“Golf Club: Wasteland” is an arcade-style game that projects a future where the well-heeled flee to Mars before the onset of an ecological catastrophe on Earth, then return from the Red Planet to Earth to hit the links among the ruins. In venerable fashion, the game is easy to pick up though difficult to master. Control of Charlie’s golf swing is tied to the left control stick. This can be used to select the angle of the shot as well as the amount of force that Charlie uses to hit the ball, which is accomplished with the tap of a button. On a first playthrough, players can choose between a story and challenge mode. The former allows players to take as many shots as they like to complete a given hole while the latter requires them to not go over par.
The game’s elegantly simple mechanics are complemented by its cultural savviness. Film buffs, for instance, will recognize that the city to which Charlie is heading bears the name of Jean-Luc Godard’s classic sci-fi film “Alphaville.” There are also references throughout the campaign to the work of other creative giants in film and literature such as Samuel Beckett and Aldous Huxley. (At one point, Charlie finds himself trying to finish a hole in an erstwhile nightclub named Soma, the name of the multipurpose drug featured in Huxley’s most famous novel “Brave New World.”)
As players make their way through a 35-hole course that will see them knocking balls across balconies, up escalators, through factories and into pipes, they’ll be treated to the sounds of Radio Nostalgia, easily the best in-game station I’ve heard this side of “Grand Theft Auto V.” Radio Nostalgia features some wonderful original tracks such as a song about two astronauts who argue about art — Andrei Tarkovsky vs. Stanley Kubrick, Herman Melville vs. Dostoyevsky — as well as an ode to stockpiling supplies. Interspersed among the musical offerings are stories from people who call in to the show to share their nostalgic reflections about life on earth. One of my favorites include a caller who recounts a chemically-laced evening she had at a dance party. The evening culminated with her tripping out and remembering the lines of from a poem by Heinrich Heine which she recites in its original German. Another caller laments the olfactory-impoverished state of life on Mars in comparison to the rich variety of smells that suffused her native Havana. After asserting that it was those smells that played a decisive role in the formation of her character — a Proustian sentiment if there ever was one. She goes on to sing a hauntingly beautiful song in Spanish whose words (like those of the Heine poem) I wish had been translated.
“Golf Club: Wasteland” is one of the best games I’ve played this year. I loved everything about this game from its refined art style to its soundtrack. It’s peculiar alchemy of meditative sport and pointed sentimentality is a sight to behold.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.
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