Crash mode was a divisive feature in the Burnout series. Some disliked how using your car to completely wreck an area had little to do with racing, but I absolutely adored it since it was a ton of fun. It wasn’t just senseless destruction, though, as puzzle elements rewarded creative thinking. Trying to recapture that magic, and hopefully build upon it, is Three Fields Entertainment’s Dangerous Golf.
Considering how cool the mode was in Burnout, I was excited to check out a game strictly built around that same idea of destruction. There are some differences between its inspiration and what’s on offer here, though. One of the big ones is that the game is operating on a micro scale, and instead of piloting a car into trucks and the like, you’re left steering a golf ball into dinnerware. If it sounds like a step down and a tad bit underwhelming, that’s because it totally is.
That said, the destruction still looks mighty cool. When played well, Dangerous Golf can make a tidy room look like it got hit with a tornado, which creates an awesome feeling because you know that you caused it. Sadly, the game doesn’t do a great job of letting you know how to play it well. There’s no playable tutorial, or even a brief screen before the first hole that tells you how things works. Instead, players have to exit out of the game all the way to the main menu, go to options and find a written tutorial there. It’s actually very detailed, but it’s ridiculous that it isn’t displayed from the start and that it isn’t available when you pause the game.
Once you finally know how to cause mayhem in the proper way, you’ll understand that each hole is essentially separated into three different acts. First, players have to tee the ball off and knock over enough items (the number will vary level to level) to trigger your smashbreaker skill. That will allow you to actually control the ball (down to how high it bounces) with the goal of destroying as much as possible. Finally, you’ll also have to putt the ball into the hole.
It sounds fine in theory, but sadly, there are issues with each of the three phases of gameplay. Teeing off is especially frustrating as it becomes a process of trial and error. If you don’t hit enough items, then you can’t trigger the second phase, so it’s practically a wasted run. If this happens, you’ll have to restart the hole. Things aren’t helped by the camera either, as it doesn’t allow players to fly around the room and look for good spots to tee off into.
The smashbreaker is the best part of the game, but it’s also a bit disappointing. It’s far too easy to bounce the ball out of bounds (which forces a restart) or in a corner where the game’s camera will promptly freak out. Sometimes debris will also get caught on your ball, thus making it an unsteerable mess (which you can see in action here). Furthering the issue is that the game later hides the flag from players until they hit a certain score (because that’s fun, I guess), so they’ll have to use the game’s poor system of finding it while you’re supposed to be causing destruction. I’m really not sure why there isn’t an in-game map, as it’d fix that issue completely.
Finally, the putting is so automated that even when you pull off something awesome you don’t feel like you accomplished anything. Simply putt in the hole’s general direction and you’ll probably sink it in. There’s also a harsh penalty for not making the putt, as you lose half of your score. That’s practically a guarantee for a failed level, and it’s pretty flawed game design. It wouldn’t fix the issue, but if the game instead rewarded players by doubling their scores when they made a putt, it would at least feel like it wanted to reward you rather than punish.
While these issues make Dangerous Golf a flawed experience, they don’t cripple it. There’s still fun to be had thanks to the gameplay, and when everything works as intended it feels great. Sadly, there’s a bigger flaw that ends up being the game’s Achilles heel: load times.
Each of the 100 holes (which take place on the game’s 20+ levels) is preceded by a lengthy load time. That’d be fine if that meant retrying a stage didn’t mean having to sit through the same load time again. Considering how you can fail a level within 5 seconds or so (by screwing up your tee) though, you can quickly spend more time in load screens than actually playing. It’s ridiculous, and it kills the entire experience to the point where I never wanted to better my scores once I completed a level.
Three Fields Entertainment has made a game based around high scores that I have zero desire to best my friends at. It’s not because the game can’t be fun, it’s just that the frustration surmounts it. I don’t want to stare at a loading screen more than I’m actually playing the game, and that hurts every single mode here (aside from the 100 hole campaign there’s also some forgettable multiplayer modes). Fast restarts are essential for a quick arcade experience and it’s the main reason why I’m still going back to Trials Fusion over a year later to beat my friends’ scores.
While playing Dangerous Golf, I started thinking a lot about Napoleon Dynamite. There’s a character in Jared Hess’ film named Uncle Rico who constantly fawns over his old dreams, lamenting that he could’ve been a star quarterback and gone pro if given the chance. Uncle Rico has a lot in common with Dangerous Golf: it wants to show that Burnout‘s crash mode could’ve been something special if EA believed in it, but it comes across more like an out-of-shape dude trying to be a football star in his 40s.
This review is based on the PS4 version, which we were provided with.
While long load times aren't a huge deal in a game like Grand Theft Auto, they absolutely are one when you only get a maximum of about a minute of gameplay from each load. It's a small annoyance that builds to a huge one over time, and it highlights everything else that is wrong with Dangerous Golf.