Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds (PS3) Review

Yes. The missing link in Golf Week has finally arrived! Is it better than We Love Golf (8.75)? Let's find out!!

I'm shankin' it!

Before there was Mario Golf, We Love Golf, Outlaw Golf, Bill and Ted's Excellent Golf (I believe I made this one up), and the bounty of all the other arcade-styled golf titles in the gaming landscape, there was the original Hot Shots Golf for the Playstation One. Numerous platforms and sequels later, and the Hot Shots franchise has finally entered "next-gen" with the arrival of Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds for the Playstation 3. Throughout the decade the series hasn't had too many radical departures from previous entries. You could say that each game tries to stay as close to the highly regarded formula as possible, playing it safe. Out of Bounds takes playing it safe to a whole new level, but does this philosophy work in 2008?

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Take a shot and hope you don't kill someone!

Right away when you step into the clubhouse of Hot Shots Golf 5, you'll notice that there isn't that much of an array of options or modes to select from. I don't see the logic in having a series enter the current generation of consoles and stripping away the many features of past installments (see Madden). It's as if the developer thought that gamers wouldn't need all those "bothersome" modes because they have those sweet "uber-graphics" now! No. Wrong. Incorrect. That's garbage. We expect a lot more since you can fit more on a Blu-ray than you can a DVD or a Laserdisc or whatever the hell game consoles used last generation!

So with that said, HSG5 skimps on the options. The majority of your playtime will be spent in the Challenge Mode. This mode has players selecting from a variety of tournaments to participate in each with differing winning and weather conditions. Some are 9 hole, some are 18 hole, some are front-tee, some are back-tee, some will have high wind, some will have constant rain, some will penalize you for landing in a bunker or the rough, etc. These varying challenges are great and all, but when you realize there are, without downloading any new courses for approximate five or six bucks, there's only a half-dozen courses to play through. You don't even get to play the second course until you pass the first level of challenges. This means you'll be constantly playing through a course again and again and again and again and ag-- okay, I will stop now, but you get the idea. By completing challenges in certain difficulty level you'll gain the ability to take on the, what I'm calling it, boss character in a match play competition. Outplay the character and not only will you be able to move onto the next golf bag-load of challenges, but you'll also unlock that character to play as whenever you please. Additionally, completing a challenge earns you the chance to choose from six random prize cards. These unveil new equipment like upgraded clubs, balls, and new caddies. Unfortunately, there's no option to accessorize your characters-- a feature that the freaking PSP games have.

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The caddy definitely looks like former Minnesota governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura.

Something that the newest installment of the PSP line of games has but Out of Bounds still bests is the online mode for those with a suitable connection. You select an avatar made up of hairstyles and costumes (additional costumes can be earned by completing in-game goals like hole-in-ones and long putts). You then can enter a lounge of other players, waltz around going after girl avatars (more like G.I.R.L. avatars), text chat with folks in the room, and play online games and tournaments. These tournaments can be played with up to an impressive fifty contenders... if you can find fifty contenders... You play with each shot of yours is timed so your party doesn't have to wait up for your sorry self. Go back to the minors if you have to take a minute to sink a two-foot putt, pal! At the climax of each hole, your score is posted on the leaderboard to compare with others. Just don't be surprised to see the incredible Japanese players dominating higher tournaments. Yeah, they got game. Regardless of who and where you play, you have at least one thing in common with everyone else-- you have no voice chat. An adrenaline-packed game like Call of Duty 4 where jacked up 14 year-olds can call you racial slurs and combine fifty curse words into one sentence as if they're clever has voice chat, yet a nice, sometimes relaxing game of golf is deprived of this. I would simply say to people, "Cheerio, old boy. Good shot. You'll get them next time, by George!"

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Being in the rough means you have to hit it harder than from the fairway to compensate.

And good shots will come and bad shots will come, too. There's so much to consider when playing a round of HSG. What's my lie? What's the wind velocity? Will my club trajectory be ruined by the wind? What is the slope of the green? Is it fast? Is it slow? Am I hitting on a slope? Do I need to hit harder since I'm in the bunker? What was that one funny scene with Bill Murray in Caddyshack? Oh, hell, they were all funny! Things like that will enter a serious player's mind.

The traditional three-click swing interface has returned. For those uninformed, the standard swing mechanic in most golf titles is pressing a button once to start the swing meter, once to stop it at the opposite end to determine the power of your swing, and once more when it returns to its original position to measure the impact which affects how straight your shot will be. You can hold the d-pad in various directions while setting up your shot to enable topspin, backspin, slice, hooks, fades, shades, blades, and kickassery. Now perhaps I made some of those up, but the explanation still stands. The newest addition to this entry is the new swing mechanic which actually emulates your golfer's swing. Instead of watching the meter, you actually watch your golfer. When your golfer swings back halfway, that's 50% of your club's power. When he or she swing back to a full arc, that's 100% of your club's power. The trick is estimating other percentages to make more difficult shots such as approaches and putts which are easier to make with the traditional interface. However, the benefit of the new mechanic is that you'll gain extra yardage from your shots (approximately 20-30 more yards). Both systems have pros and cons to them, and it's up to the player to decide which would benefit them on a given course with a given golfer.

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There's nothing in a golf game than seeing those words... Be proud of your shot!

You see, there's fifteen golfers readily available by the time the player marches through the many levels of the Challenge Mode. Each golfer has their own strengths and weaknesses. Novice golfers can't hit as far as expert golfers can, but with expert golfers the margin for error on the impact of a shot is much greater and can be damning if that meter isn't stopped in the split-second needed for a good shot. Certain characters are better in rough than others but they aren't particularly fond of bunkers. Some characters play well in the rain while others' skills are diminished when wet. Each golfer has their own attitude, funny taunts and animations, golfing and fashion style, short back story (via loading screens) and strengths and weaknesses. Currently there's three more characters that can be purchased from the PSN store including brooding God of War hero, Kratos, in stellar form.

What isn't quite in stellar form are the visuals. The environments on most courses are barren and static, and trees and other objects don't seem to be affected by the wind whatsoever. Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds isn't the most marveling technical or graphical achievement on the PS3, but it does have its moments. The overall look of the game, albeit quite simple in most aspects, is very sleek and clear. Character models are wonderfully detailed and come to life with great animation and personality. Audio-wise, series composer Gon Ohtsuji does an admirable job of creating tracks that aren't grating, yet at the same time aren't too memorable this time around even after playing the game's six courses ad nauseum.

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This is one of only six courses (that are free).

Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds is a mixed experience. On one hand you have the same excellent gameplay from previous chapters in the series. On the other you have the same excellent gameplay from previous chapters in the series with less courses than past installments including the latest PSP version with 12 courses, no off-the-wall modes that arcade golfers expect such as Ring Shot, Balloon Pop, and even Miniature Golf, less than expected graphics for the Playstation 3, and a frustrating, less forgiving game in later stages. Those who have played past Hot Shots Golf games will feel at home, but at the same time they might be expecting more from the Cell processor than what Clap Hanz has given us. The team really isn't worth too much applause this time around considering you'd think a full-fledged PS3 game would derive more pleasure from me and options than several less-powerful PSP, PS2, and Wii games of the same genre.

[SuperPhillip Says]

Graphics: Pretty pleasing to the eye, but the overly critical reviewer in me says that there could have been a lot done better.

Gameplay: You'll fall right into the simplicity of the traditional controls. The newer controls may take some getting used to-- a lot of getting used to.

Sound: Nice voices and charming music.

Replay Value: There are six courses spread out among over 100 challenges in Challenge Mode. There's also a well-constructed online mode to play either alone or with friends.

Overall: 7.75/10 - Disappointing considering Hot Shots Golf Fore introduced me to this wonderful franchise. There's just too little content for sixty bucks.

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