Easy Golf: Course Architect

Hole in one or albatrocity?

With the advent of the heady homebrew Community Games on Xbox Live, the old scoring systems that we've relied on for so many years can seem inflexible and restrictive. There's not much point berating some bedroom developer for failing to match the polish of even the most basic Live Arcade game, while praising them for creating something that's almost like a real game feels horribly patronising.

Easy Golf arrives from start-up studio Barkers Crest, which is really just an umbrella for affable solo developer Matt Davis. At 800 Microsoft Points, it costs the same as most Live Arcade games - including rival golfing game Tee It Up! - which automatically puts it smack bang in the middle of the awkward scoring conundrum.

It's priced like a professional game, but clearly doesn't have the level of polish and presentation we'd usually expect for the cost. Thankfully, dig past the perfunctory menus and slightly crude graphics and there's a genuinely good golf game not too far under the surface; the sort of thing that may not look like its next-gen rivals, but with the robust charm that would have made it an enduring cult hit on, say, the original PlayStation or N64.

You get three courses for your money - Weeping Willow, Hazard County and The 19th Hole. Or at least you did get three courses for your money. In a generous burst of post-release patching, the game recently received an additional trio of courses - Robot Retreat, Desert Oasis and White Mountain Country Club - basically doubling the size of the game.

Each course comes with tees that can be set to easy, normal and hard difficulty levels while control uses the familiar three-click swing system to set the power and angle of your shot. It's a smooth and intuitive implementation of a tried-and-tested control scheme and it works a treat. Hooks and slices initially appear more pronounced than you'd expect from the slight deviations in your stroke, but it's easy enough to adjust and incorporate this into your game.

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As a nice festive treat, anyone playing on Christmas Day discovered a Santa hat on their robot golfer.

Obviously, you're not going to get the same spread of features you'd find in the latest Tiger Woods game, but what there is gets the job done without the need for frills. Left and right triggers cycle through your clubs, though the game automatically selects the best fit for each stroke, while the X button selects the shot type should you wish to opt for a chip or putt for tactical reasons. Tapping down on the right analogue stick adds backspin, while tapping up gives you a reverse angle on your target. The right and left bumpers allow you to elevate and drop your viewpoint.

The ball physics are unsophisticated but mostly effective. Wind can affect your shot, as can the slope of the fairway, but everything is intuitive enough that you're soon landing shots with all the accuracy you'd expect. The only time the physics feel out of your control is on the green. The game's not particularly good at making the contours clear, with the traditional wireframe grid from other golf games replaced with an overlay where light and dark smudges are used to show higher and lower slopes. It's just a little too vague when you're lining up a long putt, and one of the few areas where the game really stumbles.

The courses themselves are simple but effective, with basic grass textures and fairways hovering in a light blue skybox. The water effects are quite nice, and the trees may not be realistic but they're at least varied in colour and shape. While this wouldn't cut the mustard on Live Arcade, as far as Community Games are concerned it's easily one of the best-looking efforts. The default music is a pleasantly twangy acoustic guitar theme, which sounds suspiciously similar to the music from Kingdom for Keflings. It loops over and over and soon grates, so it's handy that the game supports custom soundtracks, using your own music from the hard drive or whatever media server you've got set up.

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