You start Shot Online simply enough by selecting a character from amongst six choices. This is not a complex affair, your selection merely decides what you will look like and what your starting statistics will be. There are multiple character slots so you have some leeway for experimentation, though there's not much need for that. Each character has a line of clothing and equipment (in addition to generic items) that only they may use.
Characters have four vital statistics that influence various areas of performance. Power controls your striking distance, Impact controls the accuracy of mistimed shots, Skill controls your ability to affect the ball's spin and Stamina controls your fatigue rate. Each time your character levels up you may distribute two additional points amongst the attributes.
The basics of hitting the ball are simple and easy. You begin by selecting the right club for the task, which determines how far your strike will carry the ball. Its approximated landing area can be observed by a circle that appears down the course. Next you'll need to turn left or right so the ball is aimed where you want it to land on the fairway.
Once you are satisfied with your aim, you click on the ball to start your swing. A power gauge at the bottom starts filling up, running towards a hundred percent mark. How much you allow this gauge to fill determines the actual distance the ball will traverse. Once you click a second time, the marker will start swinging back towards zero. For an accurate shot, you need to time your third click exactly at the zero mark. Shooting over or under means the ball will curve either left or right. How much depends on the amount you missed and your Impact statistic.
There are more subtle factors affecting the trajectory which you must take into consideration when striving for more accurate shots. The aiming circle only tells you where the ball will land when hit at full force, it does not take into account weaker strikes or how much further it will roll after landing - these you must estimate yourself based on the club you use and the terrain. In simple terms, longer strikes will lengthen the roll; the shorter the grass the more freely the ball will roll.
You also can control the point at which you hit the ball to give it some extra spin. For example a hefty backspin will shorten the ball's roll, an important factor to consider if you are aiming at a very narrow zone. If you are confident in your skill, you can use curving shots to get past obstacles that would impede a straight shot.
Weather conditions have their say over the trajectory as well. It will be longer in warm weather, shorter in cold weather. Cloudy and rainy conditions will further shorten the trajectory. Wind direction and its strength have an obvious effect. None of these are reflected on your aiming circle. Their effects must be estimated and your choice of club, shot direction and impact power adjusted accordingly.
In addition to affecting the ball's roll, terrain will impact striking. Hitting from the fairway allows for a full-strength strike. Rough terrain and sand pits will significantly cut into how far you are able to send the ball. Even more importantly, the effect has a random element, so you can never be completely sure where the ball will land when operating in unfavourable terrain. Incline of the terrain is also an issue. If not striking from level terrain, which fairways generally are, you'll need to compensate for curve to left or right, depending on the relative altitude between your feet and the ball.
Fatigue, which increases over each action, has an overall effect to your performance. It is never a good idea to let your fatigue level grow too high.
Putting is another game entirely. While conditions which affect flight trajectory are not at play here, you have to pay careful attention to lay of the land. You are augmented here by a grid that is set between you and the hole. Highlights will run along the gridlines, their speed and direction indicating the incline. You'll need to estimate their effect on the ball's course, aim the right direction to compensate, and putt. Unlike shooting, putting is a two-click affair where the first click starts filling your power gauge and second stops it, determining the strength you place behind your putt.
It is entirely possible to finish courses by ignoring effects of more advanced elements. However if you are aiming to score below par, especially on more difficult courses, you'll need to learn to read them and estimate their effects on the ball - and it also helps to be able to shoot accurately.
Shot Online offers over a dozen courses to play on, across a range of difficulties and terrain types. The easiest ones come with generously wide and uncomplicated fairways with sparse sand and water obstacles. Moving onto harder courses, the fairways narrow down and become more complex, obstacles are more common and harder to avoid. You can even find yourself golfing in desert or ashen courses surrounded by magma flows. You may also find yourself surrounded by sheer cliffs, where only places to land the ball are like islands amidst clouds. These difficult courses progressively call for higher skill and statistics to complete at par or below. They also tend to offer multiple avenues of progress if you are able to shoot accurately and far enough.
There are some things to consider when equipping for your next golf match. While many articles of clothing are for looks only, it is possible to acquire clothes, special equipment, clubs and balls that improve statistics. These all cost money though (called NG), and your primary means of acquiring it are by completing courses, certain play accomplishments (like hole in one) and several multiplayer game types. It is also a good idea to carry along some refreshments to the course to reduce your fatigue during play.
In addition to purchasing items from in-game malls with NG, it is also possible to spend real money to buy "cyber cash", used in the online store to buy items and equipment. These are, unsurprisingly, more powerful than what in-game cash can buy, and include items that can enhance your equipment, redistribute your points in statistics, or simply are vanity clothing only available in the online store. It should be noted that many items have level and rank limits before they can be used.
Every character starts at level one and beginner rank. Gaining experience points to rise in levels is a matter of completing holes. The experience reward is directly proportional to your performance. Ranks are bit more involved. While rising from beginner to amateur is made by gaining enough levels, the two higher ranks, semi-pro and tour-pro, require passing an entry test with hefty in-game cash entrance fee and having a good enough score and low enough handicap on certain courses.
And what would be an online game without player interaction and multiplayer capabilities? Shot Online has a town square where players can go between matches to socialize, sell their items or interact with the NPC vendors. Sitting on the square's benches is another way to remove fatigue, but unlike energizing drinks this process is not instant.
Golfing can be started via the course interface where you can browse games looking for players, choose to join one as spectator or start up a new one. Each game can be set for one to four players with a choice of three, six, nine or eighteen-hole tour. A game can also be password protected so only specific people may join. Playing with multiple people also improves the amount of experience you may gain. You should note, however, that everyone plays their ball on their own turn, which means you will wait and look while other players take their turn (you can chat with each other and the spectators). While I don't mind this, some might have an issue with the waiting around bit. There is a timer to how long a single player may spend with their ball before having to forfeit their turn, however.
Multiple game types are offered. Stroke is the standard-scoring game where best result will win. Various match types include 2-player match where number of holes won (regardless of shots used) are counted and team matches using two or four balls. In Skins game players put certain amount of money into pot for each hole and winner will collect the entire pot. There's also the semi-pro exclusive mastery mode, where all birds-eye camera angles are disabled and you need to manage with what you can observe from where you stand.
Shot Online also hosts multiple official tournaments. These are held during certain dates and their rewards include both in-game cash and cyber cash - and of course the glory and fame and all that.
The game's graphics won't greatly impress anyone. The character models are bit blocky and everything looks, by today's standards, somewhat simplistic. They serve their purpose adequately however, providing a realistic enough backdrop for golfing. While spiffy graphics are hardly the purpose of this game, they could use an once-over.
All things considered, Shot Online seems a fun way to spend your gaming time. It is easy to learn, difficult to master and caters to a variety of people - from a group of friends who want to spend an idle afternoon over a game of virtual golf to people with more competitive edge. I myself was pleasantly surprised how fun putting some balls into holes can be, especially while competing against others.