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For me, no matter how graphically brilliant and realistic the PGA Tour games get, there's only one golf game: the Leaderboard series on the Commodore 64, created by the Bruce and Roger Carver of Access Software.
The reason I hold so many fond memories of Leaderboard is because it took a sport that was unfamiliar (and even boring) to many people and turned it into a computer game which was reasonably realistic, but also a hell of a lot of fun to play, making it accessible to more than just hard core golfers.
That's what I look for in a golfing computer game, something which is fun to play, rewards practice and skill, but doesn't mean you have to play for years and years to become good at it. Sadly, whilst PGA 12 on the iPhone has a lot going for it, it's not filled that niche in my life.
The trouble with PGA 12 is that for non-golfers who just like to whack a ball around a course, it is just too damned complicated. It sometimes makes you feel like you are in training to be a real professional golfer and that lessens its appeal to the non-golfer or casual gamer.
There's no doubt that PGA 12 is a superb golfing simulation and the attention to detail is incredible. You can do just about anything with the ball that you can do in real life golf: "draw" or "fade" the shot, apply spin to the ball to make it stick on the green or use the wind to your advantage to try and get a bit of extra distance on your tee shot. The in-game physics are excellent and create a very realistic rendition of the sport.
The trouble is this introduces a level of complexity in the controls that will be very daunting for your non-golfer. The controls are explained on the opening few holes, but there are so many of them that even remembering the basics of hitting the ball becomes a feat of memory. The controls are well adapted for the iPhone's touch screen, comprising of a series of buttons or sliders, but they remain rather complex.
Of course, the upside of this is that the complex controls offer an incredible degree of control over the ball and it's possible to pull off some pretty impressive shots with practice. Just like real golf, if you think carefully about the shot you want to play, PGA 12 will probably let you do it - providing, of course, you have the skill and mastery over the controls to execute it properly!
Once again, in that sense it's a faithful recreation of the sport. Anyone can simply whack a ball down the green, but it takes real skill and finesse to place it exactly where you want it and the more you practice you put in, the better you will get. The trouble is the complex controls immediately put up a barrier that is likely to put a lot of people off. Casual gamers are not going to want to invest the time mastering the controls and non-golfers are going to think it's not worth the effort. Oh for the simple, but effective controls of Leaderboard, which made the game very accessible, but still offered a massive challenge!
If you do persevere, then PGA 12 has a lot of depth and plenty of long term challenge. There are dozens of courses to play on, all faithfully recreated, and plenty of different game modes to keep you coming back; and, of course, there's always the challenge of beating your best round on a particular course. If you get past the high entry barrier then PGA 12 is a game that will provide you with hours of mobile gaming fun.
Presentation is top-notch, as you would expect from EA Sports. You can customise pretty much any option, including every aspect of your golfer's appearance (skin and hair colour, hat and glove colour!) and this level of personalisation is a lot of fun. In-game graphics are superb; easily amongst some of the most impressive I've seen on the iPhone. Courses look green and lush and (as far as I can tell) have been faithfully reconstructed. Hazards are placed in exactly the right places and are always easy to pick out (preventing that frustration experienced in some golf games where you aim for a seemingly clear part of the course, only to find yourself in a bunker).
Sound is similarly excellent. Effects are realistic and in-game music is pleasant without being intrusive whilst The Man himself pops up from time to time to offer you words of advice or encouragement. This can get a little annoying at times (since he has rather a dull voice), but it doesn't intrude too much on the game. The sound adds a lot of atmosphere to the game and whilst it might be nothing revolutionary, it really helps you to get immersed in this very detailed golfing sim.
The real stand-out feature of PGA 12 is the level of customisation. I've already mentioned that you can customise your avatar to within an inch of his life, but you can also change various aspects of gameplay, such as the clubs you carry, weather conditions and so on. This means that even when you have played all of the courses and started to master them, there's the option to make things harder for yourself and try again. Throw in the competitive element of competing on the PGA Tour and doing well enough to earn money on the bigger events and things open up even more.
PGA 12 is everything we have come to expect from EA Sports - a massively in-depth golfing simulation with great presentation. If you can get past the accessibility issues caused by the very demanding and steep learning curve, then this is a game you will still be playing in 12 months' time (when, no doubt, EA will try and part you from your cash once more with PGA 13). However, you do need to be willing to invest a lot of time upfront mastering the initially tricky controls. I still long for the days of Leaderboard, though. I was good at that!
© Copyright SWSt 2011