Pro Series Golf
| Pro Series Golf

It's probably a good sign if a sports game doesn't work too well when played like a balls-out shoot-'em-up. If you're an extreme casual gamer, like this reviewer, and don't really appreciate the real-life intricacies of sporting skill, you'll set off with a game like Pro Series Golf and aim simply to whack the ball as hard as possible, then kill the opponents with one of your golf bats before they can get a shot off.

If this tactic worked, it wouldn't be much of a simulation (even though Golf Course Massacre sounds like a very interesting game). And Pro Series Golf doesn't readily forgive the aggressive, ball-destroying antics of a blood-crazed shmup jockey, which is a good sign for sporting enthusiasts.

Indeed, the game is quite far reaching, technically speaking, and taxes the N81 to within an inch of its battery life. The crisp, 3D graphics spare no pixels in recreating authentic fairways, and the game offers a seriously challenging and sincere golfing experience. So don your silly hat, turn your nose up at the working classes, pull up your knee socks and buy a Range Rover - we're about to tee-off.

When it says 'pro' in the title, this game really means it. There's little in the way of instructions, and the difficulty level is aimed at players who know their way around a digital caddy.

That's not to say it's a difficult game to figure out, but it's not easy to gain proficiency. Until you've thwarted a few computer controlled players in Career Mode, you're confined to the well-trimmed lawn of a single course; the rest of the fairway being locked behind a demanding round of 9 or 18 holes.

An initial fly-by shot shows you the course ahead, which can be viewed again at any time by pressing '2' ('up') and adjusting your shot style and aim. This allows you to set the marker where you want to aim, once you've taken into account the ground elevation and wind speed/direction. Simply setting the target doesn't mean the ball's going to land there, of course.

Pressing the '5' button once sets the swing gauge off (at a fair old lick, with the powerful shots), while the second press stops it to determine just how hard you're going to swing.

A third press sets the gauge off back toward the bottom, and how close you get it to the line determines whether you'll hook or slice the ball. All these tiny variables add up to make each and every shot a combination of skill and luck - not, I assume, at all unlike real golf.

Putting initially looks quite easy, as a simple marker draws a line from the golfing stick to the hole; indicating the curvature of the green and the distance the ball will travel. But again, this apparently easy shot is reliant on the precision of the three-press swing, power and accuracy gauge.

More often than not, a long put won't hit its target regardless of the aiming system, though this certainly isn't a criticism. It's a testament to the skills a good virtual golfer must learn in order to meet the flag up close.

The best way to work around the early problems of the harsh difficulty setting is playing against other humans (up to four players being allowed on the same handset), or getting online. The N-Gage Arena works almost seamlessly once a tournament has been set up, and evens out the playing field when populated by equally fallible human golfers. With little in the way of noticeable lag, the only technical restriction you'll face is one of battery life, as the CPU seems to be working overtime to keep up with the prolific 3D processing.

Neither is the game particularly small, weighing it at 60MB, although the lighter price tag doesn't particularly reflect the memory size. Presumably due to the strain such a three-dimensional monster puts on the system, Pro Series Golf features more than its share of graphical glitches, but they seem to pass by quite quickly and don't particularly hamper proceedings on anything more than an aesthetic level.

With a little more mercy on the difficulty setting – especially considering that the game's essentially locked until you make some headway in the career mode - Pro Series Golf could have been a decent initiation for the non-golf gaming populace out there, but as it is the game weighs in as something of a simulator for the expert.

It doesn't exactly reek of fun, since its emphasis is more on providing a serious, authentic golfing experience, but the online function makes up for much of the game's inherent stolidity.

An overall impressive use of the N-Gage system that stands among the pantheon of the ever increasing golf game sub-genre, Pro Series Golf is a technical achievement. Assuming you don't mind wearing a tam o'shanty and pink tank top in public, that is.

Pro Series Golf

Not exactly casual, Pro Series Golf does succeed in creating an encompassing golf simulation that fans of the genre will devour