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Links LS 2000 (PC) Review

Publisher: Microsoft

Background Info

Links, from Access Software, had been the King of the golf sim hill for as long as I can remember. Ever since the very first version of this venerable series was released over a decade ago, it has stood tall and proud. Each subsequent release has improved on its predecessor with an innovation here or a graphic upgrade there.

Lately, though, the innovations and upgrades have been fewer and less significant. While I won't go so far as to say “The Emperor has no clothes,” Links is starting to show a chink in its armor and some rust on its crown. Has Links rested on its laurels for one or two years too many? The answer is a definite “maybe.”

Now, that's not to say that the rest of the golf sim world has passed it by. Indeed, this is still an excellent product. But, with the release of Jack Nicklaus 6: Golden Bear Challenge, PGA'99 and now Tiger Woods 2000, well, it's not exactly lonely at the top, as it once was.

Enter Microsoft. Some years back, they obtained the rights to the Links game engine and marketed it under their own name. Then, they made a push at their own golf sim, most recently with Microsoft Golf 1999. It's safe to say that Microsoft Golf 1999 is not exactly the “Windows 98” of the golf sim world. But, you know Microsoft's motto: “If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em!” So now, the LinksLS product line, once the juggernaught of Access, flies under the Microsoft flag, though it is still developed by the team that led the charge at Access.

I'm in a bit of a quandary as to how to approach this review. On one hand, I would recommend this game to absolutely anyone looking to get into golf sim gaming. On the other hand, would I recommend this game to those long-time Links fans that have plunked down their hard-earned cash year after year for the latest version of LinksLS? Well, read on, and you can make up your own mind.

Presentation/Graphics : 88
The graphics in LS 2000 have been, well, perhaps “tweaked” is a fair word. There has been no major overhaul of the graphics, but course objects - including trees, bushes and the like - are now more detailed than ever. Is the improvement blatant? Does it jump off the screen at you? No, not really. But it is there, and if you're a fan of the series I think, perhaps, you'll notice the difference. I did.

Though not a 3D game in the true sense of the word, LS 2000 does employ 3D objects on the courses like the covered bridge at (where else?) Covered Bridge. These objects look great and are something that can't be found in Jack Nicklaus 6.

I was a little disappointed that the golfer animations weren't improved. They all still have a slightly washed-out look to them. And that includes the latest professional addition to the LinksLS fraternity: Frank Urban “Fuzzy” Zoeller. Don't get me wrong, Fuzzy looks like Fuzzy with his sun glasses and his almost “lazy” swing, but I would have liked to have seen a bit more detail in the images of all the golfers for LS 2000.

The inclusion of Fuzzy Zoeller is curious, to say the least. First, there is the much publicized PR nightmare with Tiger Woods. Then there is the fact that Fuzzy has not won a sanctioned PGA Tour event since the 1986 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am. Then, of course, there is his recent success, or lack thereof. Fuzzy finished the 1999 season in 223rd place on the money list and made only 6 cuts in 19 events. Granted, he is the winner of both The Masters, in 1979, and a U.S. Open title, in 1985, but we're not exactly talking someone with recent success here, like a David Duval.

In addition to Fuzzy, there are several new models of golfer to choose from, including a senior who looks at least a little bit like CBS Golf Analyst Ken Venturi.

The terrain textures in LinksLS are starting to show their age. It's not that the textures for grass, rough, sand, tees and greens look terrible, it's just that after looking at the terrific textures included in Jack Nicklaus 6: Golden Bear Challenge for over a year now, the LinksLS textures don't look anywhere near as sharp in comparison.

Is there anything new, graphically speaking? Yes. But barely. There is added detail to objects but there is nothing that pushes LS 2000 past its nearest competitor in the graphics department (Jack Nicklaus 6). In short, though I think LS 2000 is still a great looking game, it's clearly starting to show its age. The wrinkle cream that Microsoft and Access have been applying since LS'97 just isn't cutting it anymore. It's time for a full face-lift.

Presentation/Audio : 98
Simply put, you will not hear better sounds in any golf game currently on the market. The ambient sounds alone are the best in the genre. But, when you enter Tournament mode, your ears are really in for a treat. The crowd sounds are terrific and to really add to the sense of “being there”; you'll even hear the crowd react to events taking place on other areas of the course. You may be lining up a putt or preparing to hit your drive and be surprised as a roar goes up on an adjacent hole. That's just a terrific touch of realism.

New to LS 2000 is the addition of CBS golf analyst, David Feherty. Feherty is a fan favorite and his humor (or maybe it's just that Irish accent) adds an aural flair to the play-by-play of your round. CBS Sports announcer Craig Bolerjack is also along to offer a few lines as well, but doesn't add a whole lot to the experience. (If you said: “who the heck is Craig Bolerjack?” then you're not alone!)

The only negative about the sound is that you don't get to hear Feherty and Bolerjack comment on your shots in Tournament mode. I suppose this is accurate from a golfer's point of view. After all, if you were on the course playing you wouldn't hear the announcers. You can opt to have LS 2000 play the regular sound script for the game during Tournament mode but then you would lose the Tournament sounds. Not an equitable trade, in my opinion.

As in previous releases of Links, you can create your own sound scripts and shot comments, if you wish. There are also some terrific ones you can find on the Internet that are quite good.

Interface/Options : 90
Precious little has been added or improved in the interface of LinksLS 2000 over its predecessor. A new item you'll find on the main screen is a title called: “Lessons.” These lessons are non-interactive screens to guide the player through the process of playing LinksLS 2000. You'll learn a little about everything from how to play a bunker shot to setting up viewing cameras. There is nothing groundbreaking in here and if you've played any previous version of the LS series you'll find no use for the “Lessons” option. But, if you are new to the game, it does provide the player with a rudimentary course in how to play the game. It perhaps is a little more convenient than having the manual handy, but doesn't provide quite the depth that the manual does.

Overall, however, the series of menus and screens is very functional and nearly exactly the same as LinksLS 99. And that's not a bad thing. There is a bevy of options for display, course settings, player settings and, of course, the dozens of modes of play. One minor graphic option that's been included is the ability to have random skies displayed during the course of your round. I don't know how many of you pay much attention to the sky in your golf sims, but, to me, the only time I notice it is if it's done badly. I could play an entire round of golf with the same sky displayed and it wouldn't faze me in the least. Nonetheless, the random skies option is a decent, albeit minor addition to the game.

One of the better options in the Links series has been the ability to edit and create your own sound script files. This option has been available in the last several releases of the game but it bears repeating that this feature is a good one. You can create your own sound files and assign them to events that take place during a round of golf. Some folks have made some terrific sound scripts and some of the better ones are available for download on the internet. Yeastman's Tourny3 sound script, for example, is a favorite among hardcore Links players and includes sounds from televised broadcasts of golf tournaments.

Gameplay : 95
If you liked the gameplay in LS'97, '98 or '99, there's no reason you won't like the gameplay in LS 2000. Of course, if none of those other titles was your cup of tea, then you'll find nothing new here to change your mind. Old though it may be, I still think the gameplay in Links is second to none.

There are plenty of options to choose from. You can practice any course, play solo or play in tournaments, online or off. The offline tournaments are perhaps the most fun aspect of gameplay in LinksLS 2000. The crowds and tournament objects, like cameras and leaderboards, really add to the feeling of playing in a real event. Some courses, like Bay Hill, even have ropes to keep the cyber crowd from getting too close to the action.

The only thing that would really help Tournament play is if they had included more courses that you watch the Pros play on. Aside from The Old Course at St. Andrews (which was already included in LS'99) there is not another course on the CD that hosts a PGA event. In addition to the Old Course, there is the New St. Andrews course, the St. Andrews Jubilee course, Covered Bridge in Indiana, Mauna Kea (yup, yet another “re-hashed” course), another Hawaiian course called Hapuna and a fictional “executive-style” course set in the desert called Three Canyons. Three Canyons is mostly a par three course but does have several short par fours as well. I enjoyed playing Three Canyons, as I have a small executive-style course near my home that is quite a bit of fun to play. But after playing a few rounds on it I realized that it was wreaking havoc with my scoring average! It would be wise to create a golfer specifically for use with this course if your scoring average stats are important to you.

The Mode of Play (MOP) editor is back with but a single addition: The Wolf Game. Wolf is like a Skins game, where each hole is assigned a dollar value that is distributed evenly to the team that wins each hole. A Wolf game is played with four players (no more, no less). The teams are created on-the-fly during the game and each player's score is independent of all the other players. At the end of the round, the player with the most money wins the match. I've played a version of this game in real life and it's quite a bit of fun.

In addition to the Wolf based games, there are also games that can be built around stroke play, match play, skins and Nassaus. I haven't used the MOP editor often but it's very flexible and if you don't want to get your hands dirty creating your own games, there are plenty of stock game types to choose from.

Another minor addition to the game is something called “Easy Swing.” Easy Swing is a simple one-click swing meter. Click and hold the mouse button down to set the power of the shot and then release the button. There is no need for a click to set the accuracy of the shot as the ball will always fly as if the “snap” at the 6 o'clock position was perfectly hit. This feature is really only useful for those among us with the most severe hand-eye coordination disability. Or, it may be a way to introduce the complete “newbie” to the golf sim genre. Either way, Easy Swing is likely an option that will see little use from the typical golf sim enthusiast.

Of course, if you're looking for a challenge, then you'll likely want to try the Powerstroke feature. Powerstroke is a “mouse swing” meter and it is quite excellent, despite the fact that it's not in real time like the highly touted mouse swing in PGA Championship Golf 99. Powerstroke models an actual golf swing by simulating clubhead speed, swing path, clubface angle and toe/heel position at impact. Powerstroke works only in a side-to-side motion (as opposed to the up and down motion found in PGA99) but does offer support for left-handers. Powerstroke does a very commendable job of modeling the nuances of the golf swing and, if poorly executed, Powerstroke can even induce the dreaded “shank” shot. Feel free to complain that Powerstroke is not in real-time, if you must, but I found Powerstroke to be, by far, the best non-real-time mouse swing in the business. It offers quite a bit of challenge and flexibility in your shotmaking.

Replay Value : 80
There is a lot in LinksLS 2000 to keep golf sim fans entertained. The problem is, there is not a lot that is new here. The Wolf mode of play will only entertain for so long and the Easy Swing option will likely not see much use at all, I suspect. Still, LS 2000 is a great golf sim. How long it will hold your interest is difficult to say. As I mentioned earlier, Links is not the only golf sim in town anymore. The Nicklaus series has made great strides in recent years in terms of graphics, gameplay, physics and its course designer. PGA99 offers a terrific real-time mouse swing and a full land-plot course designer. Tiger Woods 2000 offers a collection of real PGA Tour Pros, a nice feature called Play Against The Pros and a course designer. You can see where I'm going with this, can't you?

The biggest, most glaring omission in LinksLS 2000 is its lack of a course designer. The Nicklaus series has had one for years, PGA99 has one and the newly released Tiger Woods 2000 has included one as well. A course designer has become virtually mandatory in the golf sim world these days. A course designer for LinksLS 2000 would have gone a long way towards extending its replay value. Its absence is sorely felt, particularly as this version of the game offers so little else that is new.

Links LS 2000 offers plenty of terrific golf sim action, but precious little of it is something we haven't seen a year ago, two years ago or even three years ago.

Overall : 90
So, should you buy this game? Well, if you're looking to break into golf sim gaming, the answer is an unequivocal “YES.” There is little to complain about in this game. The ball physics are second to none. The gameplay is terrific. The graphics are excellent though, perhaps, not the best (I'd still give the nod to Jack Nicklaus 6: Golden Bear Challenge), Tournament play is a lot of fun, the sounds are the best ever created for a golf sim and the MOP editor offers a wide variety of playing modes. The problem with LinksLS 2000 is, I could have just as easily said all these things about LinksLS 99! For the hardcore LinksLS fan that has bought this game year after year, version after version, there is precious little here to warrant the purchase. Yes, there are a few new courses (Covered Bridge, St. Andrews New Course, St. Andrews Jubilee, Hapuna and the quaint Three Canyons) and you may be able to justify the purchase for the courses alone, but, that's a stretch.

My “Overall” ranking of 90, is completely conditional. If you're new to the golf sim genre, you can't go wrong with LinksLS 2000. It's a legitimate 90. But, (and it's a big “but”) if you own LinksLS 99, and are wondering whether to invest in LS 2000, I'd give it about a “75.”

By: Leeman 4/10/00
Comments on the review?

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