Holiday sale price makes "John Daly" an acceptable bogey

Holiday sale price makes "John Daly" an acceptable bogey

My initial interest in reviewing "John Daly Prostroke Golf," a PlayStation 3 exclusive, was as a test of Sony's new Move control system.

The basic question: Could Move handle the sport? Would the controllers adequately track powerful swings? Were they capable of following slower, subtler movements, during putting for example?

After all, a rival's first attempt at motion-controlled golf was horrible in a way that amply demonstrated the shortcomings of its new control system. I'm speaking, of course, of Nintendo.

Golf was included in "Wii Sports" when the Wii launched, and it was -- in my opinion -- an absolute failure. Swing the remote too fast in that game and it won't register that you've moved at all. Try to just tap the ball with your putter. Mostly likely, nothing will happen. Exaggerate your movements a bit more and you'll knock the ball all the way to Poughkeepsie.

Essentially, that golf game spoke volumes about how the Wii (pre-Motion Plus) was rather inept at accurately tracking movement.

"John Daly Prostroke Golf," on the other hand, is a testament to the accuracy of the PlayStation Move. The game responds extremely well to my every action with the light-topped controllers, whether I'm trying to nail the bejeezus out of the ball with my driver, loft it ever so gently with a wedge or tap it just right to sink a putt without bouncing the ball off the hole's lip.

Yet what should be a showcase game for Sony's motion-control system is spoiled by sheer ugliness in its presentation. Rudimentary menus; mislabeled buttons; bland graphics; repetitive and sometimes inappropriate color commentary; pop-up advertising: "John Daly" has got it all.

Put in golf terms, this game's a bogey.

To be honest, the rudimentary menus don't bother me that much. They're menus after all, and it's clear enough what the various buttons to "click" on will do. Yet as this game is designed for both the Move system and normal PS3 controllers, they've struck a poor balance in making navigation easy.

Oh, with the regular controller it really is simple, but with Move, you have to hold the pointer directly over the icon you want to select, then hit the "move" button -- the big, central button on the controller. But they've put in no margin for error; you have to keep the pointer directly on your selection or it's no dice. They'd have been better off copying the way the PS3 allows you to navigate with simple waves of the controller, no pointing needed.

And sometimes the controls are mislabeled. For instance, sometimes you'll be told to hit the X button (yes, the Move has one) when it really wants you to hit the "move" button. Other times it really means hit X. I'm not sure how that problem slipped through game testing, but it's annoying.

And that's just the menu stuff. Once you're out on the links, you're in a world that isn't nearly as good looking as it should be. The graphics are functional enough — you can distinguish easily between fairway, light rough, deep rough, sand traps, water hazards and the green, certainly. But they don't really go past the functional and are somewhat at the low end of what the PS3 is capable of displaying. You'll never look down the fairway and think "Oh, what a magnificient view."

Plus, the spectators that "watch" you play and applaud your shots are startlingly unanimated. Hit a ball right at them and there's no reaction.

Color commentators will call out the action as you play, but it doesn't seem like a lot of lines were recorded. So you'll quickly get tired of their extremely repetitive dialogue.  And they'll make a lot of miscalls, i.e. your ball will drift right and they say it looks like it's headed left.

And I'm sorry, but the advertising for recently released DVDs that pops up during the frequent interludes is just offensively intrusive. I don't care so much that the same ad appears on signs to the side of the tee -- it's like part of the furniture of the course that way -- I don't need blatant shilling for "Avatar" or "The Pacific" to regularly appear out of the context of the game.

Yet if I could ignore this, I'd have an excellent time out on the links.

There are 12 well-designed courses to play on, though only six are available initially. Each is as unique as a PGA-style course can be in terms of layout and challenge.

Personally, I have a lot easier time on the long par 5s, as my driving is far better than my short game. This one par 3 on a water-heavy course, where the green is just past a large lake, is pretty much a nightmare for me. I either overdrive past the green into the rough or choke back too much and lose my ball to the water.

But once I get my ball on the green — any green — it's all over, because "John Daly" quite frankly makes it really easy to cheat on putting. With the "Prostroke" tool, you can take a practice swing at the ball, then hit a button and track exactly where that shot would have gone. You can then adjust your aim and try again until you've figured out exactly the power and placement needed to sink the ball with one putt. If you want to keep yourself honest though, you'll ignore this tool.

And there's a nice assortment of options for setting up your game. In practice mode, you can drop the ball anywhere you want. In quick play, you can pick the course you play on; stroke play or match play scoring; whether you want to play the front nine, back nine, the whole shebang, nine random holes, three random holes, etc.; weather conditions; even which tee you want to start from.

In career mode, however, you follow a fixed path. Only the first course is available to start, and you must play against John Daly in four challenges — driving, short game, putting and nine holes of match play — in order to proceed to the course tournament. You don't have to beat him in the four challenges, though. If you try and fail a challenge three times, it recognizes that you're at least trying and gives you a pass.

My focus while playing, as I said, was on the Move controls, but "John Daly" is also fully compatible with the regular controller. Played that way, it remains a challenging game of golf, where you maneuver analog sticks in order to power up your shots — and the accuracy of your movement will determine if you hook or slice.

But one bit of strangeness between the two control types: With regular controls, there's a feature where you can alter your stance in order to change how you strike the ball. The feature is still represented on screen if you're using the Move controller, but it doesn't work. Instead, you must adjust your grip on the Move — opening or closing your club face — to obtain the same effect.

Finally, there is an online multiplayer feature, but I haven't had any luck in finding someone to play. Maybe I was just looking at the wrong time, as I tended to play on weekend afternoons. But I'm not sure online really matters. The fun of playing against someone in this game is face to face. I can't see an online opponent as being any different than the game's AI challengers.

"John Daly Prostroke Golf"
Platforms: PS3, PC. Reviewed on PS3.
Publisher: O-Games.
Price: $29.99 at special holiday price. Originally $59.99.
Rating: E for everyone.
Recommendation: If you can get past the poor presentation, including the in-game advertising, it's a decent game of golf at the current $29.99 price point. At $59.99 though, it's definitely not worth the bother.

Image courtesy of O-Games
A golfer prepares to tee off in "John Daly Prostroke Golf" using the regular PlayStation 3 controls.

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