We've seen Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds for the PlayStation 3 a few times over the past year or so, with our last look at the game taking place during 2007's Tokyo Game Show. While we've spent time recently checking out the game's single-player mode and getting used to the brand new (and slightly more realistic) swing interface, up until now, we haven't had much time with the game's multiplayer aspect. At a Sony press event last night, we were able to change that by checking out the online play in Out of Bounds, which took us by surprise, not just for its style of play but the way the entire online experience is presented.
Up to eight players will be able to connect online and take part in tournament matches in Out of Bounds, but before you hit the links with your golfer, you'll first be taken to a lobby system that plays a bit like a simplified version of Sony's Home online service. Here, you'll have a customizable avatar that you can move around a clubhouse setting, interacting with other players in the lobby via chat. You can bring up the menu by pressing the triangle button, which will let you reserve a spot in upcoming tournaments, and then kill a few minutes until your tournament begins. The lobby avatars are vaguely reminiscent of the Miis you can create on a Nintendo Wii and there seem to be plenty of options for customization. For example, we saw one avatar wearing a hockey mask and some malicious-looking armor.
Once the tournament begins, you simply choose your golfer from those you've unlocked in the single-player game, choose your clubs, and choose your ball type (which will give you bonuses to select attributes). Then, you hit the course and start swinging away. When on a hole, everyone plays simultaneously, so it's not unusual to see golf balls flying everywhere as you play through a round. It's only really distracting on the green, where you can see the (mostly transparent) character models of your opponents putting away on the green.
With everyone playing at the same time, holes can go quickly and a built-in timer between holes helps ensure that the round keeps moving. You can also set a time limit on individual holes, but based on the number of time-out disqualifications in last night's event, that might not be the best method to keep the fun going.
In addition to your overall golf score, Out of Bounds awards or penalizes you points based on the quality of your shot. If two players end up with the same shot total after a round, the player with the higher point total will be the winner. This makes it that much more important to make sure you're swinging with optimum efficiency, which--in our opinion--seemed to be easier with the new swing system because it eschews the old horizontal bar for a more realistic approach to your golfer's swing.
The new system doesn't use any sort of meter; instead as you golfer executes his or her backswing, the club head will flash yellow, indicating that the swing power is at 50 percent of maximum. When the club reaches its apex, it will flash red, indicating a full-powered shot. Where you stop the club at its apex, then, will determine how hard you hit the ball; therefore, judging distance and the power needed for your swing becomes that much more important in Out of Bounds. The second part of the swing involves a rapidly contracting circle around your ball itself; the closer you stop the circle to your ball, the more accurate your shot will be. Conversely, if you leave too much of a gap between the circle meter and your ball, your shot might veer wildly off course.
One of the best aspects of golf games can be their social aspect, and Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds looks to be taking that feature to heart with its online features. The game is due for release on the PlayStation 3 next month, and you can expect a review of the game once it's out.