Everybody's favourite Tiger, Eldrick Woods is firmly established at the top of the golf game. Clean-cut, (usually) unemotional and almost boringly brilliant, he's the Michael Schumacher of golf. Well, no, he's the Tiger Woods of golf. His consistency is beyond comparison.
Electronic Arts' Tiger Woods, Electronic Arts would argue, is in the same position in the golf-game game. Harmlessly flamboyant, simple to pick up and boringly brilliant, it's the Tiger Woods of golf games in all the important senses. Except, in the land of interactive entertainment (which is what I'm calling it today), consistency isn't always the best policy.
Sitting down with last year's Tiger Woods game and 2002's Tiger Woods game, you'd be hard-pressed to convince me there's much difference. Every year we go back, and we enjoy ourselves, but it's wearing a bit thin - however fat it gets with game-modes and features. Which is where Gusto Games comes in. ProStroke Golf: World Tour 2007 isn't quite as photogenic, and it's a bit conservative and humourless, but if you've been looking for a golf game that demands real-golf solutions to golf problems, it might just be your thing.
On the surface, it's not a huge departure. You zoom over the course (whacking X to skip the animation impatiently) and then stand behind your golfer surveying the fairway. You press circle to zoom to the spot where your ball is going to end up, reposition the aiming reticule a bit and then whack the ball by swinging the analogue stick. The fact that you look down at the ball as you swing is neat, but in effect the main analogue swing mechanism is just Tiger's down-up rotated 90 degrees left.
But it's what you can do when you get your head down that makes the difference. Having lined up your shot (like Tiger, the game shows relative heights, the percentage of the currently-selected club you'll need to get there, and so on), you can adjust things like your front foot position and body movement to improve your swing. By arcing the club-head back with the left stick and swinging with the right, you can gain more height. By moving your front foot forward you can add some draw. And by shifting your weight left to right and back again with the left analogue stick slightly ahead of the club you swing with the right analogue stick, you can maximise your shot distance at the risk of amplifying any mistakes. It's this understanding of the subtleties of golf and how they weigh on a shot's success that distinguishes ProStroke.
It's harsher on you, and requires more adjustments and considerations. You can vigorously thump your way through an opening round to a professional level of success, providing you've got a decent grounding in golf games up to now, but if you want to expertly escape a bunker or punch your way out of some tree cover, you'll need to pay attention to the excellent and patient tutorial, which introduces all the key concepts, and you'll need to practice. On the green, the game uses a pretty standard system of moving lines to demonstrate undulations and green-speed, and whereas putting is usually one of the toughest bits in golf games that don't offer Tiger's old "caddy tip" options, here it slots neatly into a fairly competitive whole.
Onto the course you'll go and it's here that the game lets itself down a bit. Visually rather rudimentary, with flickering textures, low-res character models and basic swing animations next to Tiger's finely honed offerings, it's much more about the golf than the glitz. That's evident from the very first screen, where you pick a name and then rotate through a handful of character models to represent yourself. You can change your hat and trousers, but anybody expecting the kind of depth EA packs into its character-creation tools will be disappointed. You can't even be a girl, even though you can play off the ladies' tees.
Game modes are thin on the ground too. There are plenty of real-world golfers, headed up by Sergio Garcia and including the likes of Ben Curtis and Justin Rose, and there are 18 courses, most of which are fictional, but with just an exhibition game and basic tournament option above the PSG Career mode - itself comprised of straightforward tournaments - there's little to surprise you. A "renown" system improves your stats, but other than a course-designer and a multiplayer mode, there's not much else to talk about.
That will hurt it in the long run, but fortunately in the meantime you'll probably find enough entertainment in the golf itself. Opponent AI is pretty consistent and you'll need to be good to beat some of the real pros. Play it against somebody else who's been practicing and it will easily outstrip Tiger as the multiplayer golfer of choice, with no after-touch spin options or other arcadey assistance to make up for slipshod shot set-up. It's a pity there are no online options, but then I usually prefer playing against someone sat on the sofa next to me anyway. You can play as a group of four, too, although each player will need a profile saved somewhere and you'll obviously have to swap pads around between shots.
If you're more interested in speed golf, bashing the ball through hoops in the air and competing for "trophy balls", and you're happy with the way Tiger works, you needn't take much notice of ProStroke Golf, but if you're tired of jumping through those same hoops every year and haven't been very impressed with EA's recent "refinements", then this might prove to be a better, less gaudy option. It takes golf seriously, and it makes a nice difference. Just don't expect to be teeing off on the moon or anything.