by Microsoft Game Studios
Links has been a legend amongst PC titles. Initially the game was made by Access Software and came on a handful of floppy disks. Every year new courses became available and Access in their wisdom made sure that whenever they released an updated version of Links that it was always compatible with their previously released courses. Of course such kindness to their customers, along with the fact that no other golf game could touch Links in terms of realism, made sure that fans of the game remained loyal. Owners knew that whenever a major update occurred, as was the case with Links LS in 1996, all they had to do was buy the game and all their previously purchased courses could be imported into the game and the course would be updated with the new features too. Shortly after Links LS was released, the ownership of the title fell into the hands of Microsoft.
In the few Links games that Microsoft have released, it is true to say that little has changed and only basic refinements have been made to an ageing game. Links 2001 gave us the course architect as well as 3D elements to the golf course but it was looking a little short of the best golf game at the time: PGA Championship Golf. However Links 2003 promises to shake off the cobwebs and reinstate Links as the premier golfing experience on the PC.
Two features stand out in this very impressive package. Finally Microsoft have caved in to requests to include a 'proper' mouse swing. The PGA Championship Golf game (and it's prequels) proved that the double click and triple click methods had become old hat. Using the mouse to simulate the golf club added a level of interactivity that was previously missing from golf games. Microsoft had previously adopted something called Powerstroke but in all honesty it just didn't feel right. With Links 2003 however, we finally have a real time swing. Unlike the one found in PGA Championship golf, you do have a gauge that appears which indicates how far the mouse/virtual club has to be brought back. To be honest it works very well indeed but as it can only be performed by moving the mouse back and forth and not side to side some people may take some time getting used to it.
The second feature that stands out in Links 2003 is the 3D golfers. For years Links fans have had to suffer the digitised golfers that quite simply looked disgusting in this age of graphical excellence. The new 3D golfers look fantastic and will please long time fans of the series. If there's one criticism to be made here it's that you can't create your own unique golfer and have to choose one of the handful of golfer models that come with the game. You can however change the colours of the golfer's skin and clothes but again the choices are very limited.
As usual this new version of Links throws some new courses in for good measure. This time we have six courses that include Cabo del Sol, Gleneagles, The Tribute at Otsego Club, Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail's Cambrian Ridge, Kauri Cliffs and the fictional Skeleton Coast. You can also import your old courses into the game. If your courses are pre-Links 2001 however you have to use the course converter program that is included on one of the disks to bring the course upto the Links 2001 format, which can then be installed into the game. This may sound awkward but in practice it requires little effort. The course architect is also included so that you can create your own courses.
Thankfully there is also a Career mode this time around. You begin with a qualifying school and once this is completed you can progress through the amateur, professional and invitational competitions against increasingly difficult opponents that will truly test your game. Links has always been popular for it's online play but the career mode is just the job to practice against intelligent AI before you go online and is also an interesting way to measure your progress.
Unofficially Links has had e-mail or off-line tournaments for years but now thankfully Links 2003 makes it a whole lot simpler to set up than simply e-mailing in your verified score file. Microsoft have also made a number of options available for those who want to play online too. The Links Match Maker service can be used to set up a game against someone of similar ability.
There are no real problems for deaf gamers. Links 2003 has tutorials for each of it's swing types and all of these are shown in text as well as being verbally given out. The only verbal information is the comments from the golfers and the applause and comments from the crowd. The comments from the golfers would have been nice to see but they do nothing for the gameplay. The applause from the crowd could have been shown somehow but to be honest it is a little bit erratic and more often than not you'll perform a great shot only to find no applause so the lack of a visual cue for it isn't as great a loss as it should be.
Links 2003 is a very impressive package. The features we have mentioned in this review are the additions for this version and all the other features from previous versions are included. On the whole it is very pleasing and I would rate it the best Links game since Links LS back in 1996. The ball physics are still superb and rivalled by any other game out there. After all these years there still is only one golf game for the golf enthusiast to consider and that game is Links.
Overall Game Rating: 9.0/10 The choice of the golf connoisseur.
Deaf Gamers comment: Missing crowd and golfer comments but this doesn't have any effect on the gameplay.