While gamers demand increasingly more realistic sports simulations, there's only so much a simple controller can do. Compared to most sports out there, the golf video game has come on a fair way since the simple button press mechanic that most will remember, but is it enough of an evolution? We've even had the ambitious, but less than brilliant Real World Golf, which uses the GameTrak peripheral to give you more control than ever before. The problem was that most gamers aren't good golfers; they just want to pretend that they are, while playing a game that has some depth to the gameplay.
ProStroke Golf's big USP (unique selling point, for anyone not familiar with the dictionary of industry lingo) is its ProStroke system - a system so good that the game took it as its name after the World Tour Golf title was dropped. Anyway, at its most basic level this new fangled system seems to be nothing that we haven't seen before. New controllers feature two analogue sticks, and this control method requires the use of both of them. Didn't we see this in the latest Tiger Woods title from EA?
Well, we kind of did. The ProStroke system is a lot more advanced though, and allows for far greater control of your swing. If you're not into advanced swing modification, the game is perfectly playable with the right analogue stick used on its own, but you'd be cutting out a huge part of your potential game. In fact, you'd be maxing your swing out at about 90% strength, putting you at a distinct disadvantage.
Weight transfer is the first technique the game's training mode asks you to master, and it'll explain why your hastily attempted quick round ended up being a fair few shots over par. The key is to transfer your weight back (via the left stick) as you swing the club back, with your weight moving forwards again a fraction before you bring the club head down again. It certainly isn't a simple move to master, and unless you're right on the money with timing and deliver a smooth, straight swing, your ball will be hooked or sliced way off course. If you want to hit the ball with maximum strength it's something you have to practice.
This is all carried out using the over-the-ball swing camera. It's here where all the magic happens, and ProStroke golf lets you set up your shot exactly how you wish. For example, in other golf games you'd simply select 'punch shot' from a menu and then your player would play a punch shot when you swing the club; in ProStroke Golf you alter your stance to place the ball on your back foot, thus producing a lower, flatter flying ball. Conversely, placing the ball on your front foot will give the ball a loftier flight, ideal for targeting the pin with as little ball roll as possible.
Your feet can also be moved to apply spin to the ball, and your club face can be changed to give you even more options. Opening the face up will let you add some back spin to the ball, while closing the face makes the ball run on. Club face control is particularly important around the edge of the green and when playing from a bunker. With the entire shot set-up totally customisable you can do pretty much what you want - assuming you've got the skill to pull it off.
Having played a near final build of the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the game, the one area of concern is in the sensitivity of the swing. Off the tee it's rarely an issue, but approach shots and vital puts require far more delicacy. Hopefully prolonged play will result in a greater mastery of the swing system, but after a few hours with the game I was struggling to hit the ball with the strength required, generally falling short or hitting over the green.
We'll go into more detail and cover all the game modes in our review, but everything seems to be in place. With everything from a career mode to a course builder, there certainly isn't a shortage of things to do, but the gloss that EA's Tiger Woods series effortlessly exudes appears to be totally absent. Even a smattering of licensed pros can't help liven up what is a rather sterile game, but it's probably exactly what players hankering for a sim will expect.
Neither version I played excels visually, with the courses looking rather drab even with the weather settings set to clear. Golf pros are modelled pretty well, though, and all but the most novice golfers will easily be able to recognise their faces. Without anything that really dazzles it seems the fate of the game rests squarely on the shoulders of the new control scheme; thankfully, those shoulders appear to be well up to the task.
ProStroke Golf is also scheduled for release on PC and PSP, but given the control scheme's reliance on two analogue sticks, how these versions compare to the home console games remains to be seen. Hopefully the guys at Gusto Games will have come up with something so that each version features the same depth of control. With the retail release only a few weeks away, expect a full review very soon indeed.