JUST AS TIGER WOODS continues to make mincemeat of his opponents in real life, his videogames lead the golf genre without contest. But ProStroke Golf: World Tour 2007 hopes to muscle in on some of Tiger's glory with a brilliant new control mechanic.
ProStroke Golf is all about control. Tiger Woods pioneered the analogue-swing control system, and this adapts and expands on it, coming up with a more playable system that seems to mimic the challenges of real golf more accurately. At first it looks like any other golf game - you set up the angle of your shot from a third-person view, with the help of a zoom camera and an overhead course map. But the clever bit kicks in when you enter the Shot mode. You take your shot from the eyes of the golfer, looking down at the ball.
Instead of controlling and adjusting a load of power bars and target icons, you have direct control over the movements of your golfer. Tilt the left analogue stick up or down and you'll see your golfer turn his wrists to alter the angle the club hits the ball. Tilting it left or right alters your golfer's weight, leaning more on the front or back foot, and you can use the D pad to change the positioning of his feet. Then finally, you just pull the right analogue stick to the right to raise the club (the higher you raise it the more power you get), then swing it left again to take the shot.
With each subtle change to the golfer's body position and grip on the club, you can change the way the shot will send the ball flying through the air. Twisting your hand puts spin on the ball.Meanwhile, repositioning, your feet allows you to curl it. Lean more on your back foot and you'll get a higher, lofting shot, whereas leaning forward will keep it low.
This is fantastic because it challenges you in areas real golfers would be challenged. Do real golfers struggle to put power behind a shot? No. In this game, getting maximum power is as easy as swinging the club back as far as it will go. If you want a little power and think you've gone overboard, release the stick before you strike the ball and your golfer will abort the swing. But just like in real life, the real skill comes in when you start trying to put spin on the ball to counter the effects of wind, or try to perform a curve shot around an obstructing tree. It takes a lot of practise to get it right, but once you do it's even more satisfying because YOU made the expert decisions and positioned your golfer to achieve the results, instead of just setting some artificial power bars and target icons.
That's not the only area of golf ProStroke tries to innovate in. In the main Career mode, you create a golfer and start off in the lower leagues, working your way up to the top by earning Renown points. The cool thing is, Renown isn't just earned by winning matches, but also by performing skilled tasks during play. If you sink a putt from 30 yards away, or hit the flag pole from a shot off the fairway, the game will give you the Renown for it. This makes acts of skill even more satisfying - the game literally salutes your skill with a beneficial reward.
A great control system coupled with a decent Career mode spells a big win for golf fans, but does it knock Tiger Woods off the top? Unfortunately, a few niggles prevent it from accomplishing that feat. The graphics leave plenty to be desired; the courses looking bland and lifeless. Getting up close to trees and other forestry clearly exposes the game's disappointing visual shortcomings.
We're also not entirely convinced by some of the ball physics - it sometimes seems to pass through trees like they don't exist. We've also seen balls land at high speed directly into a bunker and bounce right back out, almost as if the soft sand was just grass. And it won't be long before the imbecilic commentator will say something so stupid you'll want to smash his head in with a golf club.