I'm going to come clean (there's an Outlaw type joke in there somewhere). Before I played it, I didn't much get or like the idea of this game. I could see why beach volleyball got the Outlaw treatment. Given that one of its major draws is the fact that athletic women wear very little clothing to do it, it's the kind of sport that lays itself open to exploitation (letters of complaint to the usual address). Golf on the other hand, always seemed like the kind of sport that didn't need the teenage peepshow treatment. It may come across as being slightly dull, but part of golf's allure is the sedate pace, quiet competitiveness and strategic thinking that go on behind it and it's these finer points of the game that are impeded by the silly cut-scenes and smutty remarks. I don't want to see some weak vignette about a biker chick smoking drugs and having the munchies every time I tee off - I want to plan my route to the hole (wahay, more Outlaw humour) and I want to get on with it.
Luckily for Outlaw Golf 2, the process of 'getting on with it' makes a pretty decent stab of pulling it out of the mire of weak jokes and puerile humour because once you set aside the cut scenes and the silly outfits, there's some definite fun to be had here. Hypnotix have taken the rather paltry offering of three courses from the first game and almost trebled them to eight for the sequel. They're nice and varied, although for a game that isn't exactly taking the serious route they can be a little lacking in imagination. There are more golf variants thrown into the mix than I can even name, ranging from the standard stroke, match and skin play to the odd but playable Baseball mode and the nice-idea-on-paper-but-quite-annoying-in-practice, Pick up Sticks mode (the winner of each hole is allowed to remove one club from the opponent's bag - nice idea but it's a little difficult to catch up once you fall behind). There's also a fair implementation of the now standard analogue stick swing mechanic that's used in all modern console golf games. Not quite as sensitive to side-ways slip-ups as some others in the genre, it allows for some seriously feel-good driving and once you get used to it, a fairly deft short-game too.
As in life, a golf game's short-play is so often let down by a weak putting method, so it's refreshing to see Hypnotix take a new approach here. Tricky at first, it soon reveals itself to be one of the most innovative parts of the game as the designers have introduced a unique method of aiming your putts on the rather hostile greens. The player moves a target around the green and is allowed three opportunities to see the predicted path of the golf ball. You can't move with this predicted path showing though, so there's guestimation involved with the placing of the target - in essence, you can only use the path indicator to confirm or deny that you're on the right lines. After deciding on your line, the usual analogue swing mechanic kicks in, although with a greater degree of sensitivity, meaning that a slip up with your timing can send the ball several feet past (or short of) the hole. By and large this process works well: if you're careless with your uses of the predicted path, you'll end up hitting and hoping for the best but if you take your time and line up the shot with due care, all that's required is a little timing and 15ft birdies are yours for the taking.
On top of a decent golf engine, the game also offers a variety of play modes from a simple quick game or exhibition match to online play and a tour mode, where you choose a golfer and play a variety of 9 and 18 hole game types against the other characters in order to unlock new clubs, different courses and new threads to wear (or not, if you've picked a female character). On top of this there are various (quite tricky) mini-games to work your way through which allow you to level-up your golfer's abilities should you actually manage to complete any of them.
Before all you FHM readers get too excited by the prospect of awful smut combined with a decent golf game, you ought to be told that it isn't all sweetness and light. The AI isn't the greatest; it can play like a complete buffoon for most of a hole only to sink a near impossible putt in order to keep the competition close. Then there's the composure meter. If you hit a good shot, you get more composure and your swing metre becomes more forgiving but if you hit a bad shot, your composure drops and you start to play worse. It's a good idea and a nice way of trying to recreate the emotions that real golfers go through during a round but it's in need of better balancing in order to avoid massive plummets in composure for shots that weren't really that bad. This problem is only amplified by the jeering commentary that usually results from such a shot. "That was a crappy shot! Someone pass the paper because that was crap!" Sod off, it missed the green by a foot. Let's see you do better in skin-tight jeans and bikini top.
And so we come back round to the problem that in the long run, will mean that some won't enjoy the Outlaw Golf 2: the humour. It's not the case that there's no place for fun in golf, after all, Mario Golf does a pretty decent job of making a videogame rather than a simulation out of the sport. The problem here is that the characters and the jokes are just so obvious. It's aimed at a demographic below its PEGI rating and whilst humour is subjective, the fact that there are so few cut scenes and commentary phrases means that anyone is going to get bored and finally irritated by them. If Hypnotix had injected the game with genuine laughs and more diversity it might not have been so bad, but obvious jokes about American stereotypes and their trailers just seem tedious these days.
What makes this silly presentation even more irritating is the fact that underneath it all is a pretty decent golf engine. So decent in fact, that if the designers hadn't spent half their time writing tit jokes and drawing bums they might have actually crafted a very good golf engine - good enough to try to wrestle some market share from Links and Tiger if they'd timed it right, especially with the included online play. As it is, rather than an Outlaw as promised, we end up with a somewhat errant teenager who looks like a nice boy underneath but is too busy mimicking the unfunny bits of South Park and stealing sweets to take his GCSEs with the big boys. Or something equally ridiculous.