It's the new, improved edition of the popular Electronic Arts golf simulation, PGA Tour 96! Drawing from the successful redesign first seen in PGA Tour Golf 486, many of the positive features included there have been incorporated with a few noteworthy enhancements and additions in this release. In addition to the original nine PGA pros included for your golfing pleasure in the last game, namely Brad Faxon, Fuzzy Zoeller, Bruce Lietzke, Tom Kite, Jeff Sluman, Davis Love III, Lee Janzen, Mark O'Meara and Craig Stadler, five new faces have been added: Billy Andrade, Chip Beck, Jim Gallegher, Jr., Peter Jacobsen and Andrew Magee. The option to play either as your favorite or against them is still intact.
The swing meter is represented by an arc which requires three mouse clicks or spacebar taps. One starts the meter up it's climb, two sets the power of the swing at the apex, and three stops the downward sweep at the accuracy line. Click too early on the last phase and your shot hooks (or draws) left while clicking too late causes the ball to slice (or fade) to the right. Aiming is accomplished through use of a "Targeting Arc" which is manipulated to set your desired landing spot. In addition to being a visually stunning graphics package, PGA Tour 96 also provides multiple modes of play (practice, stroke, shoot-out, skins and tournament). The tournament mode (18, 36 or 72-hole options) replicates conditions that simulate participation in a real event by allowing you to compete against 56 PGA professionals and is the best test of your abilities as no mulligans or gimmies are allowed. Some of the improvements or enhancements to game play include fly-by movies of each hole, a new "instaview" camera that allows viewing of any part of the course at any time, multiple pin placements, the new "waggle" feature that when optioned on creates a situation where you can top or undercut the ball, a real-time ball cam, female golfers and the option to now click and aim your shot from the Overhead view. Three difficulty levels (novice, amateur or pro) affect the speed of the swing meter, distance and ease of meeting the accuracy line on the downswing. Most options are customizable and allow tweaking the game to run at the quickest possible rate on your computer.
Unfortunately, there are a few small gripes that are nonetheless annoying. Even with optional wind speed conditions (calm, breezy or windy) there is no variation in the wind strength once the setting is chosen and the application of the effect of brisk winds is too punishing . The announcer is not always correct in his assessment of how your putt will break but he can be toggled off and lastly, even though there was a golf ball included in the box, there was no accompanying set of clubs. As you can see, there isn't really much wrong with this simulation. Electronic Arts has come a long way toward providing quality competition to the major golf simulations on the market.
Graphics: Absolutely beautiful graphics. Clean, crisp, clear, sharp rendering of courses almost lets you smell the air. Administrative screens are noteworthy for their clarity and backgrounds.
Sound: Ambient sounds are good. Commentator is astonishingly realistic and creates an aura of competitiveness and drama, especially when playing a tournament.
Enjoyment: With addition of a course designer, PGA Tour 96 would be golfing nirvana. Although maybe not as technically consistent as Links LS or diverse as Nicklaus 4 or 5 with it's unequaled course design module, PGA Tour 96 holds its own as a quality product and may even surpass those in emulating realistic scoring. One other note of caution, this game can take up a prodigious amount of harddrive space when courses are loaded to the harddrive rather than played off the CD.
Replay Value: Tee it up again and again. Only limitation is sparse availability of courses but add-ons will help alleviate the problem.
The player can either chose to play as one of the 10 PGA Pros (whose swings were digitized), or go Pro - the game keeps track of statistics (longest drive, driving accuracy, best round, etc), a game (Tournament, Strokeplay, Skins, Match and Shootout), as well as a replay.
Gameplaywise, PGA 96 uses the tried-and-proved triple click system - one to start the swing, other to set strength and a final one for accuracy. It's possible to fade or draw the ball (to bend the trajectory), add backspin and pitch or chip the ball (for some medium range attempts at the hole or go above a bush).
The difficulty level affects mostly the leniency of the triple click hit areas - while at novice it is possible to let the accuracy a bit off-center, in pro levels the ball goes where your swing took it - no excuses taken. However, only in Pro it is possible to make the longest drives, as the amateur and novice levels take a few yards from the total capacity of the club.
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