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Links Championship Edition

Reviewed By: Erica Marceau

Review Date: November 12, 2002


Genre: Sports sim
Format: 4 CDs
Developer: Microsoft Game Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Mac Port: Bold
Mac Publisher: Bold
Minimum System Requirements: Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X, 266MHz processor, 64MB RAM (128MB RAM for Mac OS X)
Network Feature: Yes
3D Support: Yes
Mac OS X Compatible: Cocoa
Price: $48.95
ESRB: E for Everyone
Availability: Out now

I'm not a golfer (although I was caddy for my grandmother once about 15 or so years ago). As such, I can't review Links from the golfer perspective, and I don't know whether it's a suitable substitute for actually being on the greens. What I can do is describe how Links performed and offer my impressions as a golf novice.

First off, I experienced many crashes and graphics problems until representatives of Bold suggested I increase my virtual memory setting to 300 MB (I have 256 MB physical memory). That fixed everything. I'm not going to reduce the score because of this, I only mention it in case someone else is suffering from the same problem.

It's very easy to get started with Links Championship Edition thanks to the Quick Start option. All you need to do to get started is pick the number of players, who the players should be and the course on which you want to play. You can play against computer or human opponents, and can pick from more than a dozen real-life pros and amateurs; including Arnold Palmer, Sergio Garcia, Hidemichi Tanaka, Annika Sorenstam, and Mike Weir among others. You can also create your own golfer with custom golf clubs and picture. There are thirteen golf courses from which you can choose, each replicated exactly, including Pelican Hill, Oakmont Country Club, Thanksgiving Point, and Banff Springs. If you want more control over how the game's setup, you can do that, too, by choosing everything from the hardness of the ground to how fast the wind's blowing to the rules of the game. You can even create a tournament and choose what rules it will use as well.

The most complicated part of golf, hitting the ball, is hard to duplicate with just a mouse. There is the classic method where you click once for power and again for direction, and this is the easiest to use. Links CE has introduced a way to attempt better realism by developing the Powerstroke. If this is anything like how you hit the ball with a club, I know why golf is considered to be a "four-letter word." It's not perfect, and you probably couldn't take your Powerstroke skills to the actual course, but it does a good job of teaching you of some of the elements that go into a good swing. Since I find it difficult to imagine that a computer game could accurately let you control all of the elements that go into a golf swing, I'll accept the Powerstroke as the next-best thing.

It's always amazing to me that even with the incredible advances in computer power and modeling software, golf programs always look like they can fit on floppy discs. Links CE is no different. I believe everything is supposed to be based on 3D models, but they might as well as be 2D pictures since Links doesn't use the benefits that 3D models provide (or, at least not on the scenery). For example, the trees don't have shadows, they don't wave in the wind, and they become pixellated when you get close to them. It gets worse if you decide to put in an audience. As you can see from the pictures, they stand out like a sore thumb, and I find it hard to imagine that they'd be let on the course as the picture indicates.

Actually, I'm being a bit harsh. Links CE does use one of the benefits of 3D models, and that is multiple camera angles. In addition to the camera overlooking the entire course, you can have up to 8 miniature windows and you can change the camera angles independently. This is very handy when your ball lands on the green and the main camera decides to position itself behind a sign or a tree...thus obscuring your vision. You can now adjust the camera or use one of the other windows.

Unfortunately, using more windows means it takes longer for each shot to be completed since Links CE has to redraw separately each window in addition to calculating where the ball landed and how it bounces before coming to a stop. Depending on how fast your computer is, this could take a very long time. I routinely waited about a minute or more between shots just for everything to get redrawn which did get tedious after a while.

What also was annoying was the commentary each of the golfers had, either about their own performance or the performance of their fellow golfers. The quality sounded as if the golfers gave their lines over a telephone at 6 a.m., and each golfer seemed to have about ten lines, so the repetition was very high. The other background crowd cheering and ambient noise was of similar low quality and was somewhat of a distraction.

Installing additional courses and golfer animations was more of a bother than it should have been. Instead of the additional files all being on one CD or Links CE automatically installing all of the files that are contained on each CD, you have to manually go to the correct directory, and then you can have one or all of the available files get installed. This is an unnecessary bother that could have been eliminated.

You can play Links CE online, and it's implemented well. The Arnold Palmer Course Designer is also included. This is a very powerful and complex program, but if you're so inclined to make your own courses, it's a golfer's dream.

Overall, the performance, graphics and gameplay make me reduce the score. On the other hand, the new Powerstroke, the great integration of golfing rules, and the course designer make me increase it. Links Championship Edition is okay if you can't or don't want to afford playing on an actual golf course, but it is hardly a substitute for the real thing.

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