I'm not one for passing up another round of computerised golf, and when Ultimate Golf landed in my lap with it's unique first person view feature, I was eager to check it out.
I suppose it is one of the few things that has not been done before, but I was a little dubious as to how a first person view would work in a golfing sim. For example, how will you be able to tell how far back you are swinging? Perhaps when the golf club appears out of the top of your monitor, you will know you are at the top of your swing?
Having recently played the superb "PGA Championship Golf 2000", this game has a rather tough mountain to climb to match PGA's ease-of-use and simulation accuracy. But hey, it has to be called the Ultimate Golf Simulation for a reason, right? Right?
Pitch and Putt
Ultimate Golf comes with a nice variety of game modes, including basic practice, full tournament, and four ball, which is by far the best of the bunch, placing you in a two vs two battle.
Although you can play all of your rounds on your own if you want to, you can also select a group of computer controlled golfers to play alongside you. This at least gives you a little time to think through what your next shot is going to be, and stops you from getting too lonely! With or without company though, you certainly won't need to worry about getting lost, as there are only three courses for you to learn. A decidedly stingy selection to say the least.
Unfortunately the game's other big feature, the first person view, is rather disappointing as well. It might well be an original idea, but to be honest I couldn't really see the point of using it in the end. If anything it only serves to confuse, especially when using Amateur or Ultimate modes of play, and I found the game is better played in the traditional third person view.
Playing in third person mode also gives you more excuse to customise your player before the round, although this isn't as exciting as it sounds - your choice of faces and clothing is limited to eight pre-set players and three different colours for your shirt! You can choose which clubs you are going to use rather than accepting the defaults though, and this is also where you choose which control method you are going to be using.
One of the things that can make or break a golfing sim is it's control method, and Ultimate Golf adopts a slight variation on the normal arc-and-snap style in the Amateur and Ultimate modes, as well as letting you choose to use the more basic Pro-Click method. I found that neither gave that all-important feeling that you are in complete control though.
More Tee Vicar?
Playing Ultimate Golf is fairly straight forward, with the correct club having already been automatically chosen for you. You position yourself either by use of the course map, or by clicking on the main game window itself. Foot adjustment is also possible, allowing you to perform hook and slice shots.
Once in position, you simply click the left mouse button and drag upwards and to the right to establish the power of your shot. Then with a smooth movement to the left and downwards you instigate the swing. With any luck you will hit the ball and follow the red guideline on the course map that indicates the perfect line for your shot.
Drive shots are simple to perform, but when it comes to more complicated putts the game really becomes something of a chore to play. What looks like a simple tap onto the green turns into a major event, with the fine line between over- and under-hitting a ball precariously balanced.
The ball physics are all wrong too, with hardly any bounce on long drives, plus the uncanny knack for a ball to land on a downward slope and then not move! There are no challenging shots involved on the green either, making it a simple case of not over-hitting the straight shot to finish the hole. I would have liked for there to have been sloping approaches to make things a little more interesting, rather than the game's perfectly flat greens.
Graphics and Sound
Ultimate Golf doesn't look too bad, and could have been a lot nicer with the removal of the 2D-bitmapped trees and a little more variety in scenery. There are no TV camera scaffolds or clubhouses, and no crowd watching you either.
Some nice little animations appear on courses though, like the buzzards in the desert sky on the canyon course. The fogging effect on the British course is quite nice as well, while the canyon course looks suitably hot and dry. With only three courses though, there's simply not enough variety there to maintain your interest.
The golfers look fine, until they come to take a shot. They hold the club more like they are playing cricket, and it's a wonder that they can putt at all with the weird angles they swing from. Putting on the green is also rather poorly implemented, completely failing to capture the smooth and subtle movement of the real game.
As for sound .. what sound? Apart from the rare ripple of applause from the invisible crowd and the sound of club on ball, that is pretty much it. There is no commentary, no music, no shouts of despair from the golfers, and only the odd duck quacking away merrily to itself! I know golf is a sedate and quiet game, but this is ridiculous.
With a bit more care and attention this could well have been a pleasurable golfing experience. Regrettably, the finicky controls on delicate shots, poor player and ball physics, and the almost total lack of sound, make this game nothing more than average.
My biggest gripe though is with the absence of course variety, with just the three courses on offer. Sadly you will have seen all the courses and their fairways in your first sitting, and the gameplay just isn't strong enough to keep you interested in playing the same courses time and time again.
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