PangYa

The free MMO golf game also known as Albatross18.

MMOs are often based on gameplay ideas we're already comfortable with, extrapolated upon to hold their appeal for years rather than hours. PangYa does it with golf. It takes the basic template of the golf games we're all used to - most notably Everybody's Golf - and makes it social, persistent and, above all, addictive. When every birdie, advantageous lie and clever trick shot earns you points that can go towards augmenting or dressing up your character, and every course has been designed and tweaked around the concept of being played over and over by thousands of players, virtual golf suddenly acquires a far more enduring appeal.

PangYa is developed by Ntreev Soft in Korea, and has servers all over the world. The European release, published by GOA, is considerably behind the US version, which is handled by OGPlanet and known there as Albatross18 - and that is itself quite far behind the Asian versions. Thankfully, unlike OGPlanet's other US-only games Rumble Fighter and Cabal, there's nothing to stop you from downloading and playing the American version and enjoying a far advanced iteration of the game with 3D chatrooms, more courses and a bigger selection of items, as long as you don't mind the lack of non-English language support.

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Character? Caddy? Ball? Who can tell?

PangYa is a free-to-play MMO - all you need to do is register and download the client. And you're sure to hang on to your pennies for a good long while as you get used to PangYa's inventive courses and bright, mildly insane presentation, working your way through the first two or three Rookie ranks. But then you begin to hanker after a better set of clubs, or a stat-boosting, salary-hungry caddie, or a smarter hat, or even a whole new character with better hair than your current one - and that's when it starts. A few quid here and there, and suddenly you find yourself sitting there in your underpants, having sold your worldly possessions , watching a cutesy golfer dancing and grinning away in a jazzy suit with a +2 Accuracy slot bonus and a lucky octopus on its head.

Presentation-wise, PangYa is about as far away from the sobriety of Tiger Woods as it is possible to get. It's all-singing, all-dancing, colourful east-Asian madness, noticeable right from the tutorial - you're guided through the game's familiar controls by a happy paper bag with a cat face called Papel. Lining up and taking your shot is all easily controlled with the arrow keys and the space bar, with a familiar bar across the bottom of the screen controlling the power and accuracy - good timing results in a perfect shot. Rounds of golf are played in groups of four, or individually in real-time in tournaments across the game's thirteen 18-hole courses, and good performance is rewarded with Pang points, the in-game currency. It's not just about getting a good score - particularly good shots, long runs and advantageous lies are also rewarded.

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