Being one of the most respected golf game series around, Microsoft again plan to take the serious golf gamer into the most realistic and challenging experience yet with Links 2003. Sporting some impressive features both on and off the course, sharp graphics, and innovative controls, it seems Microsoft will again achieve exactly that.
Just like most golf games, Links 2003 gives you the option of starting a quick round, playing a practice round, lessons and a career mode. Most of these are your basic expected game modes - chose a golfer, a course and whack a ball around. However when you get into modes like Links Career and Lessons, things start to get rather impressive.
Naturally, being a beginner to golf games in general, I went straight into the lesson area to get familiar with the setup. Although tutorials can always can be more comprehensive, the lessons included in Links 2003 are indeed adequate. It states "it's like going to the practice green or driving range with the club pro" - well I don't know about that, but with driving, aiming, chipping, putting and dropping lessons on hand it comes as close as computer games can get.
Once the basics are out of the way its time to take your newly used skills to the course. Starting off I used the classic swing type, which is explained in the control section below. I found the classic swing type to offer a challenge while not making gameplay impossible.
Once you feel comfortable with the gameplay it is time to enter yourself into the game's career mode and battle it out with hundreds of other golfers. Basically, you start off at the bottom and make your way to the top of the latter with championship wins, or just consistent placements. The player must first compete in a amateur round before taking it to the big money.
Career mode is structured in a way that each week the player must chose which tournament to participate in. Each offers different money, different competition pools and many other aspect variations. Sometimes you are offered to play against a certain golfer in a invitation round, including such gameplay modes as a skins match. A skins match basically pits golfers against each other, where the winner takes a certain amount of money for each hole won. This is a great mode to alternate from challenging tournaments and can become quite rewarding if you tend to win a lot.
Visually speaking golf games don't generally excel in any particular area, especially when comparing to other sporting games. However as far as good graphics go for golf games, Links 2003 is king of the hill. Terrain is beautifully rendered with extremely high res textures along with full 3d player models. Beyond that, you have your usual sprite 'cut-out' crowds and trees, which are generally 2d. It would have been nice to see a more interactive and 'alive' crowd, however it hardly detracts from the gameplay.
A tough category for every game is audio, as it really has to stand out for it to be considered good in my books. Links 2003 doesn't exactly shoot out with audio quality, however it is apparent that a lot of time and trouble has gone into the development of the audio. Each player has an individual voice setup featuring a broad range of remarks and verbal responses to the ingame action.
Technically speaking the audio was clear of any glitches and came out very crisp and realistic. Everything from crowd noises to golf balls colliding with tree branches are processed brilliantly, which is a real improvement over many golf games out there.
This year we see a very comprehensive control system in Links. To start off, there is an easy style swing which doesn't require you to aim at all, rather all you need to do is set the stroke's power. This is strictly designed for beginners and doesn't offer a challenging experience at all for novices. After this, you have your classic, real time and powerstroke swing types. Classic runs off the traditional 'aim and click' system which works well for pretty much all types of gamers, while realtime and powerstroke offer a system which actually involves you swinging your mouse. The difference between the two is that realtime swing is in real-time (phwoar) while the powerstroke is a pre-swing method.
Considering all these different types of swings work well with different types of gamers, it is safe to say any type of golf gamer, whether you're a total beginner or an expert, will feel comfortable with the control system.
Links 2003 is an all round golf game capable of delivering satisfaction for the gamer on every level. The graphics are superb, sound is crisp, the controls are great along with many addon features, making this the must have golf game for the PC gamer. Although there is probably nothing to offer here for the gamer with little to no interest in golf, for the interested parties this will not disappoint. Overall a very nicely polished interactive golfing experience.