"Quite simply, you stand a better chance of knocking the ball out of the sand trap and managing an unlikely chip-in than you do engineering a successful putt from more than 4 feet (and yes, almost every putt you ever have cause to attempt will exceed that 4-foot distance). For starters, the on-screen indicators are wretched. The grid that you've become accustomed to in similar games is present, but its elements are too small to be of use."
As the first entry in the long-running series to benefit from the power of the PlayStation 3 hardware, Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds is undeniably gorgeous. That's true of the environments--which early on suffer from a certain sense of 'been there, done that' but are beautiful just the same--and it's true especially of the character models. The level of detail really is astounding, as you'll notice if you pan the camera around the lush courses. From rippling water on nearby streams to the way long hair has a way of rolling down over the shoulders and then drifting down to settle along the back (for the female golfers, of course), it's clear that Clap Hanz worked overtime to produce a very pretty mess.
Unfortunately, 'very pretty mess' is the only phrase that can be used to accurately sum up the total experience. Out of Bounds is a joy to behold, but try to play it long and your sanity may be forfeit.
Controlling where the ball goes simply takes way more effort than it should. There are a few options, but basically they come down to either the standard meter (which quickly fills and then empties, with the player asked to press the 'X' button at three key junctures) or the new 'Advanced shot.' The latter relies on your skill to watch subtle on-screen pointers made possible by the improved graphics. As your golfer slowly swings, you again have to press the 'X' button at just the right moment, only now you're expected to monitor pulsing circles that hint at the impact your stroke will have on the ball. With only a few unwelcome exceptions, the player is allowed to choose between the two.
Swings are about more than simply tapping the 'X' button at the right moment, though. You'll also need to consider the wind, the elements and the general lay of the land. Then on top of that, you must monitor top spin and curve, things that can cause the ball to work against any disadvantages you might face. By now, such conventions have become standard within the genre and most players will welcome them warmly.
What isn't welcome, however, is the almost random way the ball moves when it matters most. When you're swinging and you strike the ball, it will sail through the air in a more or less predictable pattern. If you've played other games such as Mario Golf or Super Swing Golf, you should be able to acclimate yourself almost immediately to the front-end setup. It's only when your the ball is coming down from whatever graceful arc you prescribed that things go to hell in a hand basket.
Picture the green, all neatly trimmed with the pole standing over the hole you seek. You line up your shot. You factor in everything, from the ferocity of the gusting winds to the curve of the course ahead. Then you swing and the club connects with its target perfectly. The ball flies through the air, lands on the edge of the green just short of the pole, then rolls forward. You're not worried. You figured that into your calculations just fine. At least, you thought you did. But the ball rolls... and rolls... and rolls. It keeps rolling until it has gone over the green, down into the brush on the other side of the green, and there it sits mocking you.
In a different but similarly frustrating situation, the ball may not roll very far at all. It may stop well short of the green. Some of that is natural and (justifiably) exists in any golf game, but here it interferes with your game to an annoying extreme. Knowing how the ball will behave after you hit it feels more like guess work than anything you can possibly hope to predict, even if you have each course memorized (as you often will, given the number of holes that are frequently repeated). It's frustrating, to say the least. Then you're asked to putt and things get even worse.
Quite simply, you stand a better chance of knocking the ball out of the sand trap and managing an unlikely chip-in than you do engineering a successful putt from more than 4 feet (and yes, almost every putt you ever have cause to attempt will exceed that 4-foot distance). For starters, the on-screen indicators are wretched. The grid that you've become accustomed to in similar games is present, but its elements are too small to be of use. Another icon shows the intensity of the slope, but even with those two factors, it's rough to guess how much to adjust your putt for those factors.
Your caddy won't shut up, either. As you start to swing, he or she might surprise you with a comment that “the slope is to the left,” screwing up your concentration and resulting in a horribly botched attempt at a putt. In another circumstance, you might notice that slope ahead of time, wait for the comment from the caddy and then swing, only to hear a second altitude description halfway into things. It's distracting and annoying. Worse, the advice your caddies give is generally useless. Even when you swing and your caddy says that it “looks good,” you run a really good chance of very narrowly missing your target. At least things are consistent, since the computer also manages to miss a fair number of putts from similarly absurd distances, but overall it's just too much hassle. Knocking a ball five feet across some grass shouldn't be this difficult.
If the ball were more easily controlled, this would be an easy game to love. Certainly, it does everything else right. There are quite a few golfers to unlock, each with skills and accessories and alternate costumes that mean you'll be inclined to spend a lot of time with each of them. Once you're tired of that and confident in your abilities, you can also head online to compete with strangers, if the mood strikes you. When all things are factored in properly, a lack of control over the ball really is the only thing Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds has working against it. Unfortunately, that just happens to be the most important part.
Staff review by Jason Venter (March 19, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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