Pages: 1 2
Review by: Nick Stewart
Published: November 17, 2000
Having earned its humble beginnings back in 1457, the game of golf has a long and venerable history. Throughout the ages, its calm focus and timeless play have generated millions upon millions of followers, legends, and heroes, moving forward from its Scottish origins to become an international sensation. The digital incarnation of the sport has had a similar past, with certain attempts rising above all others to claim universal recognition within the virtual golf community. One series in particular has captured that level of attention, having been the dominant genre force for more than a decade: the beloved Links series, whose torch was once borne solely by Access Software. Recently acquired by Microsoft, this annually evolving classic has received countless accolades and awards for its innovations and improvements, with the glaring exception of last year’s installation. Having taken somewhat of a critical beating for its rather average and non-progressive efforts, Links LS 2000 stood as a symbol that the series was perhaps running out of steam. Determined to put this fear to rest, Microsoft has brought some serious changes to the leaderboard with the arrival of this year’s attempt, Links 2001.
The Links series has never been skimpy in terms of available courses, and the 2001 edition is no different. Hit the links in a series of visually varying locales that feature six of the world’s top award-winning championship courses. Ranging from the relatively new Chateau Whistler in Canada’s British Columbia, to Scotland’s venerable and historic Old Course at St. Andrews Links, these backdrops each present a different series of challenges for the aspiring virtual golfer. For instance, the cliffs, overhangs and rocky outcroppings that surround Mesa Roja require an entirely different strategy than do the rolling hills and jutting doglegs of the Four Seasons Resort Aviara. Along with the majestic scenery of Hawaii’s own Princeville and the Westfields in Virginia, this collection of courses offers a wide range of potential experiences.
While stroke-based play is a tried-and-true way to enjoy the subtleties of the various fairways and greens of Links 2001, time will eventually urge you to crave something different. Realizing this, Microsoft has injected its latest title with a staggering 46 different modes of play to maintain your interest. Standard golfing classics such as Skins, Match and Team play are available, as are countless variations such as Nassau and Wolf. The true points of interest, however, are the wholly unconventional opportunities that attempt to change the dynamic of the game. Take the “Happy Gilmore”-based Happy Golfer, which was initially introduced in Links 2001‘s kid brother, Microsoft Golf 2001. Executing terrible shots will anger your golfer (“Stupid ball! Are you too good for your home?”), causing him to lose money, while great shots will accomplish the opposite. In a similar vein, the Highlight Reel mode encourages you to make dramatic shots with a very limited selection of clubs, with the loser paying out to the other players. Other modes are focused more squarely on individual aspects of golf, such as Bullseye and Putt or Die!, which require nothing less than a stellar short game performance. Even the incredibly picky will be able to find a type to their liking, as an incredibly flexible mode creator has also been provided. Offering almost limitless control over nearly every imaginable aspect of the game, this particular editor will ensure that even the most opinionated of players should find themselves satisfied.
In what seems to be an attempt to redress the issues raised about last year’s installation in the series, Links 2001 possesses cartloads of customization. Beginning with the creation of your digital alter-ego, the options are extremely wide-open: you can choose an appearance from a selection of 14 different animation templates, and can tweak just about everything else, including the skill level, number of animations, power of each individual club, and so on. This trend equally applies to the game itself, as you’re not only able to adjust the littlest detail about your swing, but also the number of mulligans, gimmes, holes played, clubs used, and much more. You’re also given the choice between the now-classic Access-type swing modes, the most recognizable being the standard two- or three-click system, allowing you to control the height, power and chop of your attempt. Similar to this is the appropriately-titled Easy Mode, which requires but a single click; the PowerStroke method, on the other hand, requires that you use your mouse as the club. Sounds have been given an equally adjustable treatment, with several new options available to those who tire of the traditional. You may now import your own using the Sound Script Editor, which also gives you the chance to change every noise, from the muttering of the crowd to the sound of your ball hitting the pin. There’s precious little that can’t be adjusted should you wish it.
What offers the greatest customization of all, however, is the all-powerful Arnold Palmer Course Designer. As the title suggests, this extremely flexible tool allows you to create your own set of holes in the 3D real-time environment. Rather than whipping this together as an added bonus for players, the APCD is the exact same tool used by the designers, and so you can be sure that you’re afforded a considerable degree of control over your creation. Add hills, valleys, streams to your doglegs and straightaways, and surround your hole with more than 1400 different objects, which include trees, bushes, flowers, people, and more. It’s a time-consuming effort, to be sure, but it’s hard to imagine that this option won’t soon spawn a flurry of online trading between ambitious digital architects.
Beating the computer at its own game is all well and good, but sometimes you need a little human competition to spice things up. This is where the multiplayer component comes in, and while the options to square off on the same computer, or even within the MSN Gaming Zone, are present, the true star of the show is the Links Tour. Set up as an online players’ association, the Links Tour not only enables fans to play one another in a registered scoring system, but also allows for a continual series of official tours to take place. With approximately eight in all, most players should be able to find one to their general level of ability — especially considering they are skill-ranked for the most part, with an additional handicap tour available. Of particular interest is the Lord of the Links tour, which sees the present leader — the titular Lord — determining the tour’s course and conditions for the following week. The Lord then plays the round and posts his score, which must then stands as the number to beat for another to claim the title. Should the Lord retain victory, the challenge score is bumped by two per week, thus making it that much easier for his or her defeat to be met. With a Professional and an Amateur version of this particular challenge, there’s no need for anyone to feel particularly intimidated or left out of the league.
Pages: 1 2