The GameTrak is an oddity. Gaming peripherals have come in many shapes and sizes over the years, but none have been quite as ambitious as this. Setting the device up takes a few minutes, with the gloves that connect you to the unit proving the most difficult to put on correctly. Perhaps this is down to my own ineptness, but still, this is hardly mainstream gaming. A golf simulator then, combined with the pseudo VR device sounds like a match made in lazy, golf loving, layabout heaven. Is it?
First things first: This isn't a game for a casual golf fan. While the Tiger Woods series of games has made golf accessible to almost anyone with a passing interest in the sport, Real Word Golf panders to no one. The game requires a lot of concentration and a fair amount of actual ability. It takes dedication to get all the kit set up, and even more to stick at it until you aren't hooking and slicing every shot out of bounds.
Starting the game for the first time requires you to set up your character. While the game seems designed to make you a laughing stock (I advise you play it alone), here you'll be asked to stand with your hands above your head while the game works out your height, and move your feet slightly until you're stood in the appropriate position. It's pretty painless, but starting the game again will require you to tweak with your stance in order to get back into the right position. Once you're set up you grab your miniature club and take part in some mandatory training, and then you're ready to play a few rounds
Game modes are pretty limited, with practice mode (driving, approach and putting), single rounds, tournament play, a number of mini-games, and a rather unworkable multiplayer mode that seems likely to never be used. Initially you'll have access to two courses: Magnolia Valley and Royal Golden Heath. The Fort Walton Sands, Loch Kinloch Links and Bay of Cockrells courses can all be unlocked giving you a total of five courses. Compared to EA's effort there isn't as much to do, but Real World Golf is more about improving your own virtual game than earning rewards. A maximum handicap of 28 is given to each player when they start and the goal is to get this down to zero: Something this reviewer is very unlikely to achieve.
Everything in the game is controlled using the GameTrak device and this does cause a few problems, in particular with in-game non-shot controls. The GameTrak's mat acts as a button, used to pause the game. Unfortunately you'll have to do this every time you want to change your club and this becomes rather annoying. Another problem directly related to the GameTrak peripheral is sore hands. Although you're not holding a real golf club, the rubber grip on the miniature club still rubs at the base of your fingers, causing some minor irritation after a few holes. You'll probably swing the club about the same number of times as you would in real life, but the problem here is that you are stationary and in a hunched position almost permanently. Each shot isn't followed by a casual walk to the ball, and this position isn't too good for your back.
It's clear that the game isn't as realistic as the real thing, but it's a game after all. It does require you to work on your swing to improve and is obviously far more realistic than any golf game that has gone before it, but there are a number of things that, even with practice, let the game down. Eventually you'll get pretty good at hitting the ball with a 100% rated swing and striking accuracy, but a large portion of your shots will require a bit more finesse. Without the feel of a proper golf club in your hands and no ball to hit, it's incredibly hard to judge shot strength. Perhaps prolonged play will make this easier, but I'm still struggling after the many hours I've put into the game. Putting is also rather simplistic. The game auto lines-up your shot, meaning that all you have to do is stroke the ball in at the right pace, taking a lot of skill out of this part of the sport.
Visually the game is best described as functional. It looks like golf, but doesn't really have any character. Textures and environment detail are bland, giving the game a pretty sterile feel. This isn't going to compete with games like Links and Tiger Woods, but they don't come with a device that lets you swing a mini golf club to play your shot, so there has obviously been a different area of focus for the developers. Ball physics also don't appear as realistic as in the top tier golf titles. Balls will often bounce to extraordinary heights when hitting the ground, as if they've struck concrete. It's a little disappointing considering the rest of the game relies on realism as its selling point.
Real World Golf appears to have put itself into a rather unfortunate position. Most people won't have the time (or space) to get the game set up and the controls learnt, and anyone who really has an interest in the sport would probably prefer playing the real thing. If you fall somewhere in-between the two, then this might be the game for you. There are problems, but if you want to feel like you're playing golf in your living room, this is your only option on the PlayStation 2.