Published on June 13th, 2016 | by Jeff Derrickson0
Dangerous Golf Review
Summary: It has a strong foundation but stumbles in its execution.
Golf has long been my favorite genre of sports video games. It’s a relaxing, slower-paced, intellectually stimulating entry in the genre. There is ample time to drink beer. You can pass one controller around with a friend and play a round. But for some, golf simulation may not be EXXXXXXXTREME! enough. If you fall in that category, Three Fields Entertainment makes an explosive proposition with Dangerous Golf. The goal here is to rack up high scores by blowing stuff up and causing general mayhem and destruction. Sinking the ball in the hole is truly an afterthought. If you break enough things, it isn’t necessary to advance.
Comprised of former Criterion developers, Three Fields Entertainment has delivered a debut game that should feel familiar to anyone who has played their previous studio’s popular racing series, Burnout. Dangerous Golf is essentially crash mode from Burnout mixed with golf. You bounce around blowing shit up in slow motion, except here you replace cars and freeways with a golf ball and kitchens and dining rooms. Breaking a stack of plates may be less exciting than exploding cars, but the core gameplay is still inherently fun.
The way it works is you get two shots to complete a hole, a tee shot and a putt. And it’s all about the tee shot. In most levels, your ball is placed on some pedestal, and you have to break a specific number of items with your tee shot to trigger a smashbreaker, which allows you to bounce around in slow motion and break stuff until the smashbreaker meter drains. After that, your balls stops moving, and you putt to complete the hole. There is no thinking or strategy involved in putting. You won’t be reading lines on a green. In fact, the ball almost feels magnetized to the hole. You can be inches away and do a fully powered shot, and the ball will go in. You can often ricochet the ball off multiple walls, and it will still find its way to the hole.
The only strategy to putting is making sure your tee shot lands somewhere where the path to the pin isn’t completely obscured. If your ball lands behind a shelf or a wall that blocks your way, that is basically the only way you can fail. Even then, you might get lucky, and it bounces off some walls and finds its way there. And even if you miss the hole, you might have enough points from destruction to earn a bronze, silver, or gold medal and unlock the next hole.
Unfortunately, as you advance through your world tours, you will return to the same handful of holes many times with different objectives and criteria for beating the same level. Welcome back to the public bathroom for the umpteenth time, except now the level is timed, or now you have to break urinals for high score, or now the pin won’t reveal itself unless you reach a certain score, or now there are hazard zones that spell instant fail if you land in them. These variations attempt to mask the finite number of levels in the game, but much more importantly, they are not as fun as the vanilla break stuff and get the ball in the hole version of the level that you get to do when you are first introduced to it. Occasionally they work, but they are never as exciting as unlocking a new level and getting to do a basic run on it for the first time.
It doesn’t help that the goals are often not clearly defined, and the game has no tutorial for learning its intricacies. You learn either Dark Souls style through trial and error, or by reading tips in its loading screens. Every nuance, such as controlling how high the ball bounces with your left and right triggers, is conveyed by viewing the loading screen. The goal has to be derived by thinking about the title of the level or by pressing a hint button that makes certain objects in the level shiny. Shiny stuff could either be the stuff that earns you more points, or it could be the stuff you need to break to complete the level at all. And in many cases, you won’t know which category it falls into, because the game does a bad job of explaining what you’re supposed to be doing, if it explains at all.
But these are minor annoyances in a small but enjoyable spin on golf games. The load times are much more egregious. Loading a level takes roughly a minute to do every single time, which doesn’t sound bad until you realize that is how long it takes to play a level. You can screw up a level in much less time. You can botch a tee shot in half a second, and then spend another minute waiting for the same level to load again. The load times hinder the experience in a way that significantly disrupts the flow of a game.
I played a game with my girlfriend last night, and she almost instantly complained about the load times, and she is not a gamer. She doesn’t have that vocabulary, or other load times as a reference point, and she was immediately an accurate critic of the game. It ruins the fun. How are you supposed to enjoy a game when you spend more than half your time watching a level load?
On top of that, Dangerous Golf is a game that could thrive from an online community, and it doesn’t have one yet. I’m playing days after its release, and I have no friends’ scores to chase. I played SSX for six months because somebody was always beating my score. Right now, my scores stand alone. As for online multiplayer, I found one guy last night, and he handily defeated me every time. One guy. The day of release. I can’t imagine a scenario where the online community gets better.
It’s hard to recommend Dangerous Golf, even at its $20 price tag. Part of me loves it, and I will probably put an obscene amount of hours into it. But not as much as if other people were playing, or if I could play with my girlfriend without us spending half our time looking at load screens. The goal of the game is to break things that would otherwise be perfectly arranged and untouched. How very meta that the developers would seem to have the same goal for our experience playing it.