Golf Club Wasteland Review
“After the great ecological catastrophe, the ultra rich moved to Tesla City on Mars. Now, citizens of Mars take charter flights to Earth and play golf in the ruins of civilization.” With this introduction, along with a statement that the game “has no intention to defame”―a pointed departure from the boilerplate “any resemblance to any person living or dead…”―Golf Club Wasteland sets its satirical stakes from the very start.
You play as a lone astronaut, putting his way through derelict scenes. Yachts trashed by partygoers give way to abandoned construction sites, broken up living accommodation, and areas aggressively reclaimed by nature. You learn at one point that whoever set up the golf course also turned the neon lights that cover the buildings in brand names and logos back on. Why not, at this point, waste power, when there’s nobody left to use it?
While the wasteland is far from your traditional golf course, with a pool of toxic waste being as likely a hazard as a natural lake, it’s hard not to see a critique of golf itself in the game. As science communicator Abbie Richards put it, “Golf celebrates the wastage of resources and degradation of nature for the benefit of the select few who can afford it.” This particular golf club came after ecological catastrophe, but would that catastrophe have come without the people who play golf?
The class of people who play golf are the most interesting thing Golf Club Wasteland uses to make its starkly sardonic point. While you play, you listen to Radio Nostalgia on Mars. The station’s programming is made up of songs, PSAs, and callers-in reminiscing about the good times on Earth. In one instance, after the oft-requested “anthem to the evacuation” ‘Two Astronauts’ plays, the host pleasantly reminds listeners that it is necessary that everyone recycle their urine.
It’s a striking one-two of propaganda and PSA, that’s all the more effective for the song being genuinely enjoyable―I saved it off the OST, recycling reminder and all. But what’s more overtly sinister are the subjects the callers choose to reminisce about. An oil executive declares himself one for the history books, for having the contacts to predict that the catastrophe was going to happen―and to start mining on Mars, instead. Another person complains about the nature noises in the meditation room, because it’s nature’s fault they had to evacuate, and suggests the sounds of her old commute. A geologist bitterly discredits Earth conservation efforts, because more like him should have been planning ahead for the inevitability of life on Mars.
The conditions of life on Mars might be objectively unpleasant, but each caller is self-obsessed to the point of solipsism. It could seem over-the-top, but it doesn’t. You’ve met these people in real life―or at least seen them posting on Twitter. The only person who ever points out that other people died, that other people were dying before the evacuation is a labourer who evacuated by accidental case of mistaken identity. In other words, explicitly not somebody who plays golf. The blissed-out host―who has been reminding others to take their implied-to-be-sedative O-Mass―glosses over the loss, and can only comment on how lucky the labourer was.
The world of golf
With the radio playing almost constantly, cutting out only when the astronaut loses signal, the feeling I had when playing Golf Club Wasteland was that of a podcast game (which, as an aside, I wish was subtitled slightly more accurately as a result. Non-English speech is sometimes translated without comment, and profane language substituted). It isn’t to say that the golf wasn’t good. On the contrary, each level is a mini playground, with opportunities for clever, satisfying and slightly silly trick-shots. Even so, it was primarily an experience of sight and sound―golfing was something to do with my hands, and a way to traverse through the levels.
The astronaut’s story, then, caught me by surprise. Even with the sense of personality that came through in his animations―and the disgust he expressed at one point with Radio Nostalgia―it was at a distance. As his backstory unrolled, backloaded heavily into the ending sequence, I wasn’t emotionally compelled. His disillusionment and hope both felt flattened by the satirical tone of the rest of the game.
In the end, however, Golf Club Wasteland didn’t need to sell me on its main character for it to work. It tells more than a story about one person or one moment. Instead, its strength is in the world it creates, the microstories of each level, and the layers of social critique in each part of its radio broadcasts. The rich will watch the world burn and complain about the glare―best make sure that golf course is shady.