a game of golf in the rubble

That of Golf Club: Wasteland it is a light, contemplative dystopia reverberated by melancholy neon lights, where tales and fragments of a land that has long since been abandoned, but which knows how to be closer than ever, settle down. Humanity, not to say what little remains of it, has been forced to flee, indeed planetary exile, finding itself living in an experimental stronghold on Mars: Tesla City. This is because life on the blue-green planet had become impracticable after what is described as the Great Ecological Catastrophe: an event that upset every ecosystem, turning water into poison and making the air unbreathable. Global warming and pollution are guilty, but basically man is especially guilty.

So far it might seem the beginning of any other post-apocalyptic story, but the Demagog Studio team – rejecting the stereotype of the hero ready to foil who knows what other threat – was able to find an at least unusual narrative outlet, if not even original. We could not say otherwise, after all, of a premise that wants planet Earth reduced to an endless golf course for the ultra-rich, thus putting us in the shoes of a lonely golfer who came down to his old home planet for one last game. The 2D puzzle game (even if it would be more correct to say 2.5) of the Serbian studio in this way he reinvents the theme of planetary migrations, with an unexpected change of perspective and a storytelling that is sometimes sparkling, sometimes deep and nostalgic. On the other hand, “nostalgia” is also the name of the radio station that will broadcast for those 3 or 4 hours of stay on the planet. The same land to which you cannot dedicate anything other than the vain redemption of a game of golf among the ruins of its old metropolis.

Counterculture and Apocalypse

In the collective imagination, few things could seem as relaxing as a beautiful and solitary game of golf, especially if you have such a generous, peaceful and far from inscrutable space. But Golf Club: Wasteland immediately turns its boundless vastness into the most desolate of representations, putting us in front of a world that has fallen into ruin due to the excesses of its inhabitants, of which it is extremely difficult not to feel part of it.

On the other hand, one of the winning aspects of the Demogog Studio proposal, although from the launch trailer it was already possible to glimpse some interesting glimpses, is the strength of its careful aesthetic full of references to our contemporaneity. As if time had stood still – and given the speed at which it flows on Mars, it could really seem so – the journey to Earth lets itself go with an unnatural calm throughout its 35 levels. With a staid, but never without bite, gait, it thus reveals itself as a cemetery of buildings and vehicles where the changing rhizomes of plants changed due to environmental catastrophe infiltrate where once it was man who left his mark. Supported by a stylistically sober graphic sector with suffused tones that rests on the Unity engine, the arrangement of the backdrops shows us with undisguised irony the self-destructive drift of a consumerism that has never been so current. From statues posing for a selfie to “cryptocurrency mines”, from the culture of accumulation to that of speculation: in Golf Club: Wasteland is there all the effectiveness of a post-humanist satire built on themes dear to our age such as technological progress, ecology and loneliness.

To visit the Earth in these conditions one feels disoriented, discouraged, and the relics of a now distant civilization – but still vivid in the memories of the protagonist – they speak to us like voices from the past of a sad story: that of the human race that has not been able to win the challenge of climate change. On the artistic front, the production of Demagog Studio therefore appears inspired and meaningful, and is not limited to collecting the drops of an invective of Silicon Valley rhetoric. On the contrary, it launches a real cry of alarm with a harsh criticism of the capitalist model of our society, through the environmental narrative that stages its most extreme consequences in an acute and never redundant manner.

Echoes of distant stories

It’s not just the environment that speaks to Golf Club: Wasteland. The dystopian adventure of Demogog Studio in fact it stands out for being punctuated by three other stories, to which the scenographic setting integrates harmoniously, while remaining a secondary element as far as the plot is concerned. First there will be the pages of the diary of the protagonist, to which we will have access every time we complete an internship.

These are small notes in which our solitary golfer describes the journey on Earth, abandoning himself to the jolts of a heart that cannot help but beat in the face of the desolation with which what was once his home was swallowed up. The deserted shopping centers, the subways and the offices that resound with an ineffable echo, imbued with a feeling that would be difficult to give a voice, if the interventions on Radio Nostalgia From Mars did not think about it.

To counterbalance the first, silent narration of the logbook is in fact the presence of small speeches granted by Shane Berry (the DJ of the radio station) to some guests. Between one passage and another, these will tell about how their lives on Earth were before the great catastrophe, managing to make the passage of this long game of golf even more melancholy.

At this juncture, the credibility of the writing of the monologues and the interpretation of the characters make the radio device a parallel and suggestive journey astonishing. And to benefit from it is once again the depth of the content of the work, so much so that, in telling their anecdotes, the voices of RNFM will soon highlight all the contradictions of a salvation that is difficult to call such. “The efforts to live on Mars far outweigh the benefits of being alive,” it will be said. And it would be impossible, at this point, not to recognize a message of strong provocation towards certain prominent personalities of our culture; the fact that the name of this unsuccessful experiment is Tesla City should already suggest something.

Then there is a last voice that joins the chorus. An unknown narrator who describes the story from an external point of view with respect to the protagonist, but on which we will not reveal further details so as not to take away the pleasure of discovery. However, these three narrative lines are intertwined in a well-cohesive plot, made up of nuances where the well-characterized personalities of the guests on the radio emerge on the one hand and, on the other, the sobs of a sadly current story in its most intimately pessimistic perspective, therefore capable of exhorting profound reflections.

Ball in the hole!

Space suit, helmet, jet pack. And of course a golf club. Equipment that may seem rather minimal for such an adventure, but the truth is that you won’t need anything else to play your golf game in the wastelands of planet Earth. On a purely playful level, the production does not stand out for who knows what great intuitions and more timidly adheres to the canons of a puzzle game between graphic adventure and interactive drama, with enjoyable but not overwhelming gameplay. The degree of challenge grows at each level, revealing a decidedly greater complexity of the scenarios already from the fifth stage, but nevertheless remains held in a type of experience that does not want to be either simulation or arcade.

In this regard, however, the option of choosing between two game modes can come to the rescue of the most demanding players. If the story mode offers nothing more than a succession of levels that can be overcome by throwing the ball in any path, without the fear of a game over (and that indeed, after a certain number of unsuccessful attempts, it will be possible to bypass), the challenge mode binds the pocketing of a maximum number of strokes which is due not to exceed, otherwise the level will be reset. From this point of view, the shots will have to be more reasoned, the pressure on the analog more calibrated, to find the shortest path between the obstacles on the map; even if the overall tenor of the experience will certainly show no more variety.

Accomplice of this lack of playful character is a level design that exploits well the more than decent physics system, but without ever opening up to really elaborate solutions. Not even the presence of some puzzles to be solved (never too demanding) to access hidden plot details can raise the title of the title too much in terms of involvement. Net of this, however, the work of Demagog Studio can be said to be satisfactory by the standards of a work that undoubtedly focuses more on the narrative front rather than the playful component. Especially when you consider how incisive is the contribution of some elements external to the gameplay, such as the soundtrack.

The latter has in fact a central role in the course of the adventure. With the trick of the radio station the Demagog Studio team he managed to make music a cornerstone of the experience, inserting a repertoire of perfectly fitting songs to amplify the sensations transmitted by the game world. It ranges from synthwave to pop-rock, sometimes passing from classical music when not even to tech-house, thanks to a refined playlist with a retro taste that will remain in your head even after the credits so much that it manages to make the atmosphere immersive.