After seventeen years of previous releases and literally millions of words in print extolling the virtues of what, in terms of sales, is perennially the number one golf simulation on the market for PCs, the idea of rehashing old ground is more than likely as distasteful to you as it is to me. So, approaching this review in the only prudent and sensible manner that makes any sense to me means discussing only the new aspects of Links LS 2000 (L2K).
Far from being limiting, however, L2K is a treasure trove of interesting facts, new features and multimedia presentations that complement the stellar gameplay that fans of the series are used to by now and generally take for granted. Even with the new modes of play MOPS and the foursome of new golfers, what takes center stage in L2K is the enormously entertaining multimedia CD that comes in this three-CD package.
The module is neatly arranged with a baker's dozen topics occupying squares in a U-shape on the screen with a movie window in the middle. This window can be resized if your system can handle it and the quality, crispness and verbal aspects are delightful. Taking the topics from the upper left in counter-clockwise order, you'll find the following mini-movies or short videos:
1. Courses at Mauna Kea and Hapuna
2. Resorts at Mauna Kea and Hapuna
3. Big Island Paradise
4. St. Andrews Links Trust
5. Charms of the Kingdom
6. St. Andrews World Shotgun 2000
7. St. Andrews Insights
8. Tour of St. Andrews
9. A Visit with Old Tom Morris
10. Royal & Ancient Golf Club
11. Fuzzy Zoeller's Wolf Challenge
12. Covered Bridge Golf Club
13. Fuzzy Zoeller
Although most are fairly self-explanatory from the titles, a quick overview of each is in order as all of them are special in their own way. Topic one deals with two of the five new courses included in the package, both on the big island of Hawaii. Mauna Kea, opened in 1964, was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and is typical of many tropical courses with beautiful vistas, lagoons, the Pacific Ocean and local plant life as environmental attributes.
The second course, Hapuna, was designed by golf legend Arnold Palmer and was greeted with wide acclaim when it began operations in 1992. A nearly perfect blend of man and nature was Palmer's goal and the synergy is quite evident when playing the course. The videos point out architectural styles of both courses and allude to the open-air motifs of the clubhouses set amidst this garden paradise.
Topic three, Big Island Paradise, could be looked upon as a "living" commercial travel brochure for the big island but the slant on golf makes it much more interesting to golf fans. In the piece regarding the St. Andrews Links Trust, General Manager and Secretary Alan McGregor explains his mandate and duties connected with preparing and ensuring that the golf complex at St. Andrews is always in fit condition for the legions of golfing fans who make the sometimes once in a lifetime pilgrimage to the home of golf. This is no mean feat considering there are 99 holes of golf to be played at the St. Andrews facility.
Remaining in Scotland, topic five is a thoroughly enjoyable look at local Scottish traditions, life style and culture that includes historical sights of the Old Course. Going hand-in-hand with this look are the plans for the world event being organized by the Royal & Ancient, namely, the St. Andrews World Shotgun 2000 of topic six. This event is a massive coordinated effort, initiated by the world's oldest golf facility, to have the most number of people possible throughout the world tee-off at a specific time set in the year 2000. Current estimates (as of the time the video was made) anticipate as many as three million participants, a feat that would make the event the largest sporting venture in world history. All participants will be recorded in a vast "guestbook" that will be on display for future generations to marvel over.
Tom Jarrett, golf historian at St. Andrews, appears in topic seven and gives a short history of the evolvement of golf from its humble beginnings in Scotland. That, together with topic eight, A Tour of St. Andrews, gives the viewer a charming insight through the means of a virtual tour of this small, unassuming Scottish seaport -- a historical look that traces the town back to its very roots and the bones and relics of St. Andrews himself.
Continuing the foray into Scottish and St. Andrews history is a fascinating nostalgic trip back in time with the ghostly spirit of Old Tom Morris himself and his positions with the golf venue and the historical significance of the entire facility. Finishing up the Scottish leg of the virtual tour is a tour of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club itself, with references to its history, inner sanctum and role in world golf, past and current.
From that point, the multimedia extravaganza takes a distinct turn and provides insight into what I feel is the second most endearing addition to Links golf. Topic 11 is a short discourse by professional golfer Fuzzy Zoeller in which he talks about his charity event that grows as each year passes. From a modest $60,000 earned for charity in its first year, Fuzzy Zoeller's Wolf Challenge has grown to more than a one-hundred thousand dollar event in 1998 and is supported annually by some of the world's top golfers.
The Wolf Challenge is played as a foursome where each player takes the role of the "wolf" in alternating holes. The game, now a MOP in Links LS 2000, begins with the first designated "wolf" teeing off on the first hole. The second player then tees off, at which point the "wolf" chooses to pass or choose him or her as his partner for the hole. If he passes, the "wolf" then gets to select which partner he wants as players three and four tee off. Once the teams are decided, each team plays "best ball" rules to determine the hole's winner. To spice up the action even more, each hole has a pre-determined set value that carries over to the next hole in the event of a tie.
The next to last topic in the multimedia section concerns another of the five new courses, Covered Bridge Golf Club. The course is a Fuzzy Zoeller creation located in southern Illinois. Zoeller gives you a tour, both verbal and visual, of the course and some history behind its design. The final event of 13 is a soliloquy by Fuzzy in which he discusses his beginnings in golf, his history, his career and offers some insightful snippets about Zoeller the man, not the golfer. Altogether, the entire third CD of the L2K package is worthwhile fodder for the golf enthusiast.
Is this, yet another edition of the title that lays claim to being one of the longest running series in computer gaming history, really worth getting, following so close on the heels of Links LS 1999? The answer may well depend on the involvement level of each user -- how deeply the game of golf is ingrained in each person's life and personal life style. The addition of five new courses as well as the superlative re-working of the venerable Old Course with new foliage, the advent of a better selection of sky textures and multi-player action at the MSN Gaming Zone certainly are significant selling points.
Finally, the inclusion of four new players, bringing the total to a dozen, the capability to create and edit your own computerized players, full playing lessons on at least a half-dozen gameplay aspects and the new methods of play, especially Zoeller's Wolf Challenge, all supplement the classy presentation of the multimedia package. I doubt most golf fans, especially of the Links variety, will want to miss out on this one. It's a good solid drive right down the middle of the fairway
Graphics: Doesn't get much more realistic than this and the addition of cloud cover sky options makes it even better.
Sound: Most of the sounds, if not all, are carried forward from the previous edition. Nothing new or inventive here but still more than adequate.
Enjoyment: Despite not featuring a course designer, the game is still near the top of the list in gameplay, although the nagging problem of unrealistically low scores on some courses is still a concern. Be that as it may, a golf gaming fan is better off with the game than without it. Excellent in nearly all aspects.
Replay Value: For a relentless cyber golf fan, the limitation of 30 courses can still be a downside, especially when said courses cost half as much as the game itself. The game can't receive a perfect mark due to this limitation of course availability. Other than that, the huge number of MOPS available as well as the ability to design your own, goes a long way to making replay a sure thing.
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