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PGA Championship Golf 2000 (PC) Review

Publisher: Sierra Sports

Background Info

PGA Championship Golf 2000 (PGA2K), from Sierra, is the third installment in a series that goes back to the original: Front Page Sports Golf. Without question, the allure of the series has been its TrueSwing method of swinging your cyber golf club. Rather than “clicking” your way around the course with a swing meter that controls your golfer after you've input your clicks, the Sierra products have gone one better. They've implemented a real-time swing, timed to the movement of your mouse, not the simple clicking of the mouse buttons.

I found the TruSwing on PGA99 to be a bit difficult to control and, as a result, I often played the game with its 3-click real-time swing meter instead. Not anymore. The new, improved TrueSwing 3 of PGA2K gives you something that you can't seem to get from the competition's attempts at a “mouse swing.” It gives you a true sensation of “tempo.” Tempo, as any real golfer will tell you, is the key to a steady, smooth, reliable and repeatable golf swing. So it is in real life, so it is in PGA2K.

Presentation/Graphics : 89
Graphically, the game is much improved over PGA99 and now nearly rivals the look of Links LS 2000 and, on one or two of the included courses, even the look of Jack Nicklaus 6: Golden Bear Challenge (which I think is still the prettiest golf sim on the market).

The golfers themselves are bigger and more lifelike and seem to move more fluidly and realistically. For those who think the clothes make the man (or the woman) there is also a larger wardrobe for your cyber golfer as well.

All the original courses that came with PGA99 return in PGA2K and they have all undergone a facelift as well. One nice touch added to the courses is the addition of depth to the rough. You can actually see a difference in height between the fairway grass and the rough. This is a nice, realistic effect that I've never seen before in a golf sim. The course textures are vastly improved and there is more detail in objects like trees, bushes, flowers and rocks. All in all, the game just looks better than it did. The improvement is immediately noticeable. Those that passed on PGA99 due to its static, somewhat lifeless look will be very pleasantly surprised with the look of PGA2K.

You can set the game to run at the highest resolution level that your video card and monitor can handle. The higher the resolution is set, the better PGA2K looks. I ran PGA2K on a PII-450 with 128 megs of RAM at 1280x1024 and it looked great and ran very smoothly.

One very nice graphical touch is that of the ball on the greens. The ball rolls. Well, DUH! Of course, we know it's supposed to roll but, in most sims, the ball just looks like it skates or slides along the green. Not in PGA2K. The ball actually rolls and you can see the logo on the ball turning over and over and it looks absolutely true. This is one of those great examples of “attention to detail” that you look for in a sim.

The graphics were not without problems, however. I did experience a glitch where the ball turns into a two-toned color of black and brown. It doesn't affect gameplay in the least but it sure doesn't look pretty. It's sort of like having a hunk of mud stuck on your ball. This happened to me once while playing in tournament mode.

One other complaint in the graphic department was the look of the crowds. They were nicely done, but precious few of the patrons actually seemed interested in what was taking place on the course. Half of them are looking up in the sky like they're at an air show watching the Blue Angels perform aerobatic feats of derring-do. A bit of a nit-pick perhaps, but it just looks odd that half of the people standing around the greens don't really seem to be paying any attention to what's actually going on.

Presentation/Audio : 85
The sounds in PGA2K aren't anything spectacular. All the standard fare is there during recreational rounds and tournaments. The announcing (provided by The Golf Channel's Mark Lye and Grant Boone) during tournaments is adequate but, not much more. As in most golf sims, the announcers are not always 100% accurate and, occasionally, they'll say something that doesn't really make sense. On one hole, a mid-length par three, I heard an announcer exclaim excitedly that my tee-shot looked like it was going to make the fairway! I didn't quite share his enthusiasm as I was really trying to get the ball on the green. On the other hand, they will accurately remark on how your putt for birdie just missed short and left.

There is nothing so annoying that you feel you just have to turn the announcing off, although you can if you wish.

There are the obligatory crowd sounds during tournaments as well. For the most part, they'll cheer at the appropriate time but, sometimes, they can be hard to impress. I once stuck a 4-iron on the second shot of a par five to within eight feet and there was nary a peep out of the gallery. Perhaps, this was the same gallery that watched Tiger light up Pebble Beach at the U.S. Open and is now just a bit more difficult to impress.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the music that plays at the main menu. This little pop/rock tune is absolutely fabulous! It sounds very professionally done and it's better than anything I've heard in any golf sim (or even on The Golf Channel, for that matter). This is the only time I can remember not feeling that I had to turn off the music in a golf sim. I actually like listening to it.

Interface/Options : 90
Navigating your way around the menu system is pretty brainless. You won't feel the need to refer to the manual to access the things you need. Choosing your course, setting the conditions, picking a mode of play and dressing your golfer is all done with ease. Dressing your golfer has never had more options. Now you can make a player that no one else is likely to have. There are now more shirts, pants and hairstyles to choose from to give your player a distinctive look. And, for all you people out there that like to stand on the “wrong” side of the ball, there is an option to play left-handed!

Although not as deep as LinksLS 2000 in the modes of play department, there is still plenty of play types to keep you happy. I especially like having a Ryder Cup format to compete in. Also new in this version is the ability to play “Side Games” like Nassaus, Sandies, Greenies and Closest to the Pin. Nothing like a little side action to liven up a match, eh?

One thing that you will undoubtedly spend some time tinkering with is the camera options. There are plenty of options to set cameras to capture the action on the course. During tournament rounds you can even set a camera to keep track of the leaders!

There is, however, one glaring weakness in the Options department. There is no option to play with a friend over a TCP/IP connection! Yikes! The game really seems determined to get you to play your online events through WON. Personally, I'd rather hook up with my friends directly without having to meet at another site to hook up.

Gameplay : 92
The gameplay in PGA2K is, for all intents and purposes, built around the game's TrueSwing 3 mouse swing. This method of swinging the club requires the user to move the mouse back and forth (or side to side) to simulate the motion of actually swinging a golf club. While I didn't care for this method in PGA99, I must say that TrueSwing 3 in PGA2K is much improved and feels just right. The game “learns” your own natural and distinctive style and adapts to it. The key to TrueSwing 3 is “tempo.” You do not get a sensation of tempo from clicking a meter two or three times. But, TrueSwing 3 gives you the feeling that you're really “connected” to what's transpiring on screen. Going back to play one of the other “clicking” golf sims will leave you feeling more like a spectator than a participant by comparison.

PGA2K does still offer a 3-click swing meter that is identical to the one that was included with PGA99. If you're a “clicker” and didn't like the PGA99 version you won't like this one either. But, as I said, the game is built around the TrueSwing 3 method of swinging and you'd be doing yourself a disservice not to give it a try.

Season and Career “Tour Style” modes of play have been added or improved. You can play a tour season against amateurs or professionals to suit your ability. There is also a PGA Tour list circulating around the web with the names and playing characteristics of real PGA tour Pros.

In career mode, you can set your events, pick the locale, the prize money, the number of rounds and even set the cut. The game will keep track of all your playing stats so you can see how you fare against the competition.

A “Ready Play” feature has been added for on-line play. This optional feature gives members of a group the ability to play within their group but independently of the others in their group. This means, no “honors,” no waiting for others to hit while you play out your hole. Once all players are on the green you will putt out in turn. This is a big time-saver for online play.

On the downside of gameplay is the occasional game lock-up. This seems to happen when you move the yardage marker (using the right mouse button) in an overhead view. The game may lock up and you will need to use the Task Manager to end the game and restart. On the plus side, the game “remembers” where you left off and gives you the option to continue from the point of the lock-up once the game is re-started. Kind of like saving a par from a certain bogey!

One other problem I've experienced is that of the “ball drop” feature after hitting your ball in a hazard or out of bounds. Typically, you're never given the opportunity to simply “re-hit” your shot from the tee like you can in real life. Many times I've hit shots that found their way into a hazard (it must have been a gust of wind, heh-heh) only to be placed at the edge of the hazard without the option to simply go back to the tee and re-hit. I'd like to see this “bug” addressed with a patch.

The Sierra Product Fact Sheet boasts improved ball physics. This is true. But only to an extent. I still witnessed some of the “super ball” bouncing effect that was present in PGA99 where the ball would just bounce and bounce repeatedly in the fairway or on the greens. Also, on wet greens, it seems just about impossible to hit a putt of any significant length. But, the ball physics do an excellent job of displaying how a ball rolls and how it reacts with the terrain. Once, I watched as an approach shot rolled across the green onto the fringe and then hopped, ever so slightly, as it came up against the deeper cut of rough surrounding the green. I was impressed. The effect looked perfectly natural.

Five new courses have been added to PGA2K bringing the total to 13. There are improved versions of the original courses: Sahalee, Royal Birkdale, Pasatiempo, Black Diamond Ranch, Coeur d' Alene, Princeville, Pete Dye and Jocassee Shoals. Added to these are Monterey Shores, Gloucester, Cabo del Diablo, Whisperwood and (my personal favorite) Canaveral Dunes by renowned JN6:GBC designer Brian Silvernail.

Much of what is going to bring enjoyment to this product has to do with the inclusion of its course architect. It's plain to see from the addition of courses like Whisperwood and Canaveral Dunes what this course architect is capable of. Over the course of the next several months we will start to see more and more courses of this quality start to pop up.

The course architect is a powerful tool. Although, based on what little time I've had to experiment with it, I'd say it's more complicated than the course editor in Jack Nicklaus 6: Golden Bear Challenge. I also think that due to its full land-plot terrain engine that it's more powerful and worth the effort to learn. If you were a fan of the Nicklaus course editor you'll be happy (after a moderate learning curve) with the results you'll get from the PGA2K architect. No other golf sim on the market, to date, can produce bunkers as realistic looking as those found in PGA2K.

The course architect allows the user to import their own graphics for use in making textures and objects like trees, bushes and flowers. This ability has served the Nicklaus product well over the years and I strongly suspect it will do the same for PGA2K.

Replay Value : 92
The very fact that PGA2K has a course architect is going to add tremendous replay to a game that already has a leg up due to its fun and addictive gameplay. Over the course of the next few months I'd be willing to bet that there will be some terrific courses (real and fictional) created for PGA2K. I know some of the better designers that designed for Jack Nicklaus 6: Golden Bear Challenge are already hard at work on their designs for PGA2K. If having a course designer does for PGA2K what having one in JN6:GBC did for that title, then you can bet that this game will enjoy enough replay value to easily carry it through to its next release.

Overall : 90
Just a few bugs kept me from ranking this title up with Jack Nicklaus 6: Golden Bear Challenge and LinksLS 2000. The random crashes are an annoyance, but one I would suspect will be fixed in a patch. The TrueSwing 3 mouse-swing is a terrific, addictive way to play golf on a PC. The more I played it the more I liked it. It certainly has a learning curve that you don't get from a classic two- or three-click swing meter, but therein lies the challenge and the addiction. I've been playing PGA2K to the exclusion of all others for several weeks now, and not just to satisfy the requirements of doing a review, but because this game is fun. If you're a fan of computer golf and are looking for something other than pointing and clicking your way around a golf course, you'll be very pleased with what you get from PGA2K.

By: Leeman 6/28/00
Comments on the review?

Related Link: Interview with Vince Cook, of the development team.

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