Reviewed on PS4
That doesn’t mean there isn’t an audience, though. Or at least that’s what Dangerous Golf developers Three Fields Entertainment (helmed by Criterion co-founders Fiona Sperry and Alex Ward) were banking on when they announced the game earlier this year. Down to the fonts and HUD elements, Dangerous Golf clearly wants to capture the essence of Burnout‘s Crash Mode: a fan-favorite wherein players launched their vehicle into traffic in order to earn points by causing as much chaos as possible using in-air controls, slowmo, and a healthy amount of explosions to keep the damage coming. It was arguably some of the best fun you could have with Burnout back in the day, and bringing it back for a $20 current-gen treatment seemed like it could satisfy some cravings, even if cars had to be replaced with golf balls to keep the lawyers happy. Sadly, Dangerous Golf falls short of its aspirations in just about every category.
The problems with Dangerous Golf start at the very beginning. Rather, they start with the lack thereof. Despite the backbone of the game being a relatively simple concept (break stuff to earn medals and make sure the ball gets in the hole at the end), a surprisingly dense layer of mechanics exists beneath the surface, and aside from loading menu tooltips the game does literally nothing to tell you about most of them. If it hadn’t been for a 40-minute video I watched of the devs playing the game prerelease, I’m entirely unsure whether or not I ever would’ve discovered how some elements of the game function—and even now I’m not convinced I entirely grasp them.
In order to illustrate the ridiculous and frustrating nature of Dangerous Golf‘s complete lack of instruction, I have included a couple of examples below for your reading pleasure.
What the Game Tells You
Each of Dangerous Golf‘s 100 levels (not counting the occasional Putting Challenge) begin the same way: starting at a predetermined point in a room full of destructible objects, you control a golfball that is able to tee off by moving the left analog stick in a direction. If the ball hits enough objects on this initial shot you will unlock a “Smashbreaker” that can be activated at any time with a button press, allowing you to take full control of the ball for a set amount of time, bouncing around the room and trying to do as much damage as possible. After the Smashbreaker ends, you have one final shot, the goal of which is to ensure the ball ends up in the hole or half of your score will be lost.
What the Game Doesn’t Tell You
There is an aggressive amount of aim assist allowing for ridiculous trick shots (many of which are virtually required to finish lategame holes) whenever you take the final putt. This is never communicated in any way—I only knew because I’d watched a developer play, and even then I had just assumed he was really good at the game until I tried replicating some of his moves myself and discovered it was shockingly easy. Banking the ball off multiple walls and watching it fly around the room breaking dinner plates, then ultimately land directly in the hole at the end of your shot is actually a simple process; you just have to aim roughly at the point that it would maybe ricochet into a position somewhat near the hole, and the game will do the rest. It’s maybe the best feature of the game because it makes you feel like an absolute beast when it works, although it’s a shame the game never explains any of this to you, especially because sometimes trickshots can inexplicably go wrong. About one in every ten times I attempted a trickshot the ball would decide not to follow the trajectory I’d tried to line up for it and I would have to restart the hole. Once again, there was no indication of why this was happening, so I was left feeling rather gypped.
What the Game Tells You
There are three opportunities to hit the ball per level: The Tee Off, The Smashbreaker, and the Putt. The Smashbreaker is the most important tool you have and once it runs out, it’s gone for good.
What the Game Doesn’t Tell You
If you can manage to land the ball in the hole while your Smashbreaker is active, you get to completely restart the hole, keeping all of your earned points and destruction. From this point you get to tee off again and can earn a second Smashbreaker, effectively doubling your score. Doing this will also give you a healthy $25,000 bonus at the end of the hole, which is a substantial score boost on its own.
The only reason I know this exists is because I discovered it by freak chance about halfway through the campaign after hitting a button at the wrong time and accidentally landing my Smashbreaker in the hole. It can not be overstated that this hidden mechanic entirely changes the way you’ll play the game, particularly if you’re going for gold medals on every course. It is literally never mentioned in the “How to Play” section of the main menu, and only briefly mentioned by a single loading screen tooltip that poorly explains how it functions (a tooltip I didn’t see until I was already 4 hours in).
These two examples aren’t even the worst of it, they’re just among the easiest to explain. By the end of Dangerous Golf there are a lot of mechanics in play; some of them easier to understand at face value than others, and their incredibly poor implementation led me to be consistently amazed that the game shipped the way it did. Combining so many complicated ideas and not even bothering with a basic playable tutorial—not to mention an explanation of the more arcane mechanics like Headlines, Re-Tees (mentioned above), Signature Smashes, Money Flags, Mop Buckets, and the dozen or so other concepts that have (at best) a single loading screen tooltip dedicated to them—made me feel like I never really knew if I was playing it correctly or not.
Which brings me to the most damaging of all Dangerous Golf‘s issues: It just. Doesn’t. Work.
The thing that made Crash Mode so appealing was the absolute chaos you could create. The goal was always the same: do as much damage as possible and receive a Bronze, Silver, or Gold medal for it. Despite all of the on-screen carnage though, there was something about Crash Mode that made score-chasing a matter of strategy rather than downright luck: predictability. “Target” vehicles and other road users would spawn at the exact same place and at the exact same time each time you attempted a level, so setting up the perfect crash was all about choosing your moment and being in the right place at the right time to maximize score.
By nature of being a golf game rather than an arcade racer, Dangerous Golf changes this a bit: you aren’t charging into a preset traffic pattern anymore; instead, you’re disrupting an otherwise still room. This difference may seem minor, but the more I played, the more I came to realize that this simple difference changes the nature of the game from top to bottom, almost entirely for the worse.
Success and failure in Dangerous Golf feel random
Dangerous Golf’s core design centers around throwing a ball whose speed and angle you can barely control into physics objects that will unpredictably fly around the room (as virtual physics objects tend to do). Retrying the same level, you will find yourself completely unable to replicate any aspect of your last attempt because being off by even a fraction of a centimeter can be the difference between setting off an awesome score-building chain reaction and only hitting a couple of objects—and Dangerous Golf gives you no way to predict what’s going to happen before you take your shot. This means that at best, a lot of your success and failure will feel like it hinges on luck as much as it does your ability. When I got gold medals I never felt like it was because I played the game well—I felt like it was because the ball had just happened to take out a lot of objects on my first shot, my Smashbreaker didn’t get stuck under a table, and I was fortunate enough to somehow earn a quadruple bank shot bonus on my putt by randomly aiming at the wall behind me and hoping for the best. As a result, success and failure in Dangerous Golf feels random, and as levels become harder that feeling only grows.
And boy, do they become harder. The ways in which the developers attempted to increase difficulty are perhaps the most artificial, nasty element of all this randomness. After the first three “Tours” of the campaign are complete, Hazards are introduced to some levels of the game. Hazards come in two kinds: sections of the level that the ball cannot touch (or you will instantly fail), and physics objects that cannot be disturbed in any way (also resulting in insta-fail). Lack of tutorials aside, Hazards may well be the worst piece of game design I’ve seen in a very long time. In a game where your control of the ball is limited and the only way to succeed is to smash stuff (and do so quickly while Smashbreaker is active), Hazards lead to some of the most infuriating failures I’ve had in a game for a while. The first level to contain a Hazard places a gigantic cake in the center of the room that you must avoid. This doesn’t seem too difficult, as there is plenty of room to maneuver around it and land somewhere safe. What is difficult, though, is destroying the room around the cake without having one of the hundreds of tiny physics objects spaz out and fly in the direction of the cake, instantly ending your run. Even if you hold the left trigger to move at minimum speed and try to control how far objects are launched, sometimes the game’s physics do unexpected things and you find yourself sitting through another 12 second load to attempt the level yet again. These problems only get worse as the game introduces more, larger obstacles and expects even higher scores from you later in the campaign. These levels just aren’t fun in any way, and completely snuffed out the last bit of fun I’d been having with the game. Despite everything else wrong with the game, there was still something there – an undeniable satisfaction that came from tearing rooms apart and watching objects crumble as I smashed them. Hazards punished me for doing this, and I decided that I’d just about played my fill.
Performance on console is also underwhelming, but not surprising considering the vast number of objects onscreen in a lot of levels. Framerates regularly dip below 20 while things are breaking and I experienced multiple crashes during my time with the game. On the upside, the graphics are nice, the 4 environments you travel to feel reasonably different and the sound design is pretty top-notch, but the game might have been better off sacrificing a bit of fidelity in favor of a smoother experience.
Hazards may well be the worst piece of game design I’ve seen in a very long time
There is also a multiplayer component to the game, but it’s hardly worth mentioning. Co-op World Tour mode takes 97 of the 100 levels from the single player and increases the score threshold for earning medals, then lets a second player have a go at the level after the first has gotten into the hole. It’s a nice way to let someone else in on the fun, but ultimately it’s more like taking turns playing single player than true co-op.
Much more interestingly, Dangerous Golf includes an 8-player online component. It will not be evaluated in this review because a mere week from the launch of the game (a Friday night!) I was unable to find a single person playing it.
Talk about dead in the water.
Dangerous Golf feels like a series of missed opportunities. As a huge fan of Crash Mode, I can’t help but see flaws everywhere I look in the game, and worse still, they all seem avoidable. The combination of complex mechanics and lack of explanation is downright mind-boggling, the core mechanics play like a frustrating mess based on blind luck rather than skill, and attempts to increase the difficulty in the middle of the campaign pretty much amount to levels that players must attempt over and over until the physics engine decides to be kind. There is still some fun to be had—obliterating objects and destroying rooms while pretty particle effects and debris fly everywhere is nice—but only for a few fleeting moments. The mechanics around this destruction are so poorly implemented, poorly explained, and in some cases poorly conceived, that I just can’t recommend Dangerous Golf to anyone—Burnout fans or otherwise.