Links


Title           Links
Publisher       US Gold / Access Software (1991)
Game Type       Sport
Players         1-8
HD Installable  Yes
Compatibility   with JST, all: use "JST execute nocaches"
Game data/utils Patch to v1.53: aminet/game/misc/Links153.lzh
                Extra courses sold separately
Submission      Dennis Smith Profiled Reviewer

Review
In 1986, Bruce and Roger Carver created a new kind of computer game for the
8-bit generation, a golf simulation called Leaderboard. The courses were
simple affairs - islands of green grass surrounded by water - but it was in
amazing first-peson perspective. OK, not much like a real golf course but
the control system was revolutionary. One held down the joystick button as
a power bar filled, released it to determine the power of the shot, then
clicked again as the bar passed the 'accuracy' or 'snap' spot. The closer
to the mark you were, the straighter your shot. Too early, and you hooked
the ball, too late and you sliced it. It was simple and elegant - and
virtually every golf game released since then has used the same system in
one form or another.

Leaderboard was followed with increasingly detailed sequels which looked
more like real golf courses, but the fairways remained flat, the greens
were simple inclined planes. With the advent of 16-bit computers, the graphics
improved but the games were much the same. PGA Tour Golf included
topographically more interesting greens, with bumps, valleys, ridges and other
complications, but the fairways stayed flat.

Then the Carvers returned, and this time they meant to use the full power
of the new computers. After hours spent photographing and measuring real
golf courses, they released Links, and visually, it knocked the
opposition dead. Here was an undulating course decorated with photographed
details from the real thing. Though it was released in 1991, it remains, on
the Amiga at least, the most impressive golf game from a simulation
standpoint.

Links has more features than any other game too. You can spend hours
adjusting your stance to make little alterations to your shot - the game
comes with 'draw' and 'fade' stances built in (in which you hit the ball to
curve slightly to left or right - ideal for those dog-leg fairways). You
can view the lie of the land by overlaying a grid on the ground at any time
- most useful on the green but you can also check it anywhere on any hole.
And the whole course is available at all times. Hook the ball badly on the
2nd hole, bounce it off the club house, and you could be playing your next
shot from the green of the 18th! You can choose which sets of tees to play
from - there are usually three or four levels of difficulty. There's even
the option to take practice swings before addressing the ball. This is in
addition to standard options such as difficulty level, club selection,
types of shot, and so on.

The sound effects are as sparse as any golf game: thwacks and thumps,
splashes (darn!) and birds whistling. In addition, you can have commentary,
but it's not a good feature - the corny comments that emerge from
the speakers are inane enough the first time you here them. "Sit down!"
shouts the golfer if he's overhit it. "That was wet!" is the unfortunate
comment you get when you hit a water hazard. "I think I hit the tree, Jim!"
is especially annoying: who the hell is Jim? Just about any shot that lands
on the fairway is greeted with the laconic "That'll play!" which makes me
want to strangle something. Comments like these and others get very
repetitive very quickly. Fortunately you can turn them off.

Links is very tough, as golf games go, and it will take some time to master
it.  The accuracy meter is particularly tricky - it is difficult to get the
snap perfect, and a tiny deviation from perfection results in an
appreciable loss of power. The greens are also made unnecessarily tough by
the fixed viewing angle - it is difficult to tell from the overlay grid
alone whether you are aiming up or downhill.

The reason for the fixed viewing angle is the complexity of the view. A
consequence of this is the length of time it takes to redraw the screen.
The manual suggests that one sets the detail levels to obtain an optimum
balance of quality with speed: the typical time taken for the view to be
drawn is - get this - ten seconds. Who wants to wait ten seconds for the
screen to update? In fact at the time the game was released, this was its
major failing point. On an unexpanded A500 it probably took considerably
longer than that. Nowadays, on my 68060, the game actually runs at a
reasonable speed, though I still have to turn the detail level down for
more distant objects in order to keep my impatience in check (not that you
notice much difference at a distance anyway).

The game boasts "Exclusive HAM mode graphics" which means that there could
be up to 4096 colours on screen. In practice it means that while areas of
ground and background scenery look beautiful, the trees and bushes suffer
from some nasty HAM fringing and their foliage can appear as a mess of
colourful pixels. This can make dogleg fairways especially difficult:
the fairway disappears round a corner but because the greenery is
indistinct and merged, it can prove impossible to tell which direction the
fairway has gone in, and how far away the bend is. The overhead view makes
some amends but is often ambiguous itself and is the worst of its kind in
the genre.

And the game doesn't measure up in the lastability stakes. When you buy the
game, you get only one course - if you want more, you'll have to buy them.
OK, so they spent a lot of time and effort making the courses as realistic
as possible, but one course just isn't enough. (Incidentally, the original
release and the KIXX rerelease use different course file formats that are
incompatible - though if you buy both versions you will at least get two
different courses). On top of this, there is no scope for competition except
among human players. There are no tournaments, no computer golfers to
beat. Nothing to aim for or achieve except your own personal best, and you
don't even get any computer statistics to measure yourself against.

All in all, if you're a big golf fan, Links is the acme of realism among
the Amiga golf games, and you should definitely have a look. The difficulty
level is high but rewardingly so - you won't be knocking in rounds of 63
all the time as you can when you master other golf games. Each birdie or
eagle is well deserved. However you'll need a fast processor or a lot of
patience, and if you can't find extra course disks to go with it, you'll
run out of interest before too long.

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