There's nothing quite like a rousing round of golf to get the old Tourette's going. On the other hand, nothing else can get your fist pumping from a Hail Mary birdie putt or a line drive tee shot skillfully touching down between a sand bunker and a water hazard. The distances involved and the precision required in golf is the sporting equivalent of lobbing laser-guided cruise missiles into Al-Qaeda cave openings.
Teeing off a duff-shot debut is ProStroke Golf: World Tour 2007. Relying on realistic play mechanics, ProStroke slices simulator technicalities back into a genre flippant with arcade-style hooks. The titanium core of the gameplay certainly holds true to this promise. But when it comes to everything else on the scorecard, it ends up a few strokes above par. (Remember: That overbaked analogy is a golf analogy. A few strokes above par is bad.)
Immersion factor in ProStroke needs to take a Mulligan (that's a do-over for you rookies). The sparsely-shaded courses make the lay of the land difficult to survey, though the golfers anchor themselves tightly to the terrain. When you find yourself with sand wedge in hand from a steep-angled bunker, or taking the scenic route along the rough outer edge of the back nine, then you'll be pleased to find your cleats clinging like Velcro to the bland, sloping terrain. And -- except for a little stutter-stepping between a regular stance and a chipping stance -- the body movements, hand positioning, and shifting of weight are all convincingly captured from upswing to follow through.
ProStroke is so heavily nuanced with these features that the position of your lead foot will draw or fade the ball left or right. Add further shape to your shots by sliding the point-of-contact on the ball for greater control. Move the ball back further in your stance to give it some punch, shooting it onto a lower flight trajectory beneath high winds or low-lying tree branches, and creating what is affectionately referred to as a "Groundhog Killer." Do the opposite for a Sky Ball, should you require a short, high shot for some vertical take-off and landing onto the putting green.
If you're feeling intimidated right now, perhaps you should be. Golf isn't considered the world's most challenging sport for nothing. In fact, in America, golf is the unofficial sport of the business world. Several schools of business, including Stanford University, enact undergraduate and graduate-level courses that apply your hard-won subsidized loans toward learning "business golf." Spend the budget bin price for ProStroke Golf and you may just get the drop on your classmates' first couple weeks of homework.
The tutorial lets you bat away at your heart's content from the tee, from the fairway, and from a few other common positions, but the directional arrows on the ball's interface will teach you all you need to know about the milieu of gradations informing each shot on the course. This is all done to the effect that -- if at least for a moment -- your attention is drawn away from the game's handicapped peripherals.
The pared down commentary from three of golf's most recognizable personalities doesn't just fall short, it falls off. Sam Torrance, Ian Baker-Finch, and Alan Green surely aren't to blame -- despite their plain vanilla delivery -- but too many times I've been chided for a shot that'll "still take a lot of work" when I'm only a foot or two from the cup. Or they'll congratulate me for a shot that I "shouldn't have any complaints with" when I've hooked it off into deep left, somewhere between the Ponderosa pines and the pixilated pond scum. At least they don't hit you below the belt from the safety of the commentator's box, but you have to take what they say with either a grain of salt or a sense of humor.
When your game does turn into a walk in the woods, try not to step into the piles of past-dated graphics lying underfoot. No, you're not seeing a leafy-green level of Darwinia, you're actually trying to hit a low-flying "worm burner" beneath the Lego-block tree leaves and up over the cross-hatched ground flora. Again, try to ignore the commentators when they say you should have "no complaints there" as the camera locks itself into position behind a thick-leafed arbor of your choice.
And also try to ignore the aimless applause from the invisible audience as well. The intensity of the golf clap they award is based on how far you drive the ball, not on the ball's lie or on any particular skill shaped into the shot.
While you're at it, ignore the stoic faces riveted under each one of the golfer's caps. Ignore the exact same tilt of the head they all share, and ignore their industrial strength poker faces. Ignore the assembly-line constructed walk, crouch, and lineup that they carbon copy off one another. And ignore the two-item wardrobe on your non-customizable character (somebody send these guys a Lacoste gift card for Christmas).
Ignore the fact that you're never given a visible grasp of any golfer's stats and abilities, and you're never fed any more information about these purportedly top-shelf players other than perhaps a five-second bio voiced over at the beginning of a tournament.
While ProStroke has got a hit on its hands with its patented thick and rich simulator golf swing, this flagship offering has a long par 5 ahead if it wants to contend with golf gaming's big boys. Just as a good racing simulator is more than a gas pedal and a gear shift, a good golf simulator is more than a foot position and wrist snap.