlocked three thus far). If you start ogling the horizon, wondering what might be hiding beyond that copse of trees or on the aft side of that boat in the marina, your caddie will stare at you dully, as if to say, “What’s your fucking problem? You’re here to golf—so golf.”
Like a lot of VR re-creations of actual activities, the gameplay is less about reenacting the most realistic type of action and more about settling on the most efficient way to make your avatar do what you want. My golf swing, as a result, resembles that of a robot whose elbows are fused to his hips, stiffly rotating my hands in a 40-degree arc in front of me to drive the ball to the green. I’ve gotten pretty good at my shot—I can make par most of the time, now—and to the game’s credit, it requires practice, the VR tracking of the PlayStation Move Controller (you can play with the regular controller, too, but it’s a lot less satisfying) maintaining the kind of fiendishly minute assessment of your movements that makes real-life golfing such a precise action.
But honestly, I can’t help but wish there were something more. Every time a round ends, and my caddie Riko (I’ve also unlocked Lucy, who’s got a bit more enthusiasm) goes over my final scores, only to offer an underwhelming, “Let’s do this again sometime,” a part of me wishes she would throw open the doors to the clubhouse and say, “Now, the real quest begins,” or something. PGA Tour, The Golf Club, hell, even Mario Golf—these games understand that the fun of digital golfing comes from the combination of atmosphere and competition, the chance to enhance those moments in between strokes with some stakes, some action, or in the case of The Golf Club games, the chance to create your own courses, the better to add some personality to the experience. The most exciting thing that has happened to me during Everybody’s Golf occurred during the first hour I was playing, when Riko suddenly interrupted a round to announce that she had a shortcut to get to the next hole. Cut to: A first-person view of Riko and me perched precariously on a tree trunk laid across a deep ravine, swaying dangerously in the breeze as we tried to avoid plunging hundreds of feet to our deaths. Riko eventually turned around, deciding this wasn’t the best idea. Now it’s all I can think about in between holes, but it’s never happened again—why can’t we go risk death once more, Riko?
Hence my suspicion that I don’t have the proper mindset to really enjoy a game like Everybody’s Golf. I can’t fault the gameplay, which is intuitive and easy to pick up. The world is immersive and gorgeous—it’s like standing inside a photorealistic golf course, aside from the usual uncanny-valley appearance of the other people, which I’ve accepted as a given of VR at this point in its evolution. And there’s still the primal enjoyment that comes from sinking a birdie or managing to chip the ball into the hole from the rough. But at the end of the day, it’s a far more meditative form of game than I look for in my recreation—you have to find your own satisfaction from its minor pleasures, just like real-world golfing. Which is another activity from which I only derive limited enjoyment; after 18 holes, I’m ready for something else, and I suspect I’m far from alone.