You really do have to be a little bit gifted to be great at golf. Last weekend, while Mr Woods was claiming yet another major victory, I was playing Oxygen Interactive's ProStroke Golf: Wold Tour 2007, the new golf game from the up and coming Gusto Games. ProStroke's big selling point is that it gives you more control than any golf game that's gone before it, but is it wise to give a mere gamer the skills of a master? While we might think we want Tiger's full repertoire of shots, the hard work that you don't see on TV isn't so appealing.
ProStroke is perhaps the most serious sports sim I've encountered in quite some time, and initially came as quite a shock to the system. After playing EA's glossy Tiger Woods series for the last few years, ProStroke's ambivalence towards style and presentation was more than a little jarring, but it's gameplay on the course that matters, and not how many million colours can be used on a menu screen. Still, initial impressions weren't overly impressive.
While the basic mechanics of the golf swing will be familiar to anyone who's played a console golf game in the PlayStation 2 era, it's still very much worth taking a look at the training mode. It's a little unstructured for my liking - a few more proper skill tests would have been great - but it shows you the ins and outs of the ProStroke system. Ball position, stance, weight transfer, club face, and the swing itself all play a major part in the outcome of a shot, and unless you're a real life player, you'll need a few lessons.
Once you've got the hang of it, it works very well indeed, although the analogue sticks at times feel a little inaccurate for the kind of precision you want to play with. The left analogue stick handles all weight movement and the angle of the club head, while the right stick is your swing. Moving both in harmony (ideally with your weight moving forward a fraction before your swing comes back down) will result in the perfect swing, while mixing up weight, club head, stance and ball position (both handled by the d-pad) will let you play pretty much whatever shot you desire.
As you improve as a golfer you'll be able to hit the ball further and further, but this means that early rounds can be a little troublesome, particularly when faced with a long Par 3. Hitting the green and making the ball stop isn't easy when you're using a driver or fairway wood, so it's not until you can reach with an iron, and apply a bit of spin, that things become a little easier. Having said that, some of the hole lengths seem a little off, with even perfect swings seemingly not good enough to reach the green in regulation. It's all about practice though, so don't be too put off if your early drives aren't cutting it.
Aside from the expected quick play, single round and tournament game modes, you also get the PSG Career mode. Here you get five calendar years to prove yourself to be the best golfer, according to the money list. A number of events litter the schedule for each month, although the big money events require something called Renown. This is basically your rating as a gofer, and until you've built up your renown you won't be able to take part in the big events. If you're after a mode to play through instead of simply playing in single events, it serves its purpose, but the PSG Career isn't the most thrilling game mode you'll see in a golf game.
As I've already made mention of, ProStroke Golf 2007 isn't the most attractive golf game to hit the market. The visuals could politely be described as functional, but a more harsh critic could well label the overall look as rather shabby. It's certainly a far cry from the lushness of the courses seen in the Tiger Woods games and a long way from the beautiful realism seen in Links on the Xbox. Audio isn't too hot either, with some generally awful and often nonsensical commentary, made all the more unbearable by some rather repetitive music. When I'm nine under par, I'd appreciate not being told that I'm only six under, thanks very much.
With online play sadly totally absent from both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the game, all that's left to cover is the course designer. Course designers always sound great on paper, but when you get to use one, especially when it's on a console, it's never what you had in mind. ProStroke Golf's attempt isn't bad, but it's far from accessible. If you can get the hang of it and its rather hard to use menu system, you'll probably be able to create some nice courses, but it'll take an awful lot of effort. Thankfully, the game features eighteen courses, which is more than enough to ensure things don't become stale.
Spoiling the whole experience somewhat are a few little problems, which, when put together, can really aggravate. For example, you'll pitch the ball on what looks like the green, and the commentator will say you've hit the green, but the game says you're off the green. While you can switch to a putter if you like, you can't bring the green grid up manually, so you're forced to guess which way the putt might break. Putting itself can be annoying simply because the onscreen information takes so long to disappear, forcing you to wait so you can get an unobstructed view of the shot. They're minor issues, but the game would have been far more playable had they been resolved before the game shipped.
After spending a good number of hours with Gusto Games' great new control system I couldn't shake the thought that I wanted to play EA's Tiger Woods series with this control scheme. What ProStroke delivers is the most in-depth control system I can imagine working on a standard console controller, but the game that's built around it simply isn't exciting enough to sway Tiger fans over to a new series. Just like the real Tiger Woods, a lot of work has gone on behind the scenes, but while Tiger can step out looking and playing the part, ProStroke Golf: World Tour 2007 isn't ready to win a major; it could well be rookie of the year.