Whether you love EA Sports videogames, or would rather slam your privates in a door before handing over good money for annual statistical upgrades, you’d have to admit that the immersion attributed to EA’s sporting portfolio is something not many other publishers can re-create. With the likes of the ongoing Tiger Woods PGA Tour series, there’s really nothing on the market that’s comparable to EA’s official licence and authentically realistic golfing experience, except maybe Gamecell favourite Outlaw Golf 2, and, thanks to EA it would seem unlikely that we’ll be seeing an Outlaw Golf 3…
So, where should willing videogame creators look in order to drive a new golf title successfully down the fairway and hope to score a birdie over the mighty Tiger? Well, they can take a swing at the purely cute and cuddly approach, as seen in such games as Everybody’s Golf and Disney Golf; or, like in Eagle Eye Golf, they can opt instead to occupy that strange grey area between simulation and arcade game.
505 GameStreet’s new golfing challenge, Eagle Eye Golf, isn’t exactly a closely observed simulation of the sport, though its physics certainly lean in that direction. But neither is it a full-on, forgiving, swing-for-fun, arcade distraction that players can dip in and out of to while away a few spare minutes or whenever a few friends pop around. Much more than Tiger Woods PGA Tour, Eagle Eye Golf attempts to present a genuine game of fun and challenging golf that’s constructed around a blissfully simple control system that’s instantly accessible and quickly grasped. This is the game’s core where player interaction is concerned, and once a practice round of eighteen holes in safely in the bag, player-to-control synchronicity is all-but assured out on the fairways.
Like every other golf game ever to hit retail, Eagle Eye Golf requires a selection of control prompts from its player, but virtually everything associated with the game’s action is very easy to use. The majority of the player’s club work is interpreted through the PS2 controller’s right analogue stick. A swift pull back of the stick starts a charge bar, which handily contains distancing, a pinned flag icon, and representative terrain to better illustrate the power requirements needed to successfully reach the fairway or the green. Once the desired power level is reached, a quick thrust upwards of the right analogue stick sends the club speeding through the ball. Sounds simple enough, but the developers have naturally added an accuracy requirement too. An on-screen spherical icon, which is linked to the club swing and right stick, contains a target stripe of varying thickness, and players must keep the action of their swing within this stripe to garner decent aim and delivery. When teeing off, the stripe is wide and easy to hit via the right analogue stick’s movement backwards and forwards, but striking from the fairway, or out of the rough, heralds a much thinner stripe, which is more demanding and likely to cause error—much as it would in real life. So, a wild swing that sees an uneven movement through the right stick will translate directly to the player’s target stripe and cause a poor shot that misses by quite some margin if the resulting on-screen squiggle moves outside of the stripe’s borders. The targeting stripe is removed when putting on the greens, however, and players need to merely gauge the necessary putt power, steepness, and run angle via an overlaid on-screen grid in order to reach the waiting hole—which is not as easy as it sounds.
Of course, other factors play a part in sending a ball straight and true towards the waiting hole, and players can also nudge the directional pad while swinging to assign spin to the ball. Or, they can quickly click on the top shoulder buttons to grab a more fitting club for the waiting stroke (the power bar’s flag icon moves across the distance readout according to the power available in each club). As with every golf game, the prerequisite arrowed wind meter sits at the top of the screen to help with directional shot choices, and ambient wind effects whip and howl about the course according to strength. However, despite the other contributing gameplay mechanics, the ease of use presented through the right analogue stick is certainly Eagle Eye Golf’s strongest component.
So, with the gameplay erring on the side of simply executed reality, it falls to the game’s aesthetics to imbue proceedings with a distinct arcade quality. From the off, everything on screen is overtly lively and colourful, whether it be the almost garishly bright green of the courses, to the often dazzling sunshine, or the outrageous costumes of the characters and opponents. Eagle Eye Golf’s visuals couldn’t be more far removed from the PGA Tours of this world. That’s not to say that players can expect to smack balls around in lava caves or eerie jungles, the game’s courses are completely believable in terms of expectation—it’s just that the vivid colouring somewhat lessens the air of realism. Useable game characters are initially limited to Betty and Tom of the USA, but players will soon find a host of other bizarrely ill-fitting cast members to choose from as they progress through the game’s various tournaments, courses, and objectives. Indeed, although Betty and Tom appear fairly generic and dressed for the golfing occasion, the arrival of other characters only further enforces the arcade overtones of the gameplay. For example, Freddie is clearly an overweight baseball player, while Ricardo looks like a purple-clad Jack the Ripper, and Erica looks like a leathered dominatrix.
Despite Eagle Eye Golf’s ability to draw you in and immerse you in its relaxed controls and mechanics; despite its immediately likeable presentation and steadily challenging curve, there are one or two faults that result in a sudden and unruly slice as the golf ball of quality slaps unceremoniously into the sand bunker of disappointment. Although the game’s wide selection of characters is certainly appealing beside the golfing world’s stock-standard Ian Woosnam, Tiger Woods, and Colin Montgomerie types, their presence is tarnished by some truly appalling vocal work and accompanying crowd audio. The character dialogue, which generally appears after a putt and is dependant on performance, is extremely low and muffled, and, more importantly, delivered with all the pizzazz of a decaying cat. Moreover, the crowd effects—and the word ‘effects’ is used loosely—suffer the same poor quality delivery and feel as though they’re coming from another crowd on a neighbouring golf course. There aren’t even crowd members visible on screen to boost the overall atmospherics in light of the shockingly degraded sound. Then there’s the small but frustrating matter of close range putting, which demands lightening fast reactions on the right analogue stick in order to create just enough swing through the power bar to cover ten, twenty, or thirty centimetres. The sensitivity on the power bar really should have been adjusted for putting, as it fills at a ridiculous speed when needing to deliver just a fraction of a usual swing. As it is, close putts that should easily provide a ‘birdie’ or a ‘par’ often shoot over the hole and require a further, longer putt, in order to move on to the next tee. Lastly, the application of spin to the ball in order to negate any blustery wind effects, or avoid running down any angled fairways or greens, is an important golfing aspect that doesn’t feel fully integrated into the gameplay. Even without the effects of wind, aiming an approach shot beyond the hole and adding backspin to avoid running off the green generally results in the unwanted twisting of plastic as the controller suffers the resulting frustrations.
These quibbles aside, none of which cripple the game, Eagle Eye Golf is a fairly entertaining sports title that successfully carves its own little golfing niche without ever looking likely to usurp Tiger, Outlaw and friends. The startlingly bright and crisp visuals do give the game an air of ‘budget quality’ but, on the whole, the experience is never anything less than fun while providing a stress-free and gently paced day out on the courses. Ultimately, Eagle Eye Golf totters on the edge of the review cup but doesn’t quite roll in to score that much-wanted birdie, but it does accomplish a thoroughly decent par score.