PGA Championship Golf, 1999 Edition
Presentation/Graphics : 85
Very little to complain about here, and lots to like. Graphics are crisp and pretty, even without acceleration. All objects on the course, including trees, bushes, ball washers, even port-a-potties, look real. The 3D-animated golfers are good, and highly customizable -- I was able to create a 'virtual me' that my girlfriend was able to recognize as such from a pack of other golfers. Best of luck creating an outfit that matches, though! The golfer animations, and especially the ambient animations (cleaning the club head, clearing the tee of debris, and many others), are really lifelike and surprisingly add a lot to the feeling that this is real golf. (Unfortunately, when you do decide to address the ball, the golfer 'snaps' from whatever he's doing to get into position to hit -- a side effect of trying to make sure there's no delay in play, that somewhat ruins the feel.) One thing I didn't like was that the ball tracers stayed on screen after each opponent was finished hitting, not disappearing until your golfer takes his shot (and even then they still remain on the overhead view). When you're playing with 3 other golfers in your group, this can make the screen a bit messy. You can always toggle the tracers off and then on again to clear them, but you shouldn't really have to.
Presentation/Audio : 80
Sound effects are great, from the sounds of hitting the ball to the suitably subtle ambient sounds of birds, etc. The commentary in tournament mode, as you probably expect, does get repetitive, but you can always turn the commentary frequency down to help this. And as you'd also expect, sometimes the commentary is incorrect, not matching what's happening in the game at that moment (but name a sports game where that doesn't happen...). Other than that, it's of high quality, and very authentic. In a multiplayer game, you can even select to have your golfer say something witty (pre-selected from a list of sound files) and perform an animation (also from a list) for your competitors to hear and see -- but it's usually easier to express yourself by just sending a text message.
Oh, and the menu music is a nice, relaxing instrumental piece, almost elevator muzak -- which is fine, because that's what you expect to hear associated with golf. (Rock and roll golf sound tracks annoy me . . .)
Interface/Options : 95
Whoa, nelly - this is where this game really comes out swinging. If there's an option that this game doesn't have, I want to know about it. I don't have the space to list them all, so I'll just focus on some of the major ones -- but trust me, with a few exceptions mentioned below, if there's an option or feature you're used to seeing in a golf game, it's here too.
First off, the actual control methods: You can play with the standard three-click method, but I really encourage you to try their patented TrueSwing method. Basically this involves thinking of the front (or side - you can select vertical or horizontal TrueSwing) of the mouse as the club head, pulling the mouse back and then moving it forward (or side to side) to hit the ball. As in real golf, the most important thing is getting your club head 'back to the ball,' or in this case, the front of your mouse back to the spot you started your swing from. This is a surprisingly natural and easy method to pick up, and has depth you wouldn't believe. The distance you pull the mouse back determines the backswing, and the speed at which you move it forward, the club head speed. The golfer on screen actually starts the backswing when you do, and then follows through and hits the ball as you move the mouse forward, which seems much more immediate and real than having to click three times and then watch your golfer swing on his own. Draws and fades can be accomplished by pulling back and pushing forward at an angle - as long as you return the mouse back through your starting point on your foreswing, you'll still hit the sweet spot on the club. If you don't, you'll hit off the heel or toe, which can lead to the feared shank. Putting is similar, but just uses the forward and back parts of the swing to determine how hard the ball is hit, no need to get the mouse back to the exact starting spot of the swing. Putts are also aimed by rotating the golfer, and a grid can be turned on or off to help you read the break.
The options for setting up your shot are very detailed as well. Caddies will select clubs for you if you want, and by tracking statistics of your shots, will 'learn' over time what clubs work well for you in particular situations. Changing clubs is as easy as clicking on your bag and then on the new club. Shot set up can be easily adjusted using a pop-up menu to move the ball forwards or backwards in your stance, open or close the club face, or change your swing path to outside-in or inside-out. There are even two custom slots for you to create a particular shot set up, and save for later use. There is no aiming arrow or target, which can at first feel somewhat limiting. Instead, you simply point your golfer in the direction you want, set up your shot, and swing. It only takes a few holes to realize that this is the most natural and realistic way to aim.
Also worth mentioning is the ReadyPlay feature, which lets each golfer in a group play at their own pace, not waiting for other golfers to hit first (no one moves on to the next hole until everyone sinks their putt, though). You can even move around the course, watching other golfers hit their shots (and taunting them), or checking out exactly where the flag is positioned on that hidden green, and then return to your ball. This really speeds up play, but can be turned off for those traditionalists who prefer to respect the honors.
The cameras are fine, if a bit hard to figure out and set up. But with some effort and digging through the manual, you can generally set up a camera scheme you like and save it for use each time, with windows for alternate cameras totally adjustable in size and position in the main view window. One glaring omission is a ball cam - maybe next year.
Speaking of the manual, it's complete, clear, and relatively concise (considering the number of options and features in the game), if a bit disorganized.
Gameplay : 90
As you might expect, given the care that has obviously been put into the creation of this game, gameplay is also great. The ball physics have earned raves, and deservedly so; the ball behaves exactly as it should, from flight paths to bounces, rolls, etc. The effects of ball lies on your shot are highly realistic too - I'll be damned if I can hit a good shot off a side hill lie yet. Fast loading times and the ReadyPlay feature mean you can play 18 holes in around an hour and a half, even in a foursome.
Difficulty levels move from Basic (pretty easy for anyone who's played videogame golf at all before, probably just right for a total beginner) through Standard and Advanced, which should be hard enough for anyone. And this isn't cheating AI either - the help you get from the computer just gets removed as you increase the difficulty level, so that at the Advanced level, it really is just you against the course.
Only one pro golfer, Tom Lehman, is included with the game, along with a couple of default created golfers; you must create any other opponents or golfers you wish to play as. You have the ability to set nearly every aspect of computer golfers' games, though, from driving distance to the percentage of par saves a player is able to get. Combined with the extensive ability to modify player appearance (male, female, all kinds of skin tones, hair, facial hair, hats, etc.), this allows you to recreate pretty much any of your favorite golfers - check the 'Net for any golfer's real stats to help you create the most realistic opponent you can. In addition, computer players can be set to 'learn' over time as well, meaning they'll continue to challenge you as you get better.
As we all know though, the best competition is human. PGA Championship Golf allows you to play remote games by modem or LAN, and is also supported by WON.net for Internet play. You can just get a casual game going, or play a regulation game to get a handicap and start playing in tournaments and ladders - you can even join the Sierra Golfers Association (SGA) and play in their regularly scheduled events. While it's easy enough to get onto the 'Net, set up a game and start playing, I must say that I didn't find the Internet play very robust. The only evidence I have is anecdotal; the five or so games I tried to play all crashed before finishing the third hole, and when I asked the guys I was golfing with, they said this kind of thing happened "all the time." (When I asked them why they bothered playing, they said, "Sometimes it doesn't.") However, when I tried to ask some of the many other golfers involved in games on WON.net about this, they were all too busy playing to respond, so maybe it was just my bad luck. Sierra has already released at least one patch for the game, so if this is a problem, perhaps it will be corrected eventually.
Replay Value : 90
Replay value for this game is high. As mentioned above, the difficulty levels and computer opponents are adjustable enough that you should always be able to get good competition, and there's always Internet play as well. There are also 12 game modes: Medal (stroke), Match, Stableford, Four Ball Medal, Four Ball Match, Four Ball Stableford, Skins, Scramble with two- and four-player teams, Best Ball Ryder Cup, Best Ball Greensome, and Best Ball Bloodsome. You have the choice of Front 9, Back 9, 18 or 72 holes in each game mode. In Practice mode, you can visit the driving, chipping and putting ranges at each course, as well as practice any hole on any course.
PGA Championship Golf ships with eight courses. Seven are based on real-life courses: The Royal Birkdale in Liverpool, England; Sahalee Country Club in northwest Washington state; Pasatiempo in Santa Cruz, CA; Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto, FL; the Pete Dye Golf Club in Bridgeport, West Virginia; The Prince Course in Kauai, Hawaii; and my favorite, the beautiful Coeur D'Alene Resort in northern Idaho.
The eighth course, Jocassee Shoals, is a fictional course created with the Course Architect that comes with the game. This highly detailed utility probably won't be used by the average game buyer, but for those fanatics willing to invest the time, the Course Architect can really extend the replay value of this game even further. And it's not really that hard to use: it starts out with a Wizard that helps you lay out the basic water and hole shapes (sadly, you can't create a hole that passes over water), and apply textures to these objects. At that point your course is playable, if a bit flat and boring. How much further you go with the course is up to you - add hills and valleys, sand traps, cart paths, trees, bushes, flowers, ball washers, bird sound effects, etc., etc. Courses can be saved out as one file and sent to friends so you can all play on your new course. Amateur course designers are posting their courses on the Web too - check out http://teebox.coursedepot.com/ or the message boards at WON.net for more info.
Overall : 90
So as you can tell, I liked this game a lot. If you don't already have the latest version of Links or Jack Nicklaus, and you're maybe hankering for a change, I would highly recommend this game. And before you buy your next golf game, you owe it to yourself to try this one out in the store or at a friend's, for the TrueSwing hitting method alone, if nothing else.
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