Links 2001 Review
By Michael Richter |
I like golf. Golf is a good game to go out in the sun, drink a couple of beers, and hang out with your buddies during a leisurely stroll while playing a silly little game. In fact I really love golf. It's really too bad that it costs so much to play. But that's where golf games for the computer come in. It gives you the opportunity to play the sport in the comfort of your home without shelling out the big bucks. Unfortunately that is also the problem. The great fun of golf is the being outside and the friends and the "exercise" that you get from playing. So where is the fun and realism in the computer golf games? Apparently no one really knows, because while Links 2001 is certainly another solid entry into the golf genre, except for the Arnold Palmer Course Designer, there's not all that much here that you haven't seen before.
There are a couple of very noticeable changes to the Links series this year. The first is a big fat facelift that includes the implementation of a new engine. If you check out the screens, you'll notice that it looks very nice. Unfortunately it really only looks great in the screens because when you get into the game, it's flat and lifeless. Yes, the game is very photogenic, but that's the problem. The static skies and trees make the game look like an interactive collage. I know that this is how golf games are done, but why is that? I turned the moving background on, but I didn't see anything move the whole time I played the game. If you're looking for a lively experience, then you'll ... well you'll probably want to look somewhere besides a golf game. The quality of the graphics certainly is an improvement over last year, I just really wish that somebody would take that extra step to make the courses come alive and it gets really disappointing when they don't.
There were a slew of other little minor things added into the facelift including quite a few new animations that were promised to give the golfers "more personality than ever." I gotta give Microsoft kudos for the nice new motion captures. They are certainly smooth. Unfortunately they also suffer from the lifeless syndrome as they often stop quite abruptly in mid back swing ending all realism. They did add some animations showing disappointment in bad swings and the like which added a little bit of character to the players, but not enough to really immerse you in the experience.
Unfortunately, the vocals and sound effects really didn't add to the experience at all. The voice-overs are boring as boring can be. You're boring everyone Sergio! Get some life into your voices. I know they aren't professional voice actors or anything, but even Al Gore could have put more life into the reading of those lines. The ambient sounds in the game were actually taken from the individual courses and add a little bit of life and are much appreciated.
Other additions include tour players and six new tour courses including Prince Course at Princeville, Westfield Golf Club and Mesa Rosa. You can play as or against good ol' Arnie Palmer, up and comer Sergio Garcia, and LPGA guru Annika Sorenstam. Sorry, no Tiger Woods, he has his own game. You of course can create your own character including the ability to import your own picture into the game. There are plenty of options when setting up your character including handedness, appearance, animation set, and club distances. The ability to change the club distance is a neat one as you can now create a character that is much more like your own game. Although I'm not sure that is such a good thing in my case.
The game mechanics are pretty much the same this incarnation even with the new and improved ball physics. The swing gauge looks different, but the timing on the swings is still the same. Ball physics have been improved this time around, so you may notice some little differences in play. It's still easy to pick up, and players that are familiar with the other Links games should have no problem getting into the swing of things right away. There are plenty of little gameplay tips to get you started as well.
Another great addition that folks will love on the multiplayer side is the simultaneous turns so you don't have to spend all of that time waiting around for your competitors to get on with it.
There is one little mistake that I thought was rather funny, but in the long run, really doesn't matter to the game. During practice, if you hit your ball into the water (which I would never do on accident of course) you don't drop the ball. You actually play the ball from the middle of the water in a miraculous walking on water scene that you can see in the screenshots below. You do have to drop the ball when playing in an actual round, so in the end, it really doesn't make much difference to overall realism of the experience.
Perhaps the biggest draw to Links 2001 is the new Arnold Palmer Course Designer. It is a fairly powerful little tool that will let you create your own courses with relative ease. Of course if you want to get a very detailed one, you'll have to spend a lot of time on it, but that is usually the case with any level design tools that ship with a game. But know that the courses in the game were also created with the course designer, so with enough time and energy, you'll be able to kick out some great courses of your own. Then you can test them out and even share them over the Internet.
The game also comes equipped with some informational videos about the courses included with the game. There are also some videos that seem a bit like tourist information rather than golf related. A video entitled "Fun in the Sun" was an informational video about San Diego and Carlsbad with only a brief mention of the Aviara Golf Club and the fact that companies like Calloway golf make Carlsbad their home. I guess if you decide to actually visit the courses, you'll have a bit more information about the surrounding areas.
Overall, the game has made some improvements over last year's edition. The new courses and players add some new playability that hardcore fans may want to check out, but if you were interested in getting the game just for the graphical improvements, save your money. The courses are pretty enough, but they're still flat and static. But if you've ever wanted to design your own courses, this is probably the closest you'll ever actually get to the dream, so you may want to jump at the chance.
-- Dan Adams
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