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Golden Bear Challenge (PC) Preview

Publisher: Activision
Release Date: Spring 1999

Jack Nicklaus Presents: Golden Bear Challenge will be the sixth installment in the popular Jack Nicklaus PC golf game series, and the first effort under the wings of new title owner/developer Activison/Hypnos Entertainment. As a hardcore member of the Jack Nicklaus 5 player population - with more megs of downloaded courses than I care to admit on my hard drive - I'm sure I speak for all of the series' fans when I say that this is one of the most anticipated sims in PC golfing history.

What will the latest offering serve up? Well, Activision tells us that for the first time in the series' history, players will be able to play as the "Golden Bear" himself, rather than just alongside a computer-generated Jack. "Motion capture" technology and 3D acceleration has been employed to beef up golfer animations. 3D technology has been further utilized to enhance the graphical aspects of the game by providing such 3D objects/events as flying divots, birds fluttering from trees and splashing objects.

Additional graphical improvements will include improved ball physics and animations which should provide a higher degree of realism and accuracy by taking into account backspin, weather, uneven lies, pitch and roll of terrain, hazards and course objects. The new option of "picture-in-picture" camera will provide alternate shot views currently available in most other PC golf sims.

Gameplay also looks to be beefed up. Activision is implementing a new interface which promises to provide greater functionality and performance, allowing players to select a practice swing and use a new hole finder. New shot variety options should add to the realism of the simulation. Players will have multiple shot options including three different swing meters - Full swing, partial meter for chipping, punch shots, and green side bunker shots and the short meter, used for putting and bump & run. The game will also include a shot intensity meter, which will allow players to hit from hard to soft shots. Multiple play modes will include Tournament, Stroke, Match, Skins, Bingo Bango Bongo, and Certified. As a final note, CBS' Jim Nantz will be joining the dryly humorous Gary McCord (also of CBS) in the game's "cyber-commentary booth." They work well together in real life and should in the world of cybergolf as well.

Jack Nicklaus 5 shipped with ten courses, but GBC will present just five: Shoal Creek Golf Club -- site of the 1990 PGA Championship, Sherwood Country Club -- site of the Greg Norman Shark Shootout, Sherry Montecastillo -- site of the Volvo Masters, located in Spain, Nicklaus North in Whistler, Canada - site of the 1997 skins game, and Muirfield Country Club - site of the prestigious Memorial Tournament, and Nicklaus' finest design effort.

The cutdown on the number of courses shipped, however, will hopefully be greatly overshadowed by what is promised as an "enhanced" course designer. JN5 players have had the incredible luxury of having access well over 200 "amateur-designed" courses downloadable from the net for months now - and the title is only a year old. The many designers out there have provided some wonderful, original, "fantasy" courses and some painstakingly accurate renditions of classic "real" courses. Already the best designers are planning their first releases for GBC. Conversion to GBC should be no problem for courses designed on earlier versions of the game. Sierra's addition of a course designer to its PGA Championship '99 title has upped the ante in this area, but the JN series is still the "granddaddy" of PC sim course designers and the 1999 update has would-be Pete Dyes throughout the land just drooling to get a crack at it.

All in all, Jack Nicklaus Presents: Golden Bear Challenge is the most anticipated release since Links LS '99, perhaps even more so. If Activision makes a good stride forward in the JN series with this installment, as did Access with the '99 version of Links, the game should prove to be a real winner.

By: Chris Colucci

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