Sunday, August 05, 2007

Total Pro Golf 2 Review

Total Pro Golf 2, developed and published by Wolverine Studios.
The Good: Direct input can influence performance, scheduler can incorporate all downloaded courses, more tours with rankings and awards, good AI
The Not So Good: Tri-click swinging is too slow and too easy, can’t save in the middle of a round
What say you? A slightly improved version of the golf management simulation: 6/8

There are two ways you can review a sequel: evaluating the title as a whole, or just the improvements made from the previous version. My “policy” has been to do the latter if I reviewed the original game on this site. This is a touchy and ill-defined subject, especially when you deal with stand-alone expansion packs and sequels released soon after the original. I reviewed just the improvements for my review of City Life: World Edition (a stand-alone expansion) and it made the publisher mad. So, I don’t know which way to go. In the case of Total Pro Golf 2, I’m going to refer you to the review of the original game and I’ll mainly talk about the difference with this newer version, but I think I’m going to score the game as a whole because I didn’t give the original game a fare shake. I believe I missed the intent of the game (more of a management game than an arcade game like the Tiger Woods series), so I’ll rectify that situation with this review of Total Pro Golf 2.

The graphics of Total Pro Golf 2 are almost entirely the same as the original game: played from a 2-D perspective, the courses are as good-looking as the designer wants them to be. The eight included courses in this title are well designed and look good for a 2-D game; I made a custom course using satellite imaging that is more realistic albeit not necessarily better looking. The 2-D graphics do allow for very straightforward editing, which is one of the hallmarks of the series. The only graphical improvement made in the game is showing a close-up of the actual green during putting instead of a bland, featureless carpet. Also, the user interface has introduced instantaneous yardage information wherever your mouse is located; before, you had to wait for a pop-up to show and this got old very quickly. It’s nice to see that Total Pro Golf 2 has made some subtle but effective changes to the graphics, and I wasn’t expecting a complete overhaul since the game looks fine in 2-D. The repetitive sounds are back and seemingly unchanged, although I don’t recall much of the audio in Total Pro Golf. The games move so quickly, however, that the simple sound is just fine.

Total Pro Golf 2 revolves around creating a custom golfer and leading them from the minor tours all the way to major victories. The game now includes six tours to choose from, adding European schedules to the equation. Total Pro Golf 2 has great support for modifications: you can change the sponsors, golfers (the default ones are fictitious), schedule, and create new courses using the straightforward Course Designer (the same one used for Total Pro Golf, which means courses are cross-compatible). While the game only comes with eight courses to choose from (that tend to get repetitive over a year-long schedule), there are a ton of courses available for download since the original game came out a year ago. I was able to get fifty-eight user-created courses to fill out the schedule, and Total Pro Golf 2 will incorporate downloaded courses to generate a random schedule (neat!). When creating your character, you can have the game randomly generate potential stats, but these don’t seem to be very randomized and all of the values tend to be about the same.

The career mode is mostly the same, as you will hire a caddy and a coach, purchase clubs and balls, obtain sponsors, and set a weekly practice schedule to improve your stats. You can’t practice every day since your fatigue will increase if you do not rest. Your coach can make recommendations on your practice schedule based on the areas that need the most improvement. New to the game is an adaptation of the FedEx Cup points and playoff system, world rankings, and more in-depth stats and awards tracked over time. After you have created a career, you can enter quick play mode where you can play stroke-play at any course you have acquired. Any player on any tour is available, although the game lacks an indication of player stats or even their tour when you select a doppelganger. Total Pro Golf 2 lacks any alternative game modes to stroke play, such as skins, match play, or Stableford scoring, in quick play rounds and for every season event except for the Ryder and Presidents Cup events. It would be interesting to have a little more variety in the quick play options or be able to create your own custom tournament instead of just a single round at a time. Total Pro Golf 2 has multiplayer league support for those players who are interested as well.

My main complaint about Total Pro Golf was that the accuracy of your shots was dependent only on your stats, so you fell victim to random shots and really bad putting you had no control over (not that real golf is that much different). It felt like you were watching a game instead of playing a game. Total Pro Golf 2 has introduced a tri-click mode similar to arcade golf games that gives you more control over the result of your shots. Unfortunately, the tri-click meter moves very slowly, which makes using the method very tedious and far too easy. The speed of the meter is tied to your stats, but even for mid-range players it takes about seven seconds for a complete swing to occur. Not only does this make it very easy to hit your marks and score much lower than using the one-click method, but games exponentially grow in length. One thing I liked about Total Pro Golf was the fast pace of the game: you could finish a round in five minutes or so. Now, you’ll spend upwards of eight to ten minutes just watching the tri-click meter slowly move back and forth. As much as I dislike the randomness of the one-click method, I actually went back to using it because the tri-click method is too tiresome. Luckily, this is probably an easy fix that could be incorporated in a patch. I would like to see Total Pro Golf 2 adopt a mouse-swing model to give you more influence over your shots.

In either swing mode, you can tailor the aggressiveness of your shots, and also incorporate chips, punches, and flops. I still haven’t figured out why you would want to do anything other than normal putting, as aggressive putting always goes past the hole and safe putting comes up short. You can control the aim of your shot, although by default you will aim directly for the hole, which is useful for chips and putts. Total Pro Golf 2 allows you to add draws and fades to your shots for those tricky holes. The AI in the game is pretty good considering you can import custom courses. They will play realistically using appropriate shots for each hole, although I haven’t seen them use draws or fades. You will have to navigate the wind and terrain to be successful: since the game automates the short game, your drive will be the time you have the most influence on your score. You can’t save in the middle of a round, although the matches are fairly quick, at least in one-click mode. Total Pro Golf 2 is a more inclusive product than its predecessor and it’s clear the developer is listening to user feedback and trying to improve the product. The game is not perfect, but it’s certainly getting closer.

Total Pro Golf 2 is more like an expansion pack than a full-fledged sequel (the amount of content is comparable to Dark Avatar), but it’s still obviously better than Total Pro Golf. The addition of the tri-click mode is nice, although it could be executed better. The game also features some interface improvements, three additional tours, new courses, stat tracking, and some more control over your shots. There is enough content available online now to make quite a large schedule beyond the basic eight layouts, a testament to the intuitive course designer. It still feels like the game plays for you instead of with you, especially when you use one-click mode, but the game’s emphasis is on player development instead of direct interaction. Total Pro Golf 2 is a more rounded product and it will appeal to management fans that prefer customization over polished arcade mechanics.