Review - EuroGamer takes to the fairway to test Microsoft's latest golf sim
When I think of the "Links" series I picture the very early days of my first job in computers, where I assembled PCs and then installed all the software as per customer requirements. No such thing as pre-installed software in those days! Many hours were misspent at the back of the room playing an old DOS golf game, boasting some of the most gorgeous graphics to date.
That game was "Links 386", where each scene took anything from twenty seconds to over a minute to render, and caused huge frustration if you happened to get a view you were not happy with! Back then it did not matter one jot though, simply being spellbound by the beauty of the graphics and the accuracy of the simulation was enough. Now, over a decade on, the Links series is still alive and kicking, and keeping up its tradition of being a solid golfing simulation, staged upon lush graphical environments. Once more unto the green dear friend...
It's My Way Or The Fairway
Links 2001 begins with a dramatic opening video sequence accompanied by a racing heavy metal style theme which, when considering the calm nature of golf, seems a touch inappropriate. Once in the game itself you can go for a quick putt about, or head straight for the virtual tour.
Before this you might want to browse through the numerous lessons available to you though, which will teach you everything you can possibly think of. Here is where you can also learn about the three different control methods you can use within the game, namely Easy, Classic and PowerStroke swings. Once armed with the rudimentary knowledge you need to at least look vaguely competent on the fairway, you can go out for a practice round.
Taking the shot with the Classic control system is simple, especially as the best club is automatically selected for you. All you have to do is set the power as close to the 12 o'clock marker on the swing gauge as possible, and then close to the snap 6 o'clock marker. If you get these bang on your shot should go straight ahead, depending on any wind that may be present. You will be surprised at how quickly the game grows on you, and how easy it is to achieve your first Birdie or keep a respectable par for the full eighteen-hole course. If you find that things are getting too easy though, do not worry - the skill level increases steeply as you challenge the pros or, dare you risk it, the champs!
The game doesn't have its own set of internal tournaments, instead you are given the license to create your own in the Virtual tour section. Here you can choose which of the six provided courses will be used, how many players will be involved, and many other options besides. Add to that the excellent course designer and this provides endless possibilities for your competitive side.
Take A Look Around
Ball physics are excellently represented, with realistic inertia on gradients and proper slow-down when rolling through the rough. You can enable the grid at any point, which will show you all the gradients you need to be wary of, which becomes a necessity for the green shots. Believe me, some of the greens have been really cruelly designed!
When you manage to pull off a stunning shot that defies all your own beliefs you really would like to see it again, yes? The unfortunate thing is that because Links has to render each and every scene, such neat extras as ball-cams and roving cameras are simply not possible. Instead you are limited to watching the previous shot from the original vantage point or from the flag view.
The rendering nature of the game becomes even more annoying when you want to simply look around your environment, or 'walk the hole' like you can in other golfing simulations. You can alter your initial stance if you wish, but this brings about another screen render...
Graphics and Sound
As always the graphics are excellent and have an almost photo realistic quality, with lush fairways, widely varying vegetation, and excellent surroundings complete with buildings and spectators. You really can sit back and admire the scenes as they unfold before your eyes, being further enhanced by subtle animations such as flocks of birds in the sky.
The golfers' animations are also superbly done, with actual photo captured imaging used to digitally recreate the swings, jubilation and disappointment of various real-life players. Although these look great, they can appear a little false and fuzzy around the edges when set against some of the course backgrounds.
Sound is really not something you look for within a golf game, but what sound there is in Links 2001 does the job quite nicely. A neat touch is the crowd murmuring right up until you go to play your shot, at which point they quieten to near silence. The golfers also make the odd comment, usually in appreciation of a shot you have managed, or disgust at your ineptitude, but these can get on your nerves very quickly.
If you like golf you simply have to have Links 2001 in your collection; it plays a rockin' good round of golf, and looks simply stunning into the bargain. The lack of free movement in both setting up shots and camera views is very frustrating at times, and goes some way to spoiling an otherwise flawless game.
With PC technology now becoming obscenely quick, it shouldn't be too long before we're walking around Links style fairways in real time using a proper first or third person view. Until then though, Links 2001 should satisfy any golfing addict.