Compared to virtually any other golf game on the market, ProStroke Golf World Tour 2007 is the most unforgiving of beasts. An example: we completed our first round of eighteen holes in five-over par. Not bad for a first go, you may reasonably think. Only, our opponent for that round, an AI-controlled Sergio Garcia, went round in ten-under, despite us having capped his skill level at 'Novice'. Alas, young Sergio seemed undeterred by these limitations, and promptly spent eighteen holes chipping shots in from the edge of the green and holing forty-foot putts like they were going out of fashion. Needless to say, we tremble at the thought of facing up to what the game deems a 'Legend'.
And not only are your AI opponents more or less golf robots, but there's just so much to remember in Gusto Games' golf sim. Many golf titles are happy to let you control shot power, shot fade/draw, club selection, while taking into consideration factors such as wind speed and the lie of the ball. In PSG, things go one step further. You're given full control over where you position the weight of your body (right the way through your backswing and throughswing), the chance to minutely alter the angle and loft of your club face, control over the position of your feet in relation to one another and to the ball, and so forth. In other words, this is a game of considerable detail, and not exactly for gamers who like to chip golf balls from bunkers filled with pink sherbert, or knock shots through brightly coloured hoops of fire.
By the way, there's a good reason why we're telling you all this at the top of the review, and that's because underneath the rock-hard, ruthless, and dry exterior that will surely see so many newcomers flinch from its challenge, PSG offers a fairly absorbing round of golf to anyone willing to put a good number of hours in to learning its intricacies. It's bewildering at first, but rewards those with the gumption to stick at it with a quite genuine feeling of satisfaction. As all good sports games should. Heck, as all good games should, period.
Seven iron, check; Wind speed, check; wind direction, check; right foot position, check; left foot position, check; body weight slightly to right, check; club face marginally open but not too much, check; ball position in relation to feet, check; etc., etc., etc...
In video game terms, its closest relative is EA's Tiger Woods franchise. Indeed, at first glance it's played in a similar fashion, with the right analogue stick on the PS2 pad used to draw your club back along a power bar, then flung back in the opposite direction to execute the rest of your swing. The big difference here is that, as you're carefully guiding your stick from left-to-right then right-to-left, you're viewing things through the eyes of your golfer, looking down at the ball.
This first-person, over-the-ball perspective has allowed Gusto Games to include some of the features we mentioned above (and, crucially, make them feel convincing), such as the ability to alter your body position as you swing for the ball (done with the left analogue stick), or the ability to shuffle your feet about to gain different heights on the ball (d-pad), or the chance to open or close your club face. As we said above, at first there's a lot to remember as you line up each shot. No pun intended, but it reminded us of learning to drive all over again, just without the risk of reversing into our neighbour's wall this time.
Admittedly, it doesn't have the same presentational spit-and-polish of EA's licensed Tiger offerings, but this is still some way from being an ugly game. The menus are serviceable and easy to use. The golfers are reasonably animated (though you'll have seen all the animations the game has to offer within ten minutes of booting it up) and the courses are fairly good-looking, even if the absence of any crowd whatsoever does make the sound effects (spectators cheering, clapping, etc.) feel a tad weird and out of place. The commentary - supplied here by the excellent Alan Green, the mumbling, bumbling Sam Torrance and likeable Aussie Ian Baker-Finch - is respectable enough, and never feels intrusive.
It doesn't suffer much on the features front, either. There's all the usual fluff you expect from any self-respecting sports title - a Career mode, one-off matches, tournaments, and so forth. There's also some mildly engaging short scorecard challenges, a hefty 18 courses (including the likes of The Brabazon, The Belfry and Lake Nona) and a course creator which (much like the game it's a part of) possesses a scary level of detail and a steep learning curve, though getting to know it means you can produce some impressive results.
So, what's to fault about such a comprehensive package? Well, in a nutshell, this is the anti-Mario Golf. That means it's not for everybody, and it's a title that requires jaw-clenching levels of gritty determination to get the most out of, and probably a passing interest in the real-life sport itself (and on that note, PSG includes the digital likenesses of Thomas Bjorn, Mark O'Meara, Colin Montgomerie, Ian Woosnam, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and others).
It can be a little too serious for its own good in places, while the AI is, in our opinion, a little on the harsh side (see: first paragraph), which means that playing amongst friends is advisable if you want to get the most enjoyment from PSG. Infact, if you're only ever going to play this on your own, we'd recommend you think carefully before purchasing. Losing every round you play against the AI for the first few days by several strokes isn't anybody's idea of fun.
Anyway, we've warned you enough - this isn't a game for golfing softies (like us), or for people who like to play golf as cartoon dragons, but for those amongst you seeking a title that can relay the subtleties involved in swinging a golf club better than most games before it. It's ultra-realistic, and terribly serious. But so long as you know what you're letting yourself in for, and can invest the effort required, it should keep you glued for some time.