Thursday, September 14, 2006

Total Pro Golf Review

Total Pro Golf, developed and published by Wolverine Studios.
The Good: Career mode is comprehensive, course designer, you can import real world golfers and equipment
The Not So Good: Golf scores are more dependent on ratings than user input, initial course selection is poor
What say you? A robust career and custom settings, but the actual play is lacking meaningful interaction: 5/8

For the more statistics-minded person, there is a grand selection of sports management games available on the market. Designed for people who like to act as coach and general manager more than control individual players during a game, this genre has a strong niche among PC games. From the developer of one of the better management games, Total College Basketball, comes Total Pro Golf, where you guide a new player fresh to the tour on his or her path to greatness.

Graphics are on par with what you would expect in a sports management game. The menus and data are mostly text, although they are arranged well and look better than most games of the genre. It’s generally easy to navigate through the game, although some of the options that are available from the main screen picture are not listed on the side menu. All of the golf holes are depicted from an overhead perspective, which is fine and you get a good idea of what each hole is about. The hole illustrations are basically the same as those found on a scorecard; you don’t need 3-D graphics to make a golf game, and the blimp view definitely makes it easy to create custom courses. The sound is the pure minimum: some crowd reactions to good or bad shots (that are the same each time), and the sound of the club hitting the ball. There isn’t any in-game music to speak of, which may actually be a good thing considering the low-quality scores present in some games. Total Pro Golf delivers exactly what you’d expect for a sports management game, nothing more, nothing less.

In Total Pro Golf, your primary goal is to develop a character from an amateur player to golf superstardom. When you start a new career, you can choose between a single player or multiplayer league (where you can compete against golfers controlled by other humanoids). You can then browse the three tours (amateur, men’s, and senior), which, like a lot of the things in this game, can be customized to include real, unlicensed tours. You then select the sponsors of golf equipment (again, this can be edited), the home countries of the tour players, and fill in your initial and potential ratings in areas such as putting and long iron play. During your career, there are several things to do. You’ll need to keep track of your money, as entering tournaments costs money, and the only way to earn money is by placing well in tournament or getting sponsorship deals (which requires you to place well in tournaments). Your golfer will also gain fatigue if they play or practice too much (everyone needs a day off), which will lead to more mistakes during tournament play. You will also need to hire a coach and a caddy: these two will give you bonuses or better attributes. The pro shop contains all of the golf equipment available, and keeping up to date with the latest equipment will result in better play. Finally, you’ll be able to schedule practice, either a round or a specific skill, and enter tournaments. Total Pro Golf has pretty much all of the options you’d expect in a golf management game, and the game keeps you busy in your decision making but the season doesn’t drag on, as all of the activities can be simulated if you don’t feel like actually playing a practice round but your character needs the training. Following and developing a player from his infancy through the professional and senior tours is quite fun and not as tedious as you might expect, assuming that you enjoy this type of game.

While the management aspects of Total Pro Golf are strong, the actual rounds of golf are not. Total Pro Golf comes with only a few courses to play on, but there is already a good number of real world and fictional courses available for download. During a round, you select a location, choose a club, and select a normal swing, and over swing, or an under swing. The game then decides, according to your ratings, where the ball actually goes. Other than choosing a safe spot to shoot for, the amount of user input is minimal. Unlike more traditional golf games like Tiger Woods, the result of each swing is not based on how well you “swung” the club, but what the computer gets from your stats. The game would have worked a lot better if the user has any impact on the shots other than general placement. Incorporating the mouse swing technology used in other golf games, where the direction of mouse movement simulates a swinging golf club, would have given the user a sense of actually doing something. The game could have still used the stats to determine the shot location, but in combination with some user input. As it stands, Total Pro Golf involves clicking the mouse and watching what happens, and it gets very tedious very quickly. Putting is even worse, as you don’t need to aim at all (you’re automatically aiming at the hole), and putting anything other than normal results in a poorly missed shot. The user has absolutely no affect on the putting in the game: you can make a spectacular approach shot, but if the computer decides for a three-put, it’s bogey time. Again, just letting the user do something other than clicking “swing” would have been a lot better. As with real golf, a good round is all about making putts, which is completely automated and based on your stat ratings, so what’s the point? It’s better off to save some time and completely simulate the entire tournament, since stats decide how well you do anyway.

The strong management aspects of Total Pro Golf are not enough to compensate for pointless gameplay. This is frustrating, too, because the game would have been great if playing a round of gold was actually fun, instead of watching the ball land where the computer decides, instead of using some sort of user input other than club selection and an aiming direction. Total Pro Golf does allow for a good amount of user editing, from the course layouts to the golfer names, equipment, and tours. Still, this amount of flexibility doesn’t matter if the core gameplay (playing golf) is a drag. Combining the management of Total Pro Golf with the gameplay of, say, Tiger Woods, would have resulted in quite a solid golf program, but the tournaments of Total Pro Golf fall short because the user input is minimally important.