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Microsoft Golf 99 (PC) Review

Publisher: Microsoft

Background Info

The front cover of Microsoft Golf's 1998 Edition hailed it as "The All-Time Best-Selling Golf Game for Windows." From what I have heard, PC golf gamers weren't too excited. With perennial powerhouse Links by Access and the arrival of Jack Nicklaus 5 by Accolade, MS Golf '98 reviews and reactions were moderate at best. The 1998 holiday season brings PC cybergolfers more choices than ever before. And with most of us not on an unlimited budget, this will require choices among which games to purchase and which to simply pass by. How will MS Golf '99 fit into the picture?

Presentation/Graphics : 93
Change and innovation is something Microsoft is known for, but don't expect much as far as graphical improvement over the '98 edition. This being said, I feel that MS Golf '98 offered acceptable graphics, so the company's attitude on the upgrade may have been of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" kind. Renditions of grass, trees, objects and water are sharp, but they do lack the 2D realism of the "postcard quality" renderings Links LS '99 presents. While playing Links I sometimes find myself encountering a fleeting moment when my mind tells me I'm actually on the course. Not so with MS Golf '99. I enjoy the graphics, but they still scream "computer" to me. Bodies of water don't shimmer with realism and horizons are fun to look at but ultimately disappointing. MS Golf '99's graphics are not, however, completely devoid of strong points. Player animations are very good, comparable to Links' in my mind, and they are rendered during gameplay with more fluidity than I have encountered on any game I have played on my system (233 MHz Pentium MMX processor). Furthermore, the flybys presented are decent, and offer a "swing around" at the end to provide a "reverse view" of the hole from behind the green. Finally, graphics loading and reloading seems to be quicker than in any other PC golf game. Ball physics? I found them to be above average, but not in the same league with Links LS '99. Then again, no one else is right now. Ball flight, motion and bounces were realistic, while not totally convincing.

Presentation/Audio : 86
MS Golf '99 provides the player with a good background of ambient sounds and solid gameplay sounds. The sound is in 16-bit stereo and is crisp on any decent sound system. A bonus is the likeable (in my opinion) commentary of CBS golf analyst David Feherty. His Irish brogue and dry wit may wear on some, but like the humorous Gary McCord of Jack Nicklaus 5 he is nothing if not an original.

Interface/Options : 92
MS Golf '99's interface is, well, very "Windowy", but this is (lest we forget) Microsoft. Pre-game options are chosen by the "traditional" Windows methods of clicking, dragging and utilizing directional "buttons". Gameplay options are similar. In this regard, the game most closely resembles Jack Nicklaus 5 among the competition. It least resembles the icon-based, "arcadized" interface of EA Sports' Tiger Woods '99. One nice feature of the interface is the extensive gameplay "directory" available upon clicking the question mark "button" that is seemingly available everywhere in this game. Want to find out how to quickly learn the meanings of the lines and colors in the game's "natural swing" option? Go to the question mark. Those cybergolfers among us who prefer to dive into a game without benefit of the game manual will greatly appreciate this feature.

Gameplay : 90
One thing you will not encounter in MS Golf '99 is speed of gameplay. Unlike its counterpart by EA Sports, the pace here is a little closer to the real thing. This is not inherently good or bad, but should be noted with regard to how fast or slow you prefer your rounds (those who have read my previous reviews will know I personally view a half-hour round as fun but not realistic).

As noted previously, the on-screen options are a matter of clicking, "unclicking" and the like--overall quite efficient. MS utilizes a "ball lie indicator" very similar to that of Links LS series, so distances and elevations can be checked in a matter of seconds. Choosing/changing clubs is also very quickly accomplished.

There are four swing options provided with MS Golf '99: two-click swing meter (akin to the pre-1999 Links version), three-click swing meter, "natural swing" (mouse swing) and "sim swing."

The first two are self-explanatory, and the last is rather boring. The "sim" here is done by the computer, and the options left for the player are club choice and course management. This might work for a team sports sim, but in golf skill and execution are as important as course management. Therefore, I view this swing option as a wasted one. "Natural swing" is another story. MS has done a good job of producing an "easy to learn/tough to master" mouse swing, and incorporated enough pre-game options to ease up or increase the difficulty. Another likeable option is that mouse direction axis is not limited here. You can choose an "up and down" or "left to right" mouse movement--even a "vertical" one if you wish. The key is keeping the "club flight" straight on the screen - unless, of course you are intentionally trying to work the ball. "Natural swing" is on par with Links LS 99' mouse swing in my book (pun intended). One disappointment must be noted with regard to the two and three-click swing options. Try as I might, I could not find an option that allowed me to intentionally impart backspin on the ball--a very important element in real golf (although few outside the pro ranks have it mastered). MS Golf '99's game mode variety comes in as average when compared to the competition. There are ten game modes (stroke, match play, etc.) available, compared to eight for Tiger Woods '99 and 30+ (not to mention the ability to "create your own") for Links LS '99. Some pre-game options do add to the realism, however, and score points for the game as a sim. Among these are (beyond "sun", "wind", "fog" and "terrain") pin position difficulty and, for the hardcore IRL ("in real life") golfers, the choice between a balata, two-piece or three-piece ball. Internet play is enjoyable, with the options of modem, LAN or Internet play (I found the "advertised" MSN Gaming Zone a good place to start). Like Links LS '99, it also offers the ability for real-time chat with opponents by typing in a "dialog box" (although Links offers the added option of real-time audio chat ).

Golf course selection/variety is both bad and good in MS Golf '99. On the downside, the game ships with only seven courses (one of which is a nine-holer). When you compare this to the other players in the market, it doesn't really cut it. Links will be coming out with its thirty-first course recreation very early next year, Tiger Woods '99 has 12 total courses currently available, and Jack Nicklaus 5 has over 200 amateur-designed courses downloadable from the net, not to mention the 10 with which it ships. However, the quality of the courses selected is most impressive. Carried over from the '98 edition are Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo (one of the best waterfront courses in the world--comparable to Pebble Beach and Cypress Point), The Links at Casa de Campo, The Bay Harbor Golf Club and The Preserve 9 at Bay Harbor. The first two are Caribbean classics designed by the legendary Pete Dye, and the last two are part of the same golf complex located on the shores of Lake Michigan and designed by the highly-regarded Arthur Hills (whose Bighorn course will no doubt be familiar to the Links players out there). These are great layouts--and not just because of the Monterey-type vistas. Added for the '99 edition are Florida's The Medalist Golf Club, Donald Ross Memorial and Eagle Heights. The Medalist is a fine Pete Dye/Greg Norman collaboration located in Florida. Donald Ross Memorial pays tribute to one of America's all-time greatest (and perhaps most prolific) designers--Donald Ross, of course. (Links fans should note that Pinehurst #2--site of the 1999 U.S Open--and Oakland Hills are Ross layouts.) Every hole is a recreation of a memorable Ross-designed hole (except #10, which is a replica of the 14th hole at the famed Royal Dornoch in Scotland, Ross' native land). With Eagle Heights, the designers of MS Golf '99 give us an enjoyable valley/woodland fantasy course intended to be somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

Difficulty: 90
Microsoft gives us enough game and swing type options to make the potential difficulty range of the game quite considerable. With such options as player skill level, weather controls and the like, it is similar to its competitors.

MS Golf '99 provides additional options, though, which provide some spice to the determination of difficulty. Besides the aforementioned "natural swing" and ball type options, the game allows a player to be set up expressly to control the default distances of his/her clubs and the strength/weaknesses of his her game. In the pre-game edit player window, one can specify default club distances (within a realistic range--i.e. no 500 yd. drives!) One can also rate his/her player on a scale of 1-5 in almost every facet of the game (from driving to putting, long irons to sand play). As in real life golfers have strengths and weaknesses, so can these be tailored for the sim player in this game. It makes MS Golf '99 a better sim for having the option.

Overall : 90
I must admit that despite its various shortcomings I have grown to like MS Golf '99 very much. While its graphics are not the best, they are impressive. While it does not have an extensive course library (nor have I heard talk of any add-on discs planned for the future) what courses it does provide are well-designed and challenging. It doesn't have a unique or exciting interface, but it does allow the player to move around and make choices quickly--it gets the job done. Should you purchase it if you own MS Golf '98? I would recommend doing so only if you very much like the '98 version but want the three new (and all very good) courses. If this doesn't sway you, the fact that a $30 US/$45 Canadian rebate may be available to you might. What about non-cybergolfers looking to take the plunge? At this point Links LS '99 remains the best PC golf game available (despite the lack of a course designer) and would have to be my recommendation as a first purchase. If you soon find yourself among the ranks of compulsive, competitive, "yell-at-the-ball" cybergolfers, however, this game will interest you.

All in all, MS Golf '99 is a winner as a PC golf sim. I have criticized Tiger Woods '99 for being more of a PC game than a golf sim--gameplay entertainment notwithstanding. MS Golf '99 is definitely a very solid entry in the latter category. Now if they can come out with some more great courses...

By: Chris C. 12/2/98

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