Mineshaft Pro Series Golf v1.39 N-GAGE SymbianOS9.1 cr@cked Repack-BiNPDA N-GAGE Game

Which is not to say that Pro Series Golf is perfect - far from it. Sometimes jerky animation, inexplicable pauses mid-swing, awkward shot changing and poor modelling of ball lies are blemishes which threaten to spoil the game. Luckily, there's one huge advance which outweighs all of the above - Pro Series Golf uses the N-Gage Arena to good effect, meaning that you can play against real people in real time even if they're on the other side of the world. Or, in Rafe's case, Sussex.
First impressions are great, as the game title screens look and sound very slick. Pro Series Golf works in portrait or either landscape mode, so it's easy to play the game in the way which suits you best. Interestingly, the number keypad is almost completely ignored, with the interface simplified to just the d-pad, plus '1' a couple of times per round, for the somewhat awkward procedure of changing your shot type (e.g. 'Chip' to 'Pitch'). The game's developer does admit that Mineshaft weren't able to put in all the things they wanted to - I'd have liked to see number keys mapped to applying ball spin, for example - something which isn't possible in this version of the game.
Game modes include '1' through to '4' player games, made up of mixtures of local humans and computer players, plus 'Career' and 'N-Gage Arena'. I played through several rounds on the opening course, trying to unlock the second course, to no avail - it turns out that you have to progress through stages of Career mode in order to unlock courses for general play. This is a bit of a hassle as the opening few challenges in Career mode involve multiple computer players and you have to have patience to sit through the animation of all their shots. A hotkey to bypass such animations would have been nice. Incidentally, the trial version gives you three full holes in 1-player mode - but this is fine for casual players and is in fact exactly the same slice of trial action that the famous EA's PGA Tour Golf used, back in the early 1990s - and which in turn inspired me to write the aforementioned Fairway - those parallels just keep on coming. But all game modes pale besides going online to play against others. Once you've tried online multiplayer gaming, it's hard to go back to pitting your wits against a mere computer. Previous N-Gage games have scurried around online play but Pro Series Golf hits this full-on. It's true there's no overall online ranking for ability or ladder system, but it proved very easy to arrange to meet a friend (e.g. Rafe) in a particular course's 'lobby' and set up an immediate online game. Latency was very short, less than a second, so there was little time wasted while waiting for your next turn. I missed any facility to send messages to the other player(s) - maybe this was something else left out for time/resource reasons. Rafe and I resorted to chatting on Skype while playing instead, by the way! One tip - don't challenge Rafe to a game without doing lots of practice first - he's quite good!

Online play. N-Gage integration is pretty slick and setting up a game was a piece of cake While waiting for a turn, a scrolling banner on the screen makes it clear that you don't need to do anything yet. And when your opponent strikes the ball, you see him or her in TV-style, taking the shot, followed (again) by a TV-style tracking shot or landing. And after each hole, you both see the scorecard, of course. There aren't any victory frills though - not even a 'You won' screen - another omission by the stretched developer?
'Wait' screens like this were quite brief...
Pro Series Golf - virtual courses and taking the shot

It has to be said that the half dozen or so courses in Pro Series Golf are stunning. The scenery is almost exclusively static, but it's there, it's in full 3D and it's gorgeous - I particularly liked the texture/pattern on bodies of water, giving the impression of sunlight sparkling on the ripples. Each course is modelled accurately, as far as I could tell, and playing each hole has its own challenges. There's full contour modelling too, so hillocks and dips (and bunkers!) are all here in 3D-navigable glory.
Look at that 3D contouring and modelling - plus 'sparkles' on the water The developers have done a stunning job in optimising their 3D code, with hole flybys and ball animations appearing surprisingly fluid and with only the occasional stutter and the rapidly warming device alerting you to the fact that the phone's processor is working flat out to generate your virtual golfing world. (In fact, playing an hour of Pro Series Golf is enough to get through half a full charge on an N95 8GB - but seeing as I've just explained why the battery is being hammered so much, I think this is acceptable.) Before taking a shot, it's a good idea to examine the wind and ball-to-hole elevation. I'd say ball lie as well, but (apart from sometimes limiting which clubs you can use) this doesn't seem to affect shots at all. You then compare the distance to the hole with the maximum distance of the club you're using and work out roughly how hard to hit the ball (e.g. 95%). There's then the standard three-click method (as used in PGA Tour Golf, Fairway and tons of others) to determine the power of the shot and the timing. This latter is crucial because any errors cause slice or hook and result in the ball swinging to right or left (into rough, bunker or water, normally!).
Replaying a shot (handily showing the swing indicator) and an example of part of a TV-style ball track shot Putting is also three clicks, but aiming is accomplished by lining up the ball roll preview line with the whole - this is where the ball will go if you hit it perfectly. In reality you'll mess up power or timing and so the ball's path will vary. After 10 hours of play, I'd rate the difficulty level of the whole golfing experience as about right. It's often hard enough just to make par and when you do get a birdie or even an eagle, it's a whoop-it-up moment.
Putting uses a novel new method of aiming - you'd think you'd get the ball in every time with such a good aid, but you have to hit the power/timing control dead-on in order for the ball to actually follow that path
Pro Series Golf - problems

In the face of the positives above, it seems churlish to dwell on a few more negatives, in addition to those already mentioned, but I need to be complete. As I said above, Career mode throws up some relatively tedious matches, which you have to win (I think) in order to unlock new courses. This takes a lot of skill and luck and in the meantime you're stuck with only one course to practice on, even though you've paid for the whole game. Career mode also launches you into a 'Skins' game and there are no help screens in Pro Series Golf to turn to. With the complexities of computer golf, I'd have expected some kind of help or tutorial mode. Something else that the developers didn't have time to add. And add also outfits for the computer players, who all look alike. And play alike, sometimes hitting the ball to within a few inches of each other - there needs to be more randomness here.
Then there are the glitches, display oddities like a golfer's feet being chopped off by a hillock or 3D hidden-line-removal madness or a ball shown 6 feet under the surface of a lake. (As a programmer myself, I realise that these sort of things come with going down the whole virtual world route, and the glitches are relatively rare, thank goodness.) Less understandable are the occasional breakdowns of the ball perspective routines, causing the ball to appear over-sized and floating in the air over the grass...
Glitches, showing underwater, hidden-line problems, chopped off limbs One oddity which seems to have been planned in is that there's what I've been calling pin-capture, and it's only turned on when not putting. If you chip or pitch the ball in towards the flag and you get close enough (initial landing within a foot or so), pin capture leaps in and grabs the ball into the hole - a neat way of getting a few birdies and eagles on your card, even if it's not exactly realistic.
Pin capture works its magic yet again! And when you do get said birdies or eagles, there are no crowd samples of cheering or clapping, something which should surely have been easy to slip into the development cycle. Pro Series Golf takes up over 50MB of space on your memory card - you'd have hoped that there were a few crowd audio clips in there. You do get some looped music over menus, plus club swing and water plop sounds - and even a little birdsong if you leave the game alone for a while, but that's about it.
Enough of the problems - is Pro Series Golf worth £8?

Undoubtedly yes. Despite the holes (hah, a pun!) that I've been shooting in the game's design and implementation, Pro Series Golf is better than the majority of computer golf games I've seen in handheld format over the last 10 years. Even playing standalone it's worth buying. Titles like Tiger Woods 08 on the Wii have spoiled us really, but then the Wii title is £40 and has had far greater resources put into its development. As with any game, going online is where the fun really starts. You'll get a little jaded by playing computer players, but come up against a real, fallible, surprising human being and all of a sudden you're hooked. And excited. And challenged. I've a horrible feeling that AAS staff productivity is going to take a turn for the worse now that I can IM Rafe and say 'fancy a quick 9 holes at Pinehurst?' N-Gage Arena matches are easy to set up, can be password protected (useful for when the system gets popular in a few months time and there are possible gatecrashers to an arranged match) and you get to pick any of the built-in courses for '3', '9' or '18' holes. For the record, an 18 hole Arena match with Rafe took about an hour - 9 holes would be better for a quickie game with an online friend. Factoring in this working multiplayer facility, it's even easier to forgive Pro Series Golf's failings. If you have even a slight taste for golf, you'll enjoy the online challenge - run, don't walk and buy the game now. And I'll see you in one of the lobbies!

N-Gage, SymbianOS91