I watched Mike Weir rock the United States (effectively making it the eleventh province) on TV and decided it was time for me to play golf again. You see, I used to play golf a few years ago, but all of the sudden I found myself blowing money on things like food and rent. Fortunately, I can now afford such luxuries as a 24 of the hardware store golf balls that best suit my game. Unfortunately, it's snowed a couple of times since last I hit the driving range, so I picked up a computer game instead.
The question that comes to mind when reviewing Links 2003 is one of reference. What the hell am I supposed to compare it to? The other golf games I've played are World Class Leader Board--EGA means it's cutting-edge, right?--and Jack Nicklaus Signature Edition. Because the latter was the greatest golf game ever, I chose it as the benchmark.
|WCLB and Harvard Graphics were my introduction to the PC on a machine held together by electrical tape. |
Links 2003 uses my hilariously outdated video card to render scenes, but aside from my hunky golfer model, there's not much to draw that isn't prerendered. How good is the graphics engine? How the fuck should I know? It's prettier than JNSE but despite all my elevenfold increase in processor speed and newfangled hardware acceleration, it doesn't redraw any faster.
On the sound front, however, the game excels. It unbelievably, accurately reproduces the complete silence of playing golf. You get a bird chirp now and again and sometimes are treated to an ambient door slamming or something, but for the most part, you can play with your speakers off. Doing so saves precious electricity or allows you to soundtrack your golf game with The Offspring's Ignition or something equally appropriate, as I do.
Links 2003 "introduces" what has probably been used elsewhere, and probably with a name less homoerotic than Microsoft's "PowerStroke". What this is, is a way to make your golf game completely unplayable. I sat at the driving range listening to patronizing lessons for a good ten minutes, yet failed to ever hit the green I aimed for. In fact, I once knocked the ball backwards off the tee, a feat I haven't managed in real life since I was eight. A PowerStroke means that you're sliding your mouse across the desk, pretending to be swinging a club. Not only does this tire your wrist quickly, it also makes you look like a giant queer. Needless to say, I stuck with the Classic Swing, which is the same two- or three-click-with-swing-meter that's been in use since, well, JNSE. Innovation has crammed JNSE's large, readable line into an aesthetically pleasing and golf-swing-themed arc that extends 135 degrees just to make it, too, difficult to use.
The non-player characters are a detriment to gameplay, on account of they suck. Or rather, they'll sink a 40-foot putt with two yards of break if that's what's necessary to piss you off when you've just triple bogied a hole thanks to the inconsistent chipping meter, but every other drive is short and into the woods. On top of that and rather than admit to cheating, you must wait before each computer-controlled shot for the player to "think." What the hell it's thinking about four inches from the cup is a mystery for the ages. One advantage Links 2003 has over this year's also-ran, EA's Tiger Woods 2003, is a lack of Tiger Woods (obviously), which means that the golfer animations are accurate reactions to the shot you just made. For instance, the golfer doesn't appear to be on the verge of tears after every shot.
|In expert mode, Links 2003 lets you play against black Jesus.|
Six courses ship with the game, one of which is fictional and none of which I have heard of. I suppose there's difficulty getting licenses to recreate courses or something, but in my humble fucking opinion, no golf game should be without Pebble Beach. On the bright side, the game comes with the Arnold Palmer Course Designer, which has an interface bastardized from MAX R1 into something less intuitive and more golf-related. Once you scale the learning Heaviside function, though, the only thing holding you back from designing a perfect course is that case of OCD you've always wanted.
|I see "Add to Selection," but where's "Remove From Selection" or "Smooth" or "Holy Shit Fix That"?|
In conclusion, this game is no better than Jack Nicklaus Signature Edition. Though there're more shades of green, reflective water, and network play to replace the hot seat, gameplay hasn't come far from 1993. Which, in turn, only made a nerdish enterprise out of a game hundreds of years old. But, since the Golden Bear didn't predict Windows XP, I guess Links 2003 will have to do. And a warning to all who seek the mail-in rebate: it only applies if you have the box top from a previous version. What the shit is that?