Golf videogames, eh? You either love ‘em or loathe ‘em. Well, that used to be the case in the SPOnG office until fairly recently, when our resident loathers of golf games suddenly started to change their tune a little, what with the general renaissance of the (real) game of golf, plus the technical developments in games such as In2Games Real World Golf
and the forthcoming Wii Sports Golf
– both of which attempt to allow home console gamers the opportunity to simulate the actual swing of a golf club – yet, it really has to be said, neither of which offer the dedicated videogame golfer the depth and longevity of play they desire.
Yes, that’s right, you read that correctly. Golf - once the preserve of the dreary accountant or your dad and his mates sporting embarrassing Farah slack or Sta-Prest trousers - and Pringle sweaters, has somehow managed to establish itself as a genuinely fun and cool modern sport. It’s the new thing to do once you grow out of skateboarding (though a number of our more senior SPOnG staffers have yet to do this!).
Witness, for example, books such as former NME journalist Tom Cox’s, ‘Nice Jumper’ written by a formerly embarrassed ex-teenage golfer proudly reclaiming the sporting pastime of his youth. Also check out the proliferation of golfing consumer/lifestlye magazines on the shelf in your local WHSmith. Somewhat disappointingly, ‘Golf Punk’ magazine turns out to be really no such thing, displaying not one iota of ‘punk’ attitude, and merely being an excuse to publish yet another consumer/lifestyle magazine targeting the Nathan Barley new media idiot demographic.
So, aside from the golf club simulating titles, In2Games' (semi)serious if a bit gimmicky Real World Golf and the forthcoming Wii Sports Golf, where does a modern day golf game developer go
these days, in order to please both the casual and the hardcore golf gaming fan? UK developer Gusto Games, along with publisher Oxygen Interactive, believes it has the answer to this with ProStroke Golf: World Tour 2007.
SPOnG hooked up recently with Oxygen’s Publishing Director Kevin Hassall, along with ProStroke Golf’s Producer, Struan Robertson, who gave us a thorough demonstration of the impressive-looking PS2 version of the game, whilst telling us all about the thinking behind the original game concept and how they think the final (or almost final) code on which we got the chance to have a quick play shapes up to their original, hugely ambitious plans for the title.
Perhaps the first thing we should tell you, and certainly the main thing that you need to know about ProStroke Golf: World Tour 2007 is that, throughout our demo and extended chat about the game, both the developer and the publisher hardly mentioned any other golf titles (apart from, when prompted, a nod towards SCEE’s arcadey Everybody’s Golf
and EA’s Tiger Woods series
). However, the guys did make a number of references to wanting to recreate the realistic depth of gameplay that one experiences in Konami’s unparalleled football series, Pro Evolution Soccer. And yes, of course, whilst they are clearly going to talk up their own game as much as they possibly can, whilst also helping lazy journalists to generate snappy poster quotes (“The Pro Evo of Golf”) SPOnG feels that the comparison with Konami’s beautiful game is fair and valid.
So what did Gusto originally set out to do to end up making what SPOnG soon realises is a realistic, hugely enjoyable and surprisingly addictive golf game? Simple. They focused heavily on the control system (hence the ‘ProStroke’ moniker) and attempted to develop the most realistic simulation of the golfing swing yet seen in a game. Without, that is, developing a golf club simulator such as the GameTrak peripheral which only turned out to be highly unsatisfactory for golfers and gamers alike.
Gusto’s Struan Robertson explained more about the game’s unique selling point: “We were most interested in accurately modelling the swing of the golf club and we really think we’ve achieved that, by developing a very advanced, sophisticated physics engine which enables players to use both analogue sticks to precisely recreate the act of swinging a club and hitting a golf ball.”
And while golf games using a console controller’s two analogue sticks is not a new development in itself (the last Tiger Woods game springs to mind) it is the way that Gusto’s ProStroke system works that really sets it apart from and impressively, takes it up a notch regarding the competition from the big boy publishers. Just as it is miles easier to ‘explain’ to somebody how Pro Evo works by handing them a controller and letting them gradually figure it out for themselves, the best way of understanding the ProStroke system is by picking up the game and chipping away at the ball on a few practise holes in order to get a feel for the controls.
However, whilst it would be nice and easy to end the preview now by merely saying, “It’s a cracking golf game, go and try it and you’ll probably want to buy it,” it is SPOnG’s job to try to explain to you via the clunky medium of words how
the game works and why it is, generally, one of three things - a necessary purchase; a possible rental; or something to be ignored, even when in the £1.99 bargain bin. So, why the two analogue sticks? When you pick up the game and head to the training mode, you will slowly learn the delicate art of weight transfer
which allows you to play a shot just like you would in real life. You swing your club with the right analogue stick and shift your weight back and forth with the left stick. So as you raise your club to swing with the right stick, you also move your centre of balance forward through the swing as you bring the club down and through the ball. A pro golfer could probably spend days explaining how and why the weight transfer is key to getting the best shot. Luckily, you no longer need to spend shedloads on pro lessons, as you learn why by playing this splendid game.
“You can, should you want, just play the game without the weight transfer at all,” Robertson told us, “But if you are playing multiplayer, this is soon going to put you at a clear disadvantage.”