Gameloft return for a third outing for their casual golfing sim…
Sports video games can be split into two distinct groups. Those for the hardcore, like Madden and Tiger Woods – and those for the more casual players, like NBA Jam and Icebreaker Hockey. The Let’s Golf series straddles both of these groups, enticing casual player in with it’s bright colours and customizable players, while the hardcore will like the robust golf mechanic and online play. Like any sequel you expect new features and more of them, so does this third outing deliver?
Single player is no doubt where you will spend most of your time. There are six themed courses, and unlike the last two games, it features brand new environments. Fiji brings shimmering seas, golden sand and palm trees; Egypt brings the desert, the pyramids and other ancient monuments; Ireland gives lots of thick green grass, castles and grey skies; and China gives you lily ponds, pandas and falling petals. Those four, while overly stereotypical, are actually the more realistic of the courses; the next two takes things where no golfer has gone before. Played in a big glass bubble, you can play through 18 holes surrounded by coral reefs and various fish in the Under the sea course. And if that isn’t barmy enough you can hot foot it over to the moon in the Milky Way course. I actually like how Game loft have gone a little zanier with the course environments this time, especially with the water and space themes. Unfortunately though these course are visual only. Playing on them is no different to the land based courses. It’s a shame too because I think there was huge potential here to do some crazy zero gravity physics with moon golf. But perhaps that is just too ambitious?
Each themed course naturally contains 18 holes. You can play these in either stroke play or dual play against an AI opponent. I like how you can turn off the AI’s play-through, so you don’t have to sit through drawn out games. Challenge mode returns too, but only if you have unlocked 9 holes in that course. Once in you can try out a multitude of challenges including: Close to pin, Shootout, target range, putting master and Catch the star. The star one is the most fun, as you desperately try and hit large stars with your golf ball, with each holding a letter to spell out GOLF.
Playing through holes and unlocking new ones isn’t just a matter of completing the holes in par or above however. Gameloft have gone with a different sales tactic this time around, the freemium model. The game is offered for free, and utilises a tactic similar to ngmoco’s Eliminate. That is that you can play, but only whole you have enough credit for that day. In Let’s Golf 3 tis is called energy. In the top right of the main menu screen you can see how much energy you have left to play shown as a clock counting down. Should you hit zero, then you cannot play again until the next day. There are of course ways to get around this. One is to play exceedingly well and receive energy as a reward (though you don’t receive much). The other is to simply pay for more energy. This is where Gameloft get their money. So, the game is a double-edged sword of sorts. Yes, you can own and play it for free… in a somewhat limited fashion. Or, you can pay-to-play, allowing you to play as much as you like, unlocking a multitude of options and new courses, and it only costs you the yearly income of a small country. I joke of course, but you must be careful not to over spend and end up costing yourself more than the average game should.
The game features a ton of unlockables, some purely for character customization only. I love the fact that you can dress your male or female player in all manner of crazy outfits: from Santa to Captain Jack. But when just one those outfits can cost upwards of £10 ($16) then it gets a little silly. Instead, your best bet is to concentrate on powering up your character with useful purchases: like better clubs for more power; or perks, such as a ball with a built-in guidance system!
Once you have honed your skills in single player and spent a fortune on a whole new wardrobe (and lost everything in a divorce battle), you can take things to the next level with online play. The AI in Dual mode is all well and good, but you can’t beat the challenge of a real human player. All flavours of multiplayer are here: WiFi; Bluetooth; Hot Seat (sharing one device); and of course Gameloft Live enabled Online (over WiFi only), all with up to four players. Once in a game you can swing away without having to wait for a player to take their shot. A nice feature is being able to see their ball flying around the course, both on the fairway and on the mini-map.
Let’s Golf 3 features the same tried and tested power-bar swing system. So don’t expect any touch/gesture based system seen in the Tiger Woods series, or gyroscope motion capture. Taking a swing is as simple as tapping the screen when the power bar reaches your desired power percentage, and tapping again when it reaches the bottom, and your accuracy gauge. Getting the power percentage wrong will of course affect whether your ball is hit short or long, while miss judging your accuracy will cause you to slice the ball in left or right directions away from your desired trajectory. The game tends to set you up with the general direction in which to play (unlike the last game which accidentally positioned you the wrong way with no way of turning around). However, you can tweak this by tapping the mini map and positioning your target area manually. Once you hit the green, a grid appears giving you indications of the slope of the grass using moving dots. If they move slow, or don’t move, then the ground is more or less level. If fast, then there is a slope. Success comes down to having an eye to match these up and get not only the speed of your put right but also the trajectory. It’s easily the most challenging part, as it has always been.
Each ‘Let’s golf’ has outperformed its predecessor visually, and let’s Golf 3 is no different. I have already described the various themed courses, which are all beautifully rendered with smooth and pristinely cut lawns, and filled with rich and vibrant lush flora and fauna. The intrusive wildlife is left to a minimum this time; so don’t expect a herd of elephants ruining your game this time round. There is virtually no pop up, and the game looks particularly good on the iPad 2 in HD.
Despite the improved look of the game, it unfortunately suffers from frame-rate issues during both the game and the menus. Oddly, on the iPad 2 it’s worse than on the iPhone 4, despite the higher horsepower. This is particularly noticeable during perfect swing shot animations, and for some odd reason in the hole selection menu – where the holes stutter onto the screen after a long pause. Gameloft have started to make these games Universal from the outset. This is commendable, but perhaps some of the testing phase is being cut down to ensure a timely release. Hopefully this issue will be fixed in an update, and soon.
Aside from all the unlockable content and new environments for the courses, the core experience remains the same as the last outing. Gameloft have gone for the ‘if it ain’t broke’ philosophy with Let’s Golf 3, and while it still plays a great game of golf, I would have liked to see a braver approach. A new or alternative control scheme would be good to see – perhaps an evolution of the power bar. But, for me it’s the environments, I can’t believe they missed a trick in not bringing some physics based ‘space golf’ into the mix. It’s a missed opportunity in my opinion, and would have been a fun addition to what is already a less than realistic golf game, so why not?
Let’s Golf 3 is still – like it’s forebear – a polished and highly enjoyable golf experience. I’m not entirely sold on the freemium model, but you can still have a good time on the green without spending a cent, and so making it free will no doubt put this feature rich golf game in the hands of more gamers.