Three Fields Entertainment, the indie studio behind Dangerous Golf, comprises mainly of the same minds responsible for Criterion classics Burnout and Black – and this is abundantly clear from the start. Its debut title is an arcade sports game that shares as much in common with golf as Rocket League does with football. Maybe less so, in fact. Forget par, forget scoring low to win, forget even golf clubs – the aim here is to simply cause as much destruction as possible, and then putt the ball into the hole in the flashiest way that you can think of.
Your first port of call will be the Solo World Tour mode, which features 100 stages across 10 tours and four locations. Starting in a French palace, you'll soon unlock the US, Australia, and England, featuring a kitchen, petrol station, and castle respectively. Each of these areas are well realised, and although the locations are often repeated, each level brings with it a new arrangement of things to destroy. Three Fields has successfully determined what feels best to smash: food, brittle objects, and expensive things. The simple act of wreaking havoc in each level is enough to keep you playing, as it's extremely satisfying sending vast quantities of paraphernalia crashing to the floor.
There's more to it, of course. You're awarded a medal – from bronze to platinum – at the end of each level, depending on the amount of damage that you've caused. A basic level will give you three main shots. The first is from a set position in the room, and you're usually given a target number of objects to hit before you can take your second and most destructive shot: the Smashbreaker. At this point, the ball sets ablaze, and you're given full control. You'll want to bounce around the room, hitting as much as you can before the Smashbreaker meter runs out, but be careful about straying too far from the flag. Once the meter is depleted, wherever your ball comes to rest is from where you'll need to putt it into the hole. You don't necessarily want to land right next to it, though, as you're able to pull off impressive trick shots that will net you more points. If you don't putt the ball, your points total will be halved.
Most levels operate around this structure, but there are multiple variants and a ludicrous number of ways to supplement your score. The catharsis of messing everything up is the main draw, but there's a surprising level of strategic play, and it's easy to become addicted to chasing higher scores and one-upping your friends. As you play, you'll unlock extra features and manoeuvres, such as the pistol putt, allowing you to aim with a laser sight, or bucket blast, which enables you to leap into buckets of water and send them flying into yet more items. Nearly everything that you do in Dangerous Golf increases your score, with occasional levels containing hazards you need to avoid. This can sometimes frustrate, as the slightly cumbersome controls take a bit of getting used to, and it's easy to send the ball arching into perilous parts of a level, or even just an area with little to smash into.
Developed in Unreal Engine 4, the fidelity of the graphics and physics is impressive, with a ton of particles and highly-detailed objects flying around your screen with satisfying sound effects and creating a huge, grin-inducing mess. Unfortunately, framerate issues commonly crop up, sometimes slowing to an absolute crawl if things get a little too out of hand. We also had the game crash on us multiple times during our play sessions, once when we were merely navigating the menus. While these crashes aren't too frequent, they happen enough to potentially sour the game, and will certainly need to be looked at. While the framerate isn't a big concern, this is a problem that will likely put many gamers off.
It's a real shame that the performance here is subpar, because Dangerous Golf is fantastic fun, whether alone or with friends in the co-op and competitive modes. It has surprising depth and plenty of content; the solo and co-op tours combined provide a total of 197 levels to smash through. The satisfying gameplay is its greatest strength, however, with the short stages making it an ideal game to play when you've got a spare half-hour. Some may struggle with the controls, and its appeal may not last for too long – but it's definitely no bogey.