We have a fun, online golf game that is free or pay with a growing community and a very bright future on its hands.
Upon first glance, most hardcore gamers will identify Albatross18 as being a clone of Camelot's HotShots & Mario Golf series. If this is your initial assessment, then you would be correct. Though the developers, NtreevSoft, would not probably want to have their works labeled as a copy-cat, this is a surprisingly good thing here. What you have have is an online, "fun" golf game for all ages.
The gameplay is very well-rounded for being so limited by offering multiple modes of play. Versus Mode allows up to 4 players to compete while viewing each shot made. These can be either Stroke, where the lowest scoring player wins, or Match with 2 players or 2 teams. There is also a Tournament Mode having 10 to 30 players compete for trophies (nothing more than bragging rights). There is also a Team Tournament Mode with the team making the lowest compiled score wins Pang from the losing team. The last option is Family Mode (not yet enabled). This allows 2 to 4 players to play on one PC using the account's earned characters and items.
The game offers a great deal to explore, even though it is much less than its Japanese and Korean counterparts. There are several courses, each with a nice, subtle theme, to play through along with well-rounded graphics and cutesy music. Currently, you can play on a string of isles, a forest during the fall or a snowy, holiday cliffside. There are many more courses on the way, including a course played on the decks of battleships and an Egyptian-like desert.
Depending on your gender, you start as either Scout (male) or Hana (female). Each has equivalent stats and are the perfect starting characters to get the players a sense of the play mechanics. You are offered a chance to go through a very organized and thorough Tutorial. A bonus to taking this is that you earn a free caddie (read later on for details on these), named Papel, if you complete it successfully as well as make par or better on the test course, along with 3,000 Pang, one of the game's in-game currency. It is a nice sight to see that a game gives so generously even early on.
The control system is very simple and painless. From moving your aim and examining an aireal view, you will not have to memorize half your keyboard. Though I prefer a gamepad scheme due to its similarities with Camelot's works, it is unfortunately absent. Trust me, this is a minor gripe, and there is always the remote hope that either NtreevSoft or a 3rd party developer remedies this. For expert players, there are even trick shots that offer advantages in many situations, such as the Tomahawk. I won't ruin it for you, as you have to see it for yourself.
To power your characters, you can purchase clothing and accessories. For example, a pair of pants for Scout can increase your control, which slows down the sliding bar for taking shots. You can also use one-time items, such as Spin Mastery Potions to give your drives much more yardage. All of these items cost either Pang or Cookies (read below on these). Pang is simple to earn by playing games in any mode. Your characters also earn experience, which can raise your rank and offer the ability to increase your statistics even more. You have the means to contour your character to fit your style of gameplay.
You can also purchase new characters to play with. From Uncle Bob, who has higher power and spin than most others, to Cecilia (coming soon), who possesses greater accuracy, each have their own distinct identities and wardrobe. Mind you, you don't have to leave Scout or Hana on the bench. The more that you unlock, the more variety of gameplay becomes available to you (especially in Family Mode). Like any game, your drive to earn and unlock reaps great rewards, no pun intended.
Besides Pang, there are also Cookies. These are the other form of in-game currency. Cookies are only available by purchasing them with real money. Now, I know some of you are cringing after reading the last sentence. You can relax, as you are not required to buy Cookies at all. Not surprising, Cookie items are superior than their Pang counterparts, but not as much as you may think. To put forth another example, Scout can buy pants offering Control +3 with Pang, but Cookies can offer pants gifting Control +4. So, while you are not required to spend any of your money on Albatross18, it does indeed have its many advantages. Actually, there are too many advantages to list here without going off track here. Simply put, you would be robbing yourself somewhat unless you spend a few bucks.
Besides clothes and accessories, you can also hire caddies to accompany you on your games. Despite their title, they don't carry your clubs. They can offer advise, while usually making you say "Duh!". They also enhance your stats just as your wardrobe would. Some cost Pang and also carry a real-time monthly salary (not that bad). Others cost Cookies, though none are currently in the game. Cookie caddies do not carry a salary at all. Each of these have their own cute and unique animations, from driving with a 1 Wood to putting an Eagle. Like your characters, these can also earn experience and unlock more frequent advice and animations.
I usually don't sing the praises of a game's staff when it comes to writing reviews. My experiences with Albatross18 begs me to do this. Besides Ntreevsoft's eye for detail, OGPlanet, the staff in charge of hosting in Torrance, CA, USA, has done a great job in regulating both the in-game client as well as customer service. Unlike most games, you will find the GMs around easily. They even play the game just as the other players along with leveling, earning Pang and working on their trick shots. They help provide a very pleasant environment to play in.
I know what some of you are asking at this point: So, what's the bad news? Actually, I can find very little to classify as "bad" here. Besides the absent content which is forthcoming, my only gripes are the size of the Shot Bar at resolutions higher than 800x600 and the absence of a gamepad control scheme. There isn't anything that I can label "failing" in regards to Albatross18.
To sum it all up, we have a fun, online golf game that is free or pay with a growing community and a very bright future on its hands. While we have seen way too many disappointments of games brought from Korea, it is about time to see such a shining and entertaining offering to reach the English-speaking shores. It offers fun for the whole family, which is something we don't see too often in the online PC market. Thankfully, NtreevSoft and OGPlanet deliver well enough to leave a gracious tip after dinner. Even if you routinely hate golf, do not pass on the fun this one provides. After all, it is free, but do buy some Cookies!