Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds Review (PS3)
Playing-it-safe sums up the motto for Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds on the PlayStation 3. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that if you weren’t a fan of Hot Shots before then the PS3 version won’t make you a believer in the series. Of course if you were a fan of the series before then you will appreciate Clap Hanz’s effort to retain and improve upon what has always made the Hot Shots series great: gratifying RPG elements, under the hood depth, and an enjoyment level that is sometimes hard to find in the sports videogame world.
In addition, Clap Hanz has also tried to push the Hot Shots series forward, and has succeeded in the visual department -- and that doesn’t just mean graphically. The new Advanced Shot method that Clap Hanz implemented brings the Hot Shots series out of the ’94 and brings it at least into the 21st century. And really it’s such an easy and not entirely originally upgrade, yet it adds so much to the experience.
Instead of focusing on a bar on the bottom of the screen you are able to watch your golfer as he swings -- the swing paths vary depending on the golfer -- and thus it’s all about visual cues. You can tell when your golfer is about to reach the mid-point of his or her swing because a yellow marker flashes; you can tell a golfer is about to reach the pinnacle of his or her swing just by watching the swing path or by noticing that a red mark is flashing. Your eyes focus on the impressive visual fidelity and you no longer feel separated from the golfer because there’s a palpable connection between controller and golfer.
Also since your eyes are focused on the golfers it finally makes every golfer truly unique. Each golfer has a different swing and so sticking with one golfer will make you feel more comfortable in terms of swing timing, which for me helps push the depth of the swing style past the swing mechanic found in Tiger Woods. There’s an argument that can be made among fans of each series in terms which swing style feels more like swinging a real golf club, but truthfully neither really comes close because a thumb doesn’t substitute for a full body movement. Besides the timing factor, loyalty to a golfer is also rewarded in the form of more advanced shots and perks being unlocked as the Loyalty Level increases, which is raised by playing more with a golfer in Challenge Mode.
But as much as the new swing dynamic adds to immersion and improves the overall experience, many other elements of the game feel antiquated. There’s no custom soundtracks to make up for the repetitive game music and voiceover work, and there’s really been no strides to bring some more humor or improved crowd dynamics into the game. So what ends up happening is the golfers, who visually sometimes remind me of dolls in the first place, actually seem to be golfing in Barbie’s world. Every round feels like it’s stuck in the same-stale-old-plastic-shell, and the online mode and different rule sets can’t change that.
Much of the online play itself is stuck in the past, as there is no voice chat for example. Yet I don’t have the same negative feeling towards the online play as I do some of the other aforementioned backwards elements. The game modes within the online world are perfectly suitable for 2008, with tons of customization and 8-man matches or 50-man tournaments, but that’s not what I’m talking about when I write about antiquated online aspects.
I’m talking more about the indefinable old-school charm found in the lobby system that’s used for matchmaking purposes, and the fact that no one can actually vocally speak in these lobbies. To get into the lobbies you first have to build an avatar to trot around the various areas, which to me means creating the most despicable and pathetic looking human I can possibly fathom. Then from there you simply trot around in an extremely bastardized version of PlayStation Home (or at least what I envision a terrible PS Home would be) trying to interact with other players via emoticons and simple gestures and text chat.
And for whatever reason this old-style of interaction appeals to me and so I tend to spend more time in these themed lobbies interacting with other online users than actually playing the game itself. And that’s not really a potshot at the online play either because the lobbies are always filled with 20+ other people just like me. So perhaps what Hot Shots does in the online realm is prove that there really will be a place for PlayStation Home once it finally launches.
Either way, as a whole, Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds does move the series forward in some respects -- both online and offline -- and is worth a shot if you are hungry for a golf game or have loved a Hot Shots game in the past.
Graphics: Sometimes it feels like you are playing with big plastic dolls, but the courses are always visually impressive.
Sound: Shoddy Japanese-style voiceovers and terribly repetitive music. The game could use custom soundtracks.
Entertainment Value: The game is always fun with friends, and the series once again does a good job giving you little nuggets and rewards along the way. In other words the game will constantly make collectors say, “one more match.”
Learning Curve: The series has always done a fine job making the game easy for everyone to play from the start and nothing changes here. Also once again there’s plenty under the hood for top level players to master.
Online: Second Life meets PlayStation Home in a most simplified way, and yet I still somehow enjoy the lobby system. This game seems to be built for DLC though because it’s short on courses. Enjoy the 50-golfer tournaments, 8-golfer matches, and the tons of match customization that goes along with those perks.