I have to admit, I’m a little stumped at the whole golf concept. This may sound strange considering that I penned both Hot Shots Golf 3 and Tiger Woods 2002 for this site. But I have to say something in my defense: I don’t golf in real life. Never been on a course, haven’t chosen a golf cart over a car or walking as a preferred method of transportation, and the only clubs I know are either on cards or in the hands of thugs. In fact, the closest I’ve ever come to the phenomenon…Wait, what the hell is golf, anyway? Game? Sport? Ancient torture device? Zen metaphor of life? Well, whatever the frigging thing is, the closest I’ve been to it was aiming at ball collectors at a driving range. That’s right, just because they’re in a covered cart doesn’t eliminate them as a viable target. Now, imagine if I could distill this hell-raising emotion into the game itself. I’d guarantee that the attendance for those matches would skyrocket, along with its popularity. Luckily, Simon and Schuster Interactive have managed to infuse this devil-may-care, XFL-like attitude into the game, producing Outlaw Golf for the Xbox.
This ain’t yo daddy’s golf game. Hell, let’s face it: Your daddy will probably wonder just what congressionally unsanctioned, family values-unfriendly title you’ve slipped into your Xbox. (And if/when you’re been sent to your room, don’t be surprised if he’ll pick up the controller and play through a few holes.) Gone are the restrained, refined character models of professional golfers like Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus. In their place come many more, shall we say, colorful players eager to demonstrate their prowess with a club. Ranging from the leather clad dominatrix Mistress Suki to the Latin lover El Suave and the “flexible” stripper Summer, the 10 characters that available for play add a new meaning to the term “screwballs.” And if you don’t believe that, just wait until you see some of the “celebrations” that these players unleash after a score. Send the kiddies out of the room, because there’s plenty of bump ‘n’ grind spread around.
Indeed, you’d probably expect to see most of these people in an x-rated version of Caddyshack than on an actual course. But the courses of Outlaw Golf themselves have a personality of their own, adding to the spirit of the title. Three courses are available for play, along with a driving range that offers mini-games to help you practice your distance and accuracy. The first course, the Turnpike Valley Country Club, is set in Jersey amidst multiple highway overpasses, pipelines, and other industrial hazards. Not only will you have to worry about the sand and water traps, but also bridges and planes flying so low you’ll swear you’d could cause a crash with a perfectly aimed ball. The second course, the Crusty Leaf Country Club, looks much more like a normal course, but has tons of trees to block your way and large fairways at tricky angles to catch your ball on. Finally, the El Diablo Country Club makes the Outback look like a miniature golf course. With naturally occurring cliffs, rock outcroppings and tall hills, you’ll really be put to the test here.
This difficulty is evident when choosing either Tour mode, where you attempt to progress through all thirty course challenges, unlocking players, clubs and balls, or exhibition mode, featuring eight different variations of Golf, including classics like skins and match play and unique offerings like My One and Only and Casino play. Whatever your poison, the initial flybys of the hole, narrated by game characters themselves, provide you with a decent sense of what you need to do and where you need to go. Banished is the ubiquitous 3-click meter found in other golf games; instead, for you golfing enthusiasts, you’ll have to now adjust to their new swing technique, involving the right analog stick to determine the power, spin and trajectory of the ball.
Adding an additional complication to gameplay is the composure meter. Initially, the meter is set neutrally in the middle, but based on your shots on each hole, it can vacillate wildly, reflecting the mental state of your player. For example, nailing a long putt, driving a long ball down the fairway, or going below par will positively influence your composure, making shots easier, putts steadier, and send drives much farther. Conversely, bad slices or hooks out of bounds, landing in hazards or the rough, or scoring multiple bogeys will send your rating crashing harder than today’s stock market. Needless to say, a player who’s topped out their meter and is consistently in the zone is practically unstoppable, while one who’s in the dumps is painful to watch. Thankfully, Outlaw Golf provides a way of improving your fate with beating tokens. These coins, awarded sporadically during play or when a spectacular play occurs, allows you to collectively take your and your player’s frustration out on the helpless caddy. That’s right, you can lay some serious smack down upon the poor chump, potentially boosting your flagging mental state with a homicidal high of anger and violence. How many times have you wanted to kick the crap out of the game player for screwing up? Here’s your chance.
Graphically, Outlaw Golf is beautifully rendered. The holes sprawl out picturesquely; at least, as picturesque as a pipeline or a massive cliff face can be. Considering the outlandish settings that the game delivers, the details on the backgrounds feel right at home. Individual textures are mapped for blades of grass, pools of water, or sand traps, allowing for a much more dynamic playing experience. For example, you’ll see grass bend as balls roll through the rough, or see clouds of sand fly up as an errant shot falls into a hazard. Particle effects are very impressive, with large bursts of fireworks exploding as great putts are made, or smoke erupting in a trail after a hard hit ball. Plus, the character models are striking in their realism, adding additional character to the outrageous quirks each golfer possesses. From the initial player introductions to the celebrations for good shots and the disgust for poor ones, the personalities of each character come shining through. Even the crowd comes to life, jumping and cheering at good putts, running away from errant shots in fear, or even getting knocked out by long drives.
The sound is well done, with individual theme songs accompanying the character selection and menu screens, adding additional flair to the players and the initial game. These songs wind up reducing themselves to a minor background bass beat, which is a little disappointing, because they would be really awesome to play to. Fortunately, this is balanced by the vocal acting. The actors lending their voices to Outlaw Golf embody their respective characters exceptionally well, providing most of their lines with good comedic timing. Some of the dialogue and jokes manage to stray towards puerile humor, but you have to remember that this is also a game with strippers, alcoholics and mass murderers. Ergo, it’s perfect. Ditto for the announcer, who praises and heckles each shot with unmitigated abandon. The only downside with the voices is that you’ll find yourself hearing a lot of repeats from the announcer and players, which can result in a certain amount of boredom and muting of the game. I don’t care to hear “There must be trouble at home,” for the millionth time after I’ve crushed the ball.
Speaking of crushing the ball, this speaks one of the larger two problems of the game. The first problem is that of the control scheme. While I applaud the abolition of the three click button system, the control of the swing should’ve been much tighter. The press of the analog stick one trillionth of a millimeter to the left or right can totally corrupt your shot with a wicked slice or hook. Plus, there is no level that allows you to control the degree of hook or spin you intentionally place on the ball. Add to this the loss of any front or backspin, and you have a title that demands machine-like precision for straight shots at times. Even this standard is degraded by the suggested power meter, which gives you an idea of the range you’ll want to hit a ball for a desired shot. About 99.95% of the time, the suggested power range is radically off, either under or overpowered by at least five percentage points. This means that if you decide to follow this meter, you’ll typically overshoot your target (especially deadly on short par 3 holes) or you’ll undershoot badly (really painful on putts when you have to make par). What does that eventually break down to? Tons and tons of trial and error.
The other major problem is that of the composure meter, specifically as it pertains to mulligans. As I said earlier, your composure goes up or down depending on how you’re shooting. During certain games, you can take a mulligan if you make a truly horrendous mistake. Doing so eliminates the error and the stroke against you, essentially granting you a get out of jail free card. For those who want challenges, you can limit or turn off this feature entirely. So what’s the problem if this is an option? Well, technically speaking, any potential benefit you acquire before you opt for the do over should be eliminated. Not so with Outlaw Golf, which can allow you to continually accrue pluses until you’re in the zone. For example, if I put the ball and miss, but my putt is still close to the hole, I gain a composure advantage. Were I to then decide I want to try again, I can choose to mulligan and attempt the shot over, yet still retain the bonus without penalty from my previous shot. If I continue to miss enough times, I will inevitably max out my composure rating, which will make it much easier to finish the hole and continue with my game.
Personally, I like Outlaw Golf, even though the basic concept of golf isn’t my cup of tea. Getting exposed (figuratively – get your minds out of the gutter) to this kind of golf definitely increases my interest in more realistic simulations, while still satisfying my masochistic streak to beat and conquer. And the characters definitely augment the fast paced, fun-focused features of the game, where you could pick up a controller and leap into a few rounds. However, the control issues and composure bugs really throw a wrench into the total gameplaying experience. I know that a large amount of people will pick it up merely for the sex and violence the game portrays. But I think that a lot of golf enthusiasts or curiosity seekers may actually enjoy taking a look at this title.