Tiger Woods is the undisputed king of golf, in both the real world and the virtual one. His powerhouse gaming franchise is a solid, annual moneymaker every year – and more often than not is a damn fine game in its own right, across all sorts of platforms. There have been plenty of competitors over the years (Links being the last serious challenger), but taking a look at the last few years of golf on the PC, it's evident that Tiger dominates the field.
Into this breach steps Oxygen Games and Pro Stroke Golf World Tour 2007, which is attempting to take on the champ despite a lack of more than a few licensed players and no real equipment (both of which Tiger's camp has in abundance). While I don't know for sure, it's pretty clear that the folks behind Pro Stroke have a love of pure golfing gameplay options, for while it lacks the polish and depth of EA's long-running franchise, there's a lovingly detailed game here that gaming duffers may find refreshing. Unfortunately, that same lack of polish prevents it from mounting a significant challenge to the King this year – but there's clearly something to build on for the future (and some fun to be had in the interim, if you're the patient type).
The best and most immediately recognizable aspect of ProStroke is its tremendous amount of shot selection options. Players can draw, fade, cut, and spin their tee shots and fairway smashes to their hearts' content, using the flexible tools available. Another main calling card is the swing mechanic – instead of tap-tap-taping a few times with the space bar like so many other golf sims, a combination of a front swing hold and back swing hold will define the power and accuracy of the shot. Wanna whack it with some extra power? Then you'll hold down the frontswing button while also pressing the backswing. The longer you hold both down, the more power you have – but, naturally, this comes with a price. The window of accuracy shrinks measurably the longer you risk a power stroke.
This is the first golf game I can ever remember where I could absolutely, positively duff a tee shot 10 yards in front of me if I botched the swing badly enough. This may sound strange, but I think that's simply fantastic.
This is the first golf game I can ever remember where I could absolutely, positively duff a tee shot 10 yards in front of me if I botched the swing badly enough. This may sound strange, but I think that's simply fantastic. No matter how badly I mishit shots in classic (and recent) golf titles, the worst that would happen would be a long slice or hook, but never a complete, total whiff. While it's not enjoyable when I'm on a real course (but happens far too often), it's an extra tinge of realism that I get a huge kick out of.
A total of 18 courses await, each with their own individual charms and golf-related annoyances (and I mean that in a good way). While there isn't the loaded roster of real-world PGA pros on the docket, a few have lent their likenesses to the game, including Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose. An in-depth course designer is also a nifty feature (although, as you would guess, time consuming).
You start to recognize the limitations, though, almost from the first tee shot. For one, the load times are abysmal (although rumors of a patch could improve that). The visual presentation is lacking, to say the least. Clearly, time spent on development and execution of shots was placed well ahead of graphical prowess. While the single player career mode is a robust five seasons long, a lack of any real reward for success in climbing to the top of the money list – you can't buy any new stuff or skills with the cash you earn – draws boos from the crowd. Speaking of crowd, there is a lot of clapping coming from the gallery every time you take a shot (good or bad, by the way), but these fans are completely invisible. There's something strange about being lauded for shots by a non-existent group of people.
My two least favorite aspects of the game, though, really prevented me from loving ProStroke despite its middling problems mentioned above. First off is that there is no way to save your progress in the middle of a tournament or challenge. Since these tend to take at least an hour (or more…keep reading), this is just inexcusable, especially in a PC game. Secondly, if you're unlucky enough to be paired with an opponent, you are forced to watch all of his shots with no chance to skip through them. This makes an already slowish game crawl, and diminished my fun tremendously.
There is an online head-to-head component as well, but despite repeated attempts to crank up a match, I wasn't able to find anyone online when I was. Perhaps this is because it seems that much of the community is British (at least that's the indication I get from the game website's message boards) and on a different schedule from me, but more likely a lack of marketing and/or the initial, non-patched version's aforementioned painstakingly slow loading. Remember – an hour to play 18 holes on your own? You're likely looking at 90 minutes or more when facing off against a foe, and that's if they're moving along quickly.
I consider ProStroke Gold World Tour 2007 a game with loads of potential, but not delivering on that this go-round. I'm interested to see the next iteration, for sure – if they can eliminate most of the issues I've raised, it becomes an immediate contender for the Grand Slam.