Sensible Golf was always going to be a different kind of product, steering well clear of the traditional behind-the-golfer view, as used in every other successful golf game, and using instead the celebrated Sensible sprites. Early screenshots looked promising. The familiar little men, superbly drawn as ever and, trussed up in full golfing attire, were to be accompanied by that trusted friend of the fat businessman, the wheeled trolley, and the release was awaited with bated breath. But it never came. Well, not at the November ETA anyway. CF2 and SWOS arrived to mixed receptions, but Sensible weren't happy with the demos they'd created of Golf and decreed that more work was needed before the game would match their usual standards of playability. The release date was deferred 'a couple of months', and a couple of months later deferred again, spookily, 'a couple of months'.
All of this served to fuel my suspicion that Sensible Golf would not in fact be any good. Of course it would look nice, and it wouldn't be surprising to find a couple of comedy touches in there too, but the fact that in all the years of the Amiga no-one has approached such a game in this way before, suggested that to do so would be to slaughter it. I eagerly awaited the day of arrival, hoping it would be great, but almost certain that it wouldn't hold a candle to PGA or MicroProse.
Representatives of Virgin and Sensible alight upon IDG. Money is... er, pleasantries are exchanged, disks are produced, food is mentioned and disks are forgotten. Concerned parties travel to local eaterie, eat, belch and return. Sensible Golf is loaded and the representative of Sensible begins his demonstration, ably assisted by three keen reviewers, of which I am one.
First, the options screen, which by the RoS's own admission derives much from that of SWOS. On top of the options feature - enabling, among other things, alteration of the 'background ambience', or in other words, bird noise - you can play a round, a tournament, simply practice a hole, or indeed choose to play a season. The Sensible representative continues his demonstration, revealing the menus behind the menus, and seemingly uncovering a wealth of cartoon golfing gameplay. A round - in which between one and four players can compete can be played out as either strokeplay, skins or in two variations of matchplay. A tournament can cater for up to 72 - s-e-v-e-n-t-y t-w-o human competitors over one, two, three or four rounds with optional seedings and cut, and offers the choice, for those in the running for the Nobel Blandness Award, of watching every stroke your opponents (up to 71 of them) play.
Season mode operates in the same way as Tournament, only it continues across all 24 courses in the game, and Practice Hole does exactly as you'd expect. People sat agog. Spectators were attracted as a four-player round began, and I wondered at this stage if I was the only person present harbouring any doubt. The fundamentals were explained: Hold the button for a hole map (I idly wondered why mouse control had teen abandoned in favour of a joystick method), press again for the traditional swing bar, press, press, press, and you're away. And the ball, inevitably, was in a bunker. As was the next person's. And the next. The last ball did come to rest on the fairway. It was the Sensible representative's. And so it continued; the three reviewers lurching from bunker to water hazard to the tops of the out-of-bound trees, grinning inanely and determined to come in at less than 30 over par. Behind my grin lay those unanswered doubts. A score of 80% seemed optimistic.
8.50am, and the Sensible Golf logo appears to the accompaniment of a songette penned by yesterday's RoS, Jon Hare. It soon disappears as I stab the joystick, and before nine o'clock a one-player round has begun in earnest. A long Par Four and a look at the map. A water hazard on the dog-leg poses tricky club selection. Or at least the fact that there is no indication of distance on the map does. Of course it's a matter of guesswork when playing the real thing too, but this is a game, and the inclusion of such a small feature would have been easy. I end up in the water. Inevitably.
Some time later, at around 10 or 12 over par, I become convinced that the course design went something like this: A hole 'skeleton' is created, and the programmers look at where the ball is most likely to land from a tee shot. A water hazard or bunker is added in just such a place, thus making it almost impossible to avoid. I begin to dislike the putting, which seems invariably random, and I notice for the first time that the golf trolley present on early screenshots is absent. There is, however, a kit designer option of sorts, which is quite good, and I've just noticed that there are several different kinds of trees and shades of grass, which is also quite good. I'm thinking of a score somewhere around the mid-70s.
After beginning a season and missing the cut in the first two tournaments, one of my Day One reviewer chums challenges me to a game of skins, and I accept. We swear at hazards and whoop in delight on the few occasions they're cleared. Then swear at hazards some more. Then we swear at the Out of Hounds zone, which frequently takes it upon itself to ensnare you for several shots at a time. We also occasionally swear at the putting. (None of this is clever of course, and you should not copy this antisocial behaviour at home -Publisher's Note)
We finish the round and begin another, and at the end of this one do the same again. Nothing is said, but both of us are finding the hazards noticeably less frequently. They have, in fact, gone from Pains In The Arse to Fun Challenges. Two-one down in games, I suggest we make the match a 'best of four' affair, and the first hole at Puerto Rico marks my 91st of the day. The match is drawn 2-2. It's 5.20pm and people are leaving tor home. Reviewer chum follows suit. I stay. "Traffic," I say, "bloody awful this week." Alone, I continue the season which I earlier saved, downhearted at the lack of match statistics on offer. Mid-80s...?
Tournament number six of my season (in which I come a respectable joint third), is followed by a four-player skins competition in which, shamefully, I come last. The runner-up disappears and a possible replacement is called up for the rematch. But first he wants to know if the game is any good. I tell him it is. I tell him it's excellent.
Around the sixth hole I stray out of bounds, and it's obvious that any shot other than a short chip backwards will leave me in the same position. My chance of winning the hole disappears, but I'm not worried because my tactical thinking was correct and I end up in the middle of the fairway. Some time later I find myself in the water. I swear, not at the hazard, but at myself. It was a bad shot. I make a putt from 15 yards across the multi-directional contours of the final green to halve the hole and earn myself a share of the winnings. I realise, belatedly, that I have become totally at ease with the putting. The competitors disperse, and I know I should be writing the review now. I practice a few holes, then think 'sod it', and have a round on my own. I end up two under par and wish the round had been part of my season. I continue my season, blissfully happy and fully aware that I have become hopelessly addicted to a superb game. The big nine-oh springs to mind, but I decide to give it some thought, because after all, the holes are frequently repeated on various courses.
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