What is it? A 'golf' game about destroying as much property as you can.
Expect to pay: $20/£15
Developer: Three Fields Entertainment
Publisher: Three Fields Entertainment
Reviewed on: Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, Nvidia GeForce Titan
Multiplayer: Local and online
Link: Steam store
Dangerous Golf feels like the result of a whole game studio being frozen in 2005 and then thawed out a couple years ago and kept in isolation. The Unreal Engine 4 technology is new, and it looks nice, but the opening record scratch, halftone patterns, and bad alternative rock recall something I’d have bought on Xbox 360 for five bucks because the store didn’t have any copies of Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland. Though even in 2005 I’d have returned Dangerous Golf immediately for eight cents in store credit.
The sport of ‘Dangerous Golf’ is played by shooting a golf ball into cluttered rooms—a kitchen, a dining room, a gas station convenience store, as examples—with a mind to cause as much damage as possible. The creators’ roots in Burnout are heavily apparent here: if we can give game objects physics, we should destroy those objects in luscious slow motion as often as possible. I very much agree with that philosophy, but little about Dangerous Golf’s trick shots or secrets or cheesy guitar riffs is much fun, and even its destruction is disappointing.
Breaking it down
Holes are played in three stages. First, you hit the ball by flicking the left analog stick—there is no mouse and keyboard support whatsoever—and it flies into the room, bouncing off dishes or canned foods or candelabras and racking up damage costs. Once it’s unlocked, you can use a laser sight to aim, but otherwise you just point the camera toward some breakable things and flick. You can do soft shots (as opposed to the default very hard shot), or a ‘fourth wall’ trick shot which pretends to smash the ball off the inside of your screen (cracking glass because it’s the early 2000s and we still have CRT monitors), but those techniques are rarely useful. Precision isn’t Dangerous Golf’s game.
If you luckily break enough stuff to unlock the next phase—and sometimes the ball just meekly bounces off a table and rolls into a corner and you stupidly have to reload the whole level—you move on to the ‘Smashbreaker’ portion. Again, you line up a shot and flick the analog stick, but this time the now burning golf ball takes a gentler arc, bouncing around the level as you attempt to guide it. The controls are poorly explained and the best you can do is exert a weak, unsatisfying force on the ball, as if you have telekinetic powers but just took a bunch of painkillers. There's no feedback outside the vague sense that the ball is kind of going in the direction you're looking, so while it's easy to smash stuff at first, it's hard to take a lot of credit for it. Once I got better, I had some fun guiding the ball around the larger levels, though the Smashbreaker always ends too soon. It's the most fun part of Dangerous Golf, and it's on a short timer.
Once the Smashbreaker ends, and I’ve earned bonuses for taking out all the bags of flour, or splatting paint on artwork, or accidentally finding the level’s hidden ‘secret sauce’ (again, welcome to the early 2000s when the phrase ‘secret sauce’ was funny for some reason), the ball plunks down wherever I’ve ended up. Now it’s time to ‘putt.’ If I set myself up with a direct line to the hole, this is easy. I just point the ball at the hole and flick the analog stick and it will rocket in. If not, I have to bank it. I aim at a wall and cross my fingers and it goes in pretty often. Unless I get myself stuck around a corner from the hole where I don’t have a chance, sinking the ball is about as hard a firing a t-shirt cannon into stadium seating without accidentally turning around and blasting an athlete in the face with a wadded up Hanes.
The only thing impressive about Dangerous Golf is the amount of stuff in it. There’s tons of literal stuff—sculptures and gas pumps and toilets—which is all modeled well and smashes into great showers of bits and pieces. Stacks of plates tumble over, hamburgers explode into their component toppings, marble pedestals crack and fall apart. Shiny and reflective objects are especially nice, glistening and gleaming before you wreck them.
There's also local and online multiplayer, more holes than anyone should bother completing, and all sorts of level variants, such as stages with multiple holes, timed stages, and a stage with cake that you’re not allowed to hit, even with flying debris you have no control over. That last one is a pain in the ass, and timed levels don't make Dangerous Golf any more or less fun, but I got some simple enjoyment out of some of the other modifiers. I like the putting challenges, where you just fire golf balls into hole after hole, usually aiming indiscriminately and hoping they bank off a few walls for a bonus—but only about as much as I like carnival games.
For me, the fun in billiards and golf games is in considering the angle and power of a shot, the weight of the ball and how it will bounce and roll, and then watching all my physics intuition play out. I’m all for contrarian approaches to design, but it doesn’t do Dangerous Golf any good in this case: letting a ball loose with little control and struggling to push it around is no fun. Even breaking things isn’t very entertaining. Everything is immensely fragile, so the ball feels like a neutron star that needs little help for me, and even if I show up just to watch the destruction, the camera sometimes gets so close to the ball I can’t see anything else.
Dangerous Golf runs decently, at least, and I didn’t encounter any game-breaking bugs, but there are other little irritants. Sometimes the ball gets stuck in something and just jitters around while I look at the side of a bucket. Other times I have to putt with my eyeball against some canned vegetables. Once an audio glitch caused a horrifying feedback sound—like a guitar being tortured by geese—and I had to scramble to turn my speakers off while my puppy bolted into the next room (she'd been sleeping under my desk, poor thing). I haven’t been able to replicate that particular issue, so I can’t say if it’ll happen to anyone else, but I’ve seen a few others complain about different audio issues. The total lack of mouse and keyboard support, however, is definitely for everyone. That’s just ludicrous for a modern PC release.
From watching the trailer, I expected simple, satisfying fun from Dangerous Golf. You destroy things and get points! But it turned out dull and weirdly styled like it's from 10 years ago. I had some fun here and there, but I can't think of a single funny or surprising moment. Busting up a kitchen with a golf ball gun just isn't that interesting with so little control. You flick an analog stick, the ball moves unpredictably, and some bread falls over. That might have made Dangerous Golf popular in 2005—hell, 3 Doors Down was popular in 2005—but a good physics engine and nice graphics are nothing special today.