Dangerous Golf is Burnout on the back nine with Garry Shandling at the wheel

“Golf is boring. Golfers are boring. Golf games made for golfers are boring.” So says Alex Ward of Three Fields Entertainment, who it should immediately be noted is releasing a golf game next month. “When Hollywood makes a film about golf, they make Happy Gilmore, Caddyshack, or Tin Cup,” continued Ward, warming to his theme. “Golf is fundamentally a game of failure.” Or, as Mark Twain probably didn’t put it, golf is a good walk ruined. Luckily there’s no walking to ruin in Dangerous Golf, but it’s a game about ruining just about everything else.

A typical hole takes place in what looks like a palatial Edwardian drawing room. The aim of the game is to sink the ball in three shots, whilst causing as much collateral damage as possible in the process. On the first shot you’re given a target number of objects to break. These might be champagne bottles, china plates, marble statues or anything else which will shatter satisfyingly when a golf ball seemingly made of weaponised diamond is driven through it. 

Assuming you break enough stuff, your second shot will be a ‘Smashbreaker’, at which point the ball catches fire and you’re able to steer it towards targets in slo-mo as the timer ticks down. It feels a bit like using “aftertouch” in ye olden soccer games. There’s a nice risk/reward tradeoff here between how greedy you are looking for bonus points, and leaving the ball suitably well-placed for the third shot, which will always be a putt. Nail that and your final score will be posted to a global leaderboard.

There are 100 holes in total, split into 10 tours, with different mechanics introduced along the way. For example, on another hole you get more shots but have to land the burning ball in successive water buckets to keep the combo going. A more complex one sees you placing  small bombs and splotches of glue around the environment to set up a massive trickshot. You can also unlock a laser sight, break padlocks to open doors, and ‘air strike’ the ball into the hole by hitting both triggers on the controller as the ball passes over it for big points. 

So, Tiger Woods it ain’t. Dangerous Golf is unabashedly arcadey, and its obsession with pornographically-detailed destruction gives away the developer’s lineage. Three Fields Entertainment is a new studio comprising 11 veterans of Criterion Games, which built the Burnout series and Black, a shooter which at the time used innovative scenery deformation.

Let’s get physics-al

The initial idea for Dangerous Golf came from work Nvidia’s scientists were doing with Voronoi shattering effects. Check out this video from Siggraph 2013. Other influences include a Justin Timberlake-funded documentary about child golfers called The Short Game and the Dude Perfect YouTube trickshot series. 

Three Fields came about as a result of Alex Ward, Fiona Sperry and Paul Ross pooling their life savings having quit EA in November 2013. “When we formed the company I had 11 people looking at me asking ‘what are we going to do’” Ward said. “I told them ‘the game’s called’ Dangerous Golf’, because I’d had the idea on the way to work that day.” 

As with much of what Ward says, the apparent casualness is partly done for impact. The idea of explosive golf had been around at Criterion since the introduction of Burnout: Revenge’s Crash Mode, the creator of which, Chris Roberts, told me at the time he designed like asphalt golf courses. Roberts, tellingly, is now also at Three Fields, and we played a couple of holes in co-op together. There’s a fun dynamic here, because you can rack up a big score only for your partner to whiff his putt. The party game potential is obvious, and you’ll be able to play with up to four people online, or eight offline. It should make for a fun couch game

As for how the game feels, it reminded me of Pain, a PSN game released for PS3 in 2007. In that you had to fire a ragdoll dude at the world, earning points based on how much he and the surroundings got destroyed. It was a fun use of early Havok physics, but ultimately too shallow to see extended play. The sheer amount of holes to try in Dangerous Golf will hopefully mitigate that concern. It certainly had that one-more-go feeling once I got into the swing (sorry) of it, even if the flags could use a little clearer signposting.

I was demo’d the game on a PS4, but have since received a PC build which runs very smoothly. The intention is definitely for it to be played with a pad though. Having previously been something of a PlayStation evangelist, Ward now describes himself as a PC elitist, and says that when they began scoping Dangerous Golf it used dual Titan Xs to handle all the physics. The fact that the almost finished game (it’s due June 3rd, priced $20) has no real AI to worry about means the environments can afford to be stupidly detailed. Final graphics settings are being implemented now, but objects on PC will shatter into more pieces than they will on console. 

And it turns out smashing hi-res suits of armor, or wreaking havoc with a golf ball in a gas station, is pretty satisfying. I suspect Dangerous Golf will ultimately serve as proof of concept for Three Fields. The Criterion DNA couldn’t be clearer, so it will be interesting to see if they eventually revisit the driving genre which—let’s face it, is just about dead outside Forza right now—with this new, lean team. For now, what I like is the playfulness and commitment to being as zero-bullshit as possible. It doesn’t even have club selection. 

My favourite thing, though, is the “fourth wall” shot. Pull the stick back instead of forwards and you can bounce the ball off the monitor screen itself, an idea Ward says is his homage to Garry Shandling, creator and star of The Larry Sanders Show and It's Garry Shandling's Show, in which he'd break character to talk directly to the audience.  Hopefully, wherever he is, the big man approves.

The debut game from any indie studio is inevitably fraught with risk and stress. As Ward points out several times, the money is now gone and it took help from their families to buy time for an extra month of polish. So it’s all or nothing for the team now, which must be terrifying regardless of how many AAA games you’ve shipped. One shot, then. And this time the ball’s on fire. 

Tim Clark

With over two decades covering videogames, Tim has been there from the beginning. In his case, that meant playing Elite in 'co-op' on a BBC Micro (one player uses the movement keys, the other shoots) until his parents finally caved and bought an Amstrad CPC 6128. These days, when not steering the good ship PC Gamer, Tim spends his time complaining that all Priest mains in Hearthstone are degenerates and raiding in Destiny 2. He's almost certainly doing one of these right now.