PC, PS4, Xbox One
For better and worse, Dangerous Golf is exactly the game you expect it to be. Built by a team of ex-Criterion devs, it’s a game that owes a large debt to the studio’s most famous series. It is to the sport what Burnout’s Crash mode was to racing: tangentially related at best, with a similar unswerving focus on explosive carnage. The action may be on a smaller scale, but the sheer volume of onscreen objects makes it look every bit as spectacular, if not more so. Squeeze the right bumper and time will slow to a crawl, allowing you to witness champagne corks thudding into a tower of goblets, your ball’s fiery glow lighting them up as they cascade gracefully past the camera. All that’s missing is a trilling soprano to celebrate such operatic chaos.
This is a golf game without a swingometer – or even a visible club. Tellingly, the ball is fired from the tee: later you’ll gain a laser sight to aim more precisely, but to begin with you rotate the camera with the right stick and flick the left forward to send your ball careening around the room. Curiously, the camera stays static during that first stroke; presumably as you’ve no way of influencing the shot once it’s been hit. That changes once you’ve knocked down enough objects to trigger a Smashbreaker, whereupon the camera zooms in and you take aim once more, albeit this time with the ability to influence where it goes. And boy does it go, blazing a literal trail through workshops and washrooms, kitchens and alleyways. Pots and pans clang and crash, while paint tins spew their contents across lushly carpeted floors and ornate china. Hit the pumps on a garage forecourt and they’ll explode, though that’s never quite as satisfying as toppling one statue into another and then another, a series of marble dominoes quickly reduced to rubble. It’s in these moments that the austere realism of the settings begins to make sense: there’s a certain mischievous frisson in admiring the messy aftermath. Sure, it might look more like the results of a wrecking ball than a golf ball, but in eschewing cartoonishness, Three Field Entertainment taps into something deliciously transgressive. Destroying a convenience store might not be as tense or carefully orchestrated as a GTA heist, but the thrill of the illicit remains.
You can halt the mayhem at any time; indeed, it’s sometimes best not to let your Smashbreaker run dry, lest it leaves you with no direct line of sight to the flag for your subsequent putt. Fail to hole out, and half of the damage you’ve accumulated will be struck off your total. Again, the camera is unmoving, though it will cut to a close shot of the pin as the ball rolls toward it. You’ll soon realise this is a conscious compromise, designed to allow for outrageously generous rebounds and ricochets. While your chances of success would be reduced without such assistance, the occasions where the ball comes to rest on the lip after a moderately overpowered putt are all the more frustrating; likewise when an unfortunate deflection off an object that normally yields to a power shot leaves the ball clattering around an alcove. And while there’s a degree of tension as the ball bounces around and you wait to discover whether your tally is about to be boosted or halved, the process is much less exciting than the preceding stroke – the equivalent of Burnout asking you to reverse park your vehicle after causing a 20-car pileup.
Then again, after the first few tours (of a generous ten, each with ten holes), you may well appreciate the change of pace. To its credit, Three Fields finds plenty of inventive ways to shake things up. Warp points carry you to new rooms, while glue allows you to stick a succession of shots from one wall to the next, letting you target objects on all sides of a room, or to plot out a route to a distant target. You’ll plant bombs and dodge hazardous floors, or even individual objects: one stage asks you to demolish several boxes of oranges without disturbing a multi-tiered chocolate gâteau. The same spaces are repurposed for fresh objectives, though that familiarity becomes a boon: the more you get to know a place, the better placed you are to uncover its secrets.
And Dangerous Golf certainly isn’t shy of those. It deliberately gives you minimal information, presumably in the hope you’ll be surprised at how many ways there are to increase your score. Loading-screen hints clue you in on some of these – such as the fourth-wall shot that sees you bounce the ball off the camera for a small bonus – though they don’t give everything away. You might, for example, break a lock on a door to discover that the stage was far more expansive than you’d anticipated. Landing a ball on a trolley or in a wheeled bucket, meanwhile, gives you a Smashbreaker boost with the added bonus of a runaway vehicle to topple more tins or glasses. Stages never reach a Rube Goldberg level of intricacy, though a number encourage you to initiate amusingly sprawling chain reactions, for which you have a front-row seat.
There are trade-offs for all this pandemonium. A plummeting framerate afflicts action on the busiest stages, but less forgivable is the fact that the camera is actively unhelpful at times, swinging wildly as you vainly attempt to steer your ball away from danger, or zooming so close to the ball that you can’t see anything else. And the game’s appeal as a high-score challenge is diminished by excessively long loading times: few will have the stamina to earn every platinum medal when restarting can take twice as long as a failed attempt. Yet none of these obstacles is quite enough to permanently halt the momentum of this concertedly single-minded game. At heart, Dangerous Golf simply wants you to make a big, beautiful mess, and it’s an invitation that proves surprisingly hard to resist.
One stage asks you to demolish boxes of oranges without disturbing a multi-tiered gâteau