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Review: Dangerous Golf (Xbox One)

They say that golf is a good walk spoiled. The ex-Burnout developers at Three Fields Entertainment have attempted to put paid to all that walking nonsense though, instead opting to take the sport largely indoors. With Dangerous Golf, their goal is clearly to take the essence of Burnout's "Crash" mode and apply it to a very different set of situations, bringing the punk rock vibe and spirit of their older titles along for the ride.

Initially, it seems that their attempts have been well-founded. The premise of the game is that you propel a golf ball around a location, causing as much damage as is possible as you do so. You start off with a tee shot, which you (usually) are unable to apply any control to once the ball is in flight. Then, providing you've destroyed enough property with that shot, you're given a "Smashbreaker" which – just like Burnout's "Crashbreaker" lets you do with cars – allows you to apply aftertouch to the ball, directing it for a limited amount of time. You rotate the camera with one stick and "push" the ball in the air with the other, lowering or increasing the bounce level with LT and RT as needed. During this Smashbreaker shot is where most of your work will be done, as you'll be able to unlock bonus flags, smash specific targets for bonuses, head towards warp zones, plant bombs, pick up bonus Smashbreakers, catch the ball in buckets of water or on trolleys and try to get the ball as close to the final flag as possible to make your putt as simple as you can. Your next shot is a putt to the hole. If you've unlocked any of the four "Money Flags" that are available on some holes, you can try to make putts in succession to rack up your score, before trying to sink the ball in the target hole. Putting is effortlessly simple. As with all shots, you hit the ball by pressing the left stick forward with no real consideration for power ever needed, though you can take softer shots to hit closer targets by manipulating the triggers. With putting, Dangerous Golf tends towards being extremely generous. As long as you're aiming somewhere in the direction of the flag – even if you're trying to bank the ball off four walls – there's a darned good chance that you'll make the putt.

It's all simple enough to get to grips with, though the lack of any sort of real introduction when you first play is a little jarring. There's a full set of tutorial explanations hidden in the Clubhouse menu, but we would have expected a game which is an entirely new concept to at least attempt to walk us through the process on the first level or two. You'll pick things up quickly enough, but it still feels like an oversight.

Once you do have the controls down and are familiar with the process, you'll be taken on a whistle stop tour of four countries – England, Australia, the US, and France – unlocking new holes to play as you go. There's a fair bit of repetition in terms of stages, as multiple visits to each of the locations take place on the main tour with different rules or flag positions being the order of the day to mix things up. The unlock criteria in each level is to get at least a bronze medal and we'd say that most players will be able to pretty much breeze through things at that bronze level in eight or nine hours, with that obviously extended if you want to retry each stage until you've picked up the platinum award. If you've got a friend who fancies playing, there's a full local co-op tour to play through as well, which is as long as the single player one. Dangerous Golf has enough going on to provide a decent bang for your buck in terms of playing time for sure and in the first hour or so, the huge explosions, massive amounts of damage and the interesting core mechanic will ensure that you'll have fun and be ready to declare Dangerous Golf an absolute success.

As you play on though, the game's problems – of which there are many – come to the fore. Many of the issues are technical, while some simply come down to questionable design decisions. During our eleven hours with the game, it froze entirely no less than five times. Then there are the occasions where – due to the amount of destruction going on and the amount of power the (admittedly) very detailed physics take – the framerate drops so low that you're pretty sure it's about to crash, but it recovers. Later on, there are a couple of levels that (if you hit the right objects) look like they're being played out via the medium of flip book. On top of that, we hit at least a dozen spots that caused our ball to just drop through the floor or get stuck in the scenery. Plus, there are numerous occasions where the game decides that you haven't destroyed enough scenery to earn a Smashbreaker off the tee, even though items are still falling. When this happens, you're either not going to hit the target score or, in the case of levels that have a flag that's locked, you'll just be adjudged to have failed right away.

These things are all made worse by the fact that they lead to you having to retry the level. In a score-based game, you'd expect that the developers would make restarting painless, so that players can try again and again, getting that "one more go" feeling locked firmly in. After all, the point is not to play a level once. The idea is to try multiple times to master a level and pick up a score high enough that you get the highest honour - a platinum medal - for your efforts. For some reason though, Dangerous Golf needs to reload the entire level if you have to retry. Even though you're in the same room, with the same art assets, objects, sound effects, rules, and layout, the game can't just reset things to where they were to let you try again. So if you fancy restarting for any reason, you have to load the entire thing again, which takes ten to fifteen seconds each time. The upshot of this is that rather than saying to yourself "I'll have another quick go" as you would in something like Trials Fusion or even something like Burnout Crash! itself, you're actually dissuaded from trying again as you know you'll have to sit and wait for things to load. It may only be fifteen seconds, but it feels like an absolute age.

What makes this even more baffling is that in co-op mode, each player plays the full hole in turn. When the first player is done, any major target objects are reset for player two to take down, while the rest of the damage is kept in place. It takes less than a second before player two is up and ready to tee off. If the game can reset a couple of objects so quickly and put the second player at the tee, why can't it reset everything quickly in single player mode without reloading the entire level? There's probably some technical explanation, but we're not entirely sure what it would be.

For the record, outside of the co-op mode we've mentioned, there's the ability for up to four to play competitively offline, as well as synchronous online play for up to eight players. Online, we tried multiple times during launch day to face off against the masses, but only ever managed to get a two-player game going, with the other six slots always remaining empty. It may have just been bad luck, but it feels more like a bug given that without fail, we could always find one player to play against, but never more than that.

There are other snafus of note, too, such as not having enough freedom to work out what you have to do on a level, especially as you get into the later tours. There's no free camera or map, so you are locked to seeing what the game will allow you to see. You can, however, hold down the X or Y button at any time to show items of interest and the flag respectively. Pressing either button fades the colours of the level down and lights up items that you need to see. The only problem is that the items aren't highlighted well enough and in some cases, aren't visible at all. On levels where you have to "reveal" the final flag by hitting a set score target (which could be anything, since the game doesn't tell you) you'll often have absolutely no idea where the flagstick is so don't know where you should be ultimately heading. On earlier levels where the location is pretty obvious, that's fine. On later levels, where the hole might be behind a door that you have to blow up or around a corner or down some stairs, you'll find yourself in trouble. After all, you only usually get that one shot from the "fairway" after your tee shot, so you'll be trying to unlock the target, spinning the camera around all over the place to actually find it, then trying to get somewhere in the vicinity of it for the putt, all while the ball is in the air. It isn't impossible, but more often than you'd like, you'll be left with no choice but to pretty much just smack the ball towards where you think the flag might be on the putt and then hope for the best. As we've said, Dangerous Golf is VERY generous when it comes to putting, so it isn't always a problem, but this combined with some nasty camera issues (which occur on almost every level) means that there will be times when you pick up some pretty unrewarding wins that are absolutely nothing to do with your skill level. You may be putting with a bucket directly in front of the ball, putting down a staircase, or putting from the piece of scenery that the game has you stuck in. In all three cases, there's a decent chance that you'll somehow bank the ball off four walls and sink it. Not that you'd be able to tell, given that when you've struck the ball, the camera angle doesn't change until the ball is near the hole. At times, you'll be staring at nothing for far too long, thinking that you've missed, only for the game to suddenly cut to the flag – which is a hallway and two rooms away – with the ball about to drop into the hole. You've no idea how it got there, but hey…a medal is a medal.

All of this sounds like we're completely destroying Dangerous Golf as if we were a little white ball hurtling towards an in-game statue or petrol pump. The simple fact is that the game is more than enjoyable for a little while and is definitely always on the border of being great fun, but the sheer amount of oversights, problems, and assumptions quickly starts to overwhelm. Some will pick it up and play all the way through to the end of the tour, then go back to try to pick up all the platinum medals and have a great time doing it, of that there is no doubt. Others will be left cold by the fact that while a ton of polish has been applied to the visuals – it really does look great, despite the fluctuating framerate – not a great deal appears to have been applied to the game they feature in.

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