The concept for Dangerous Golf is enticing: Put golf indoors and make it play like the crash modes from the Burnout games.
If you weren’t playing games on the Xbox and PlayStation 2, you might not know about Burnout and Burnout 2 from developer Criterion Games, but they were excellent racers that emphasized destruction. Now, some of the people responsible for those games have started Three Fields Entertainment. Its first game is Dangerous Golf (out now for Xbox One and PC), and it wants to do for golf games what Burnout did for driving.
In Dangerous Golf, players must fire a golf ball to cause as much destruction as possible. You get three-to-five shots to get your ball into the hole across four main areas that has a number of rooms each with multiple objectives. Your score is all about raining down explosive blows on the fine china, bottles of wine, and kitchen appliances inhabiting these courses.
That probably sounds thrilling, but the end result isn’t as exciting.
What you’ll like
One smart thing about Dangerous Golf is that each hole only takes about a minute or so at the most, and that’s only if you’re getting a really great score. If you fail, you do so quickly. That’s because of the three-shot format, where you’re just trying to cause enough destruction in your first shot to unlock the second shot (called the smashbreaker). Then for the smashbreaker, you’re trying to cause even more damage before ending up as close to the hole as possible, since this shot enables you to control the ball during flight. Finally, you have the putt — and if you miss, you cut your score in half. Dangerous Golf introduces a few spins on this structure: You may have to do 30 putts in a row, but the three shots are still a big chunk of the game.
This is a strong, compact game that has a distinct beginning, middle, and end, and it takes only around 60 seconds to complete each round. Working your way through a handful of holes is easy because of this. And so is attempting the same stage over and over.
To get a respectable score in Dangerous Golf, you need to have skill in all three of its major parts. Lining up the tee off and putts is important, but the meat here is the smashbreaker shot that lets you control the ball as it bounces around. This is another thing the was in those Burnout crash modes where you could steer your vehicle during a crash to ensure it would cause as much damage as possible.
The physics here make it so that you can predict a few bounces ahead where your ball will be and what you need to do to it to ensure it ends up where you want it. Through a combination of the two sticks on a gamepad, you can cause your ball to bounce forward and backward or to curve in midair.
I had a moment where I saw that my smashbreaker meter was dying, but I still hadn’t hit the last candelabra to complete one of the special objectives that Three Fields puts into each of its stages. Because I got so in tune with the physics, I was able to guide my ball into a table leg and watch as it collapsed sending the candelabra to its demise while I got close enough to the hole that I’d get an easy putt.
This is where most of the challenge is in Dangerous Golf. You can nail the top-tier platinum medal again and again if you know how to guide the ball well, and interacting with that is also the best part.
Dangerous Golf is a throwback. It uses fonts from the Burnout games in its menus that give it an “extreme” vibe that I associate with action spots like skateboarding. To go along with that, it has a rock ‘n’ roll theme song that would sound right at home in a Tony Hawk game.
It’s old school and retro, but for an era of gaming that we’re only just now starting to think of as “retro.” Instead of 8-bit sprites and chiptunes, Dangerous Golf is cheesy punk rock and a globetrotting level-select screen with punny stage names. After the terrible Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5, I’m glad to see that other games can capture that spirit.
What you won’t like
A dull camera takes the oomph outta the tee shot
Parts of Dangerous Golf, like the camera, feel unfinished.
The tee-off shot, for example, always looks static and stale because the camera doesn’t chase the action. You can send your ball into a pile of expensive champagne bottles, but because the camera is often so far removed from the destruction, it’s often difficult to tell what even happened. Even when you nail an excellent shot, you don’t see that reflected on the display beyond your score.
This lazy camera leads to situations where I’m not getting the feedback I need to know if I’m doing well — or, and is this worse, situations where I’m not getting the feedback I need to know if I’m enjoying myself.
Dangerous Golf takes away too much control and challenge
The core mechanics also suffer because they aren’t as interactive as the smashbreaker round.
When you tee off, the whole point is to kinda search the level for the path that the developers set up to give you enough points to unlock the smashbreaker. If you don’t reach that threshold, you might as well start over, because your score will suffer. But searching for that path is boring. You can’t aim up or down, so you’re just pivoting in place looking for the object that might set off the chain reaction you need. This makes it feel like one of those object hunt games that my mother plays on Facebook.
Putting has a similar problem because it’s not really about lining up shots. Instead, all of the emphasis is back in the smashbreaker stage, because Dangerous Golf often gives you a bonus that will guarantee your ball goes in if you get a high enough score before going to putt. If that bonus is available to you, you’re just gonna play for that since you probably need it for the gold or platinum medal. And when you have it, you can blindly slam your shot in just about any direction and the ball will make it into the hole.
Because you’re limited in your aim when teeing off and putting, the entire game’s difficulty breaks. Some holes required me to think about the tee off, the smashbreaker, and the putting, but just as many were mostly mindless. It’s boring when you’re going through the motions of teeing off and putting just to see if you can get the best score in your smashbreaker round.
PC version requires a controller
If you are thinking about buying Dangerous Golf from Steam, you should know that it doesn’t include keyboard-and-mouse support. You’ll need a gamepad. Now, this doesn’t bother me, because I’ve had a gamepad plugged into my desktop for years. But it is still weird that it requires a controller. You can’t even use a mouse on the menus.
And while this doesn’t really bother me, I do think it is indicative of Dangerous Golf’s unfinished nature.
I’ve seen a lot of people complaining that Dangerous Golf is causing sound issues on their system, but I didn’t experience that. Instead, I had to deal with it repeatedly booting into a thin strip that was impossible to correct. Well, I couldn’t fix it until I noticed that every time I turned on the game, it also started the SteamVR software and turned on my Oculus Rift.
It turns out a recent update made it so that if you have a Rift plugged in, the game will boot into some half-ass VR mode. Are you happy to hear it has VR support? Well, it doesn’t. If you put the headset on, you get a distorted, cross-eye image that is impossible to comprehend.
I like a lot about Dangerous Golf. The explosions are wonderful, ramming your ball into fragile objects comes with a real sense of satisfaction, and its throwback look and feel hit me right in my nostalgia center. While it has all these pieces in place, it’s not really using them to their full potential yet. It’s like the film Fast & Furious 4. That brought together many of the elements (director Justin Lin, Paul Walker, and Vin Diesel) that were key to pushing that franchise to the limit in future installments but is otherwise disappointing.
Three Fields has everything in place here, but it misses out on delivering something along the lines of this summer’s Rocket League. The studio needs to keep banging away at Dangerous Golf until it can make the camera more dynamic in all situations, until it can tune the difficulty, and until it can include some more attention to detail.
Developer Three Fields provided GamesBeat with a downloadable copy of Dangerous Golf for the purpose of this review.