Considering the high quality of the PGA Tour games from EA Sports, the latest version, PGA Tour Pro, is a disappointment. While it's full of interesting and unique features, not all are executed particularly well.
PGA Tour Pro enters a genre thick with competition, yet still claims bragging rights on a couple of key points. First, tournament play is still the best on the PC, due to the PGA Tour relationship. You actually golf against pros Davis Love III, Tom Kite, Fuzzy Zoeller, Craig Stadler, Mark O'Meara, Jeff Sluman, Jim Gallagher, Brad Faxon, Peter Jacobsen, and Chip Beck, complete with swing and reaction animations. In tournament mode, this makes play really come alive.
The second strong element of PGA Tour Pro is the smooth implementation of Internet play via EA Sports Net. The player-matching service is actually integrated into the game, needing nothing more than an active TCP/IP connection. Inside EA Sports Net, competitors can set up games for up to four people online at once, and worldwide competition for prizes is in the offing. Online text and audio chat is supported. This beats the Jack Nicklaus Online Tour, the Virtual Open (for British Open), and Links LS to the punch.
The game itself has some problems. Since its last incarnation in 1996, it has been substantially redesigned. It is now Windows 95 native, and the expected step forward in graphics and redraw times is indeed present. But while the graphics are visually quite lush, they are also curiously flat: terrain and trees don't pop out the way they do in Links LS or even Jack Nicklaus 4. Inscreen animation has been added, but it is also quite screwy. The waving flags are fine, but the ocean looks like something from a grade-school play: part of it is animated in choppy waves, and the other part is motionless, with neither color palette matching. Sounds are the weakest part of the production, with adequate ambient sound, but poor ball noises.
As with the previous version, the variety and quality of camera angles is tops. Ball cam, blimp view, reverse angles, and all kinds of cameras are available on the course. Only two can be open at once, but you can rotate and move the view to achieve practically any angle you need. Greens are hard to read, but a new method has been added to aid shot making. Instead of just the standard grid option, you can also choose putting lines: a row of arched lines radiated out from your golfer to help read greens. Figuring out the best way to use them may take some time, but this new approach shows promise as an alternative to the grid, which has never worked that well.
Swing control has gone down a notch with a redesign of the swing bar. It's still a three-stage power bar, but instead of wrapping around the player, it's represented by an almost old-fashioned circle in the lower right-hand corner. A new "risk meter" has been incorporated into a portion of the power bar. When you design your shot, the risk meter gauges its chances of success on a bar from green (an easy shot) to red (a hard shot), perhaps included for people who absolutely must know their chances of success.
Shot making and club selection is unsatisfactory. When you aim your shot, the computer almost invariably picks too much club as your default. You must pick a shot type, pick a club, and aim the shot - in that order. If you aim and then pick a club, the aiming arrow changes. If you pick a shot, say a chip, you automatically get a default club. In the case of a chip, this is always the seven iron. It is a terrible way of handling shot design and makes for maximum confusion. (British Open still has the best shot design features.) Ball physics, especially in sand and rough shots, are modeled well - though wind effects could be better.
Three course come with PGA Tour Pro: Pebble Beach, TPC Scottsdale, and Bay Hill. Each is recreated quite accurately and offers a perfect variety of challenges and terrains. Previous PGA Tour courses can be used in the new version, and more are expected.
PGA Tour Pro offers just about everything you could want in a game, but it doesn't always do it very well. It has some strong elements and will probably become the choice for Internet gaming because of its matchmaking service. But while it was once a series that lead the category, it's now just one of the pack.