Golf is golf on a PC right? Why should I drop good money on Links 2003 from Microsoft? What could they possibly do to PC golf to make it worth buying? If you don’t believe, after reading this article, that you need to replace your current golf game (or buy your first) then re-read this review, because you didn’t get it the first time.
The first thing you’ll notice when starting up a game is the customizability of the players. There are nine players to choose from, four pros (David Toms, Sergio Garcia, Annika Sorenstam, and Jesper Parnevik) and five generic players. From there, you can customize your own player’s look, sound, and even play left or right handed. During setup you also can select the type of swing your player will use throughout the game (I’ll talk more about these later). To accurately model each character Microsoft utilized motion capture technology. This has created not only realistic 3D golfers made up of thousands of polygons, but has also captured simple gestures that really add to the game. Until you start playing you won’t realize how far Microsoft went to capture every aspect of the player’s personality for this game. At one point, after a particularly good drive my player actually kissed his driver. Now that’s what I call golf!
During the player setup you can select the type of swing you’ll use during the game. The real-time swing really provides a golf-like feel to the game. With the real-time swing, you control the speed and direction of the swing with the mouse. I found myself taking time to prepare before my backswing much as I do on the course. The position at which I addressed the mouse was more proper than it would have been. It really does provide a more realistic golf experience. I do recommend at least giving the real-time swing a try. The power stroke is a combination of the real-time swing and a more traditional 2 or 3 click swing. This swing also uses the movement of the mouse for speed and position of the club but does not render the swing in real-time. If you prefer the old 2 or 3 click style of swing that is also available.
The tools available for putting give more information than you could possibly ever get on a real course. In addition to the standard grid that everyone provides, there is a Green analyzer that will allow you to see the shot from just about any view you could possibly want. There’s also the slope information that tells you exactly the elevation changes between the ball and the hole. The best tool of all for difficult puts is the break indicator. This tool shows you how the ball will break as its rolling towards the green, making even long puts easy.
Starting with a simple match play round you’ll notice right away that the scenery is what really sets this game apart from all others. The courses are so well detailed and rendered that the term “picture perfect,” is the only way to describe it. Microsoft spared no expense re-creating these courses as well. Each course was GPS mapped to provide exact replication for each course. The images are pre-rendered so you won’t see the ball as it’s traveling down the fairway but how often do you see that while you’re playing golf? The courses included are the Ocean Club at Cabo Del Sol, Gleneagles, Cambrian Ridge, Kauri Cliffs, Ostego Club featuring the Tribute, and Skeleton Coast. The course add-on pack, available separately, adds 20 more courses to play and enjoy.
The sound is subtle but just as accurate as the courses themselves. If you pay close attention the sound of the ocean at Cabo Del Sol will be faint then grow closer as you move closer to it. The positional awareness the sound has is remarkable. The player comments are accurate but not accurate enough to offend. The variety of comments and the timing is excellent as well.
In addition to the standard match and skins games, there are a total of 48 different types of games you can play. One I really enjoyed was “The Happy Golfer.” In this game, basically, you get money for good drives and lose money for bad putts. It puts the players at odds for each shot making an exciting game. You could spend many hours just learning the rules for each game or if you’d prefer, you can even create your own “Mode of Play” as Microsoft calls it. Here you can either start from scratch or clone one of your favorite games and make some slight modifications.
The online play is where this game really starts to have some fun. To test this game out, I contacted my Father, Brother and Uncle and asked them to help me test out the multiplayer options in this game. We started out with a “Best Ball” game as we had the last time we were all together and played a real round. I wanted to see how close this sort of game would compare to actually being out on the course. After 9 holes we quit playing and everyone agreed that an online round of golf a pretty good substitute for a real round since we only get the chance to play every few years together.
The “Links Tour” is an online community of players of over 150,000. The tour provides tournaments for you to enter and hopefully increase your ranking. While playing a tournament, you can see the leader board at the end of each round. This sort of play could get very addictive very quickly.
The course designer is also included if you are interested in creating your own championship course. The controls are pretty intuitive and in a few hours I’d built a couple of holes. With the right idea and plenty of time you could easily create your own course or edit an existing one to play. Maybe removing the sand from around the greens would raise my score?
As for performance, the game played without glitch on my PIII 1.6Ghz laptop with GeForce2 32Mb Dell Laptop. I was impressed with the speed of the game as well as the smoothness of the animations. I’m sure it would play equally well on a lesser machine.
If you’re looking for a true golf experience without leaving your computer, Microsoft’s Links 2003 is definitely a must buy. The scenery and game play alone are enough to make this game worth buying. The online gaming and Links Tour make Links 2003 the best golf simulation game on the market. The only thing they left out was my favorite 19th hole with my good friend Mr. James Beam.
It's a great golfing game from Microsoft. The new Links offers great features and the course editor is a long overdue addition.
Rating: 9 Excellent
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
As with anyone who grew up with an Atari I've been a lifelong gamer. In college Doom was interrupted by the various MUDs I frequented and the occasional game of Scorched Earth. Today, gaming time is limited due to my wife and 2 year old daughter.
When I do have time I enjoy Neverwinter Nights, Unreal Tournament 2003, and any racing game I can get my hands on (currently Need for Speed III). I also enjoy owning Chuck Husemann (Editor in Chief) in Jedi Knight II. View Profile