It's easy to love Clap Hanz's classic Hot Shots Golf / Everybody's Golf games, with their straightforward mechanics, vibrant visuals, easy listening soundtrack, and casts of oddball (if not racially insensitive) golfers. But after playing the franchise's first PS4 entry, New Hot Shots Golf (a working title), I'm having a hard time concentrating on the aspects I adore about the series. All I can think about is how, like Metal Gear Online, this multiplayer is truly a troll's paradise (opens in new tab). Gradually, griefing takes priority over the golf.
The basic gameplay is the same as before: simple, three-tap swings on the fairway, then single-tap shots when you're putting on the green. Everything else is wildly different - at least, that's how it feels in the Free Roam multiplayer mode. I'm running on foot between each hole at the Eagle City Golf Club, choosing sides in a 3v3, red-vs-blue team battle. And because six-person golfing would take ages if everyone had to wait their turn, New Hot Shots Golf says "Screw it - everybody should be able to take their shots simultaneously!"
This bizarre change gives the proceedings an MMO-like flavor, where players are phasing in and out of my view point from the tee, or chasing after their shots with a laggy stutter (which might look like a freaky effect out of a horror movie if I wasn't on a gorgeous resort in broad daylight). I have the freedom to choose the order of play for the three holes currently unlocked on this nine hole course; each player's best score is tallied up for the team at the end of the roughly five-minute match. And while there isn't any player collision during swings - meaning you can't ruin other player's shots with body blocking - it is present during the roaming that takes place between holes. This, combined with the fact that nothing's instanced to isolate the player, is what lets griefers (like me, in this instance) run amok.
To make getting around easier (and perhaps to hide the janky running animations when you're on foot), you can summon a golf cart from thin air at any time, cruising around the green to the next tee-off. If you're like me, you'll use this opportunity to careen through immaculate shrubbery and try to run over the NPC spectators that populate the sidelines (which, as you might've guessed, is impossible). After breezing through the three holes with plenty of time to spare, my mission immediately shifted to hopping in my cart and driving circles around my opponents - incessantly honking all the while. This, as you might imagine, is not conducive to concentrating on one's shot, nor does it honor the spirit of sportsmanlike golf.
Perhaps it's just this mode (named Capture The Flag, which is as punny as it is misleading), but New Hot Shots Golf's presentation conveys a distinct sense of jankiness. You'll often see players' character models stacking atop one another during their victory poses, the course geometry lets you pass through most objects like a ghost, and watching everyone bum rush the same spot at the start of the round looks absolutely ludicrous. The gameplay itself is as solid as ever, but the production values - at least in this early state - aren't what you'd expect from the PS4 debut of the PlayStation's cult classic sports series. Then again, previous Hot Shots games let you taunt your opponents incessantly during their swings; maybe New Hot Shots Golf is leaning on the devilish glee of griefing like never before.