Links 2003 (Windows)

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Written by  :  Afterburner (496)
Written on  :  Jan 28, 2006
Rating  :  3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars

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An underrated gem

The Good

-The graphics. Strangely enough, the 2-D nature of the course graphics produces more visually stunning golf venues than the fully 3-D Tiger Woods games.

-The real-time swing mechanic. Less persnickety than the True-Swing(tm) from Tiger Woods. I use a trackball, and find the Tiger Woods True-Swing(tm) to be nearly impossible to use without hooking or slicing the ball. The Real-Time Swing(tm) from Links 2003 is more forgiving for us trackball users.

The Bad

-The AI. The AI will never, ever putt from the fringe or the fairway, no matter how close the pin might be, and no matter how easy the putt might be. The AI will instead try to chip the ball in. I've seen the AI do this when the hole was 10 feet from the fringe and would have made for an easy putt. Pot bunkers (that is, deep sandtraps with steep, nearly vertical sides) also confuse the AI terribly. On the other side of the coin, the AI golfers have an uncanny ability to know where the holes are in the spaces between tree branches, and can send a golf ball rocketing through a dense stand of trees without hitting a single leaf or twig.

-The speech sound effects for the golfers. They sound completely artificial, they're very repetitive, and they're generally more annoying than atmospheric.

The Bottom Line

If you're a fan of computer golfing games, you're probably already familiar with the Tiger Woods franchise published by EA Sports. The Tiger Woods games are the 800 pound gorilla of the golf gaming world, and have been pretty much since Tiger Woods agreed to lend his name to the old PGA Tour franchise. Annual releases with minor feature changes, along with the famous face of Mr. Woods pointing purposefully at you from the box cover, along with a rather aggressive marketing campaign by EA and an exclusive licensing agreement with PGA and PGA Tour, have left a long shadow on the world of computerized golf.

But there have been other golf games in the past. The Links series of games was a primary competitor to the EA PGA Tour line up until 2003, when the last version of the game was released for the PC. (A 2004 version was released for the XBox.)

Links 2003 is a worthy golf game, and very enjoyable. It seems rougher and less "slick" than the Tiger Woods games, but that brings a unique charm to the game. One interesting feature is that everything in the game aside from the golfer, the ball, and the actual playing field itself, are 2-D sprite objects. As a consequence, the game does not allow for free real-time rotation of your player so that you can look around at the scenery. First you must specify how far around you want your golfer to rotate, and then the game will completely re-render the scene from the new perspective.

The scenery is usually worth it, however. The scenery elements are usually photographic objects. The trees on the course look like someone took a picture of a tree and then carefully blended it in with the rest of the scenery. Same with all other scenery elements. This gives Links 2003 a more realistic feel than Tiger Woods, which has been a fully 3-D enterprise since the 2002 version.

Unfortunately, the golf mechanics seem slightly less polished, though admittedly my frame of reference is the 2005 and 2006 versions of Tiger Woods, which is probably an unfair comparison. The 2003 version of Tiger Woods might have been very similar to Links 2003. Balls hit with a short iron or a wedge onto the green will almost always bounce twice, land, then roll backwards. Balls roll almost as far through the rough as they would on a fairway, and they will bounce out of a sandtrap with regularity, no matter how steep the descent is into the bunker.

Nonetheless, the golf mechanics are "good enough" and as long as you keep the ball on the fairway or the green, it will behave more or less like you expect it would. The full range of shots is available, from flops to punches to fades and draws. You can adjust your stance in the Setup menu to raise or lower the trajectory of your shots.

The AI golfers can be quite challenging. Each computer golfer is randomly assigned a score in several categories, such as putting, chipping, shots off the tee, short irons, etc. AI golfers rated as at or near "Best" in putting, for example, will rarely miss putts within 30 feet, even across a heavily contoured green. AI golfers rated at or near "Worst" in putting will miss frequently at half that distance. Similar comments can be applied for the other categories. Golfers with a high score in "Short Irons" will be able to put the ball on the green with pinpoint accuracy with a wedge or a 6-9 iron. Golfers with a low score in "Short Irons" will usually dramatically overshoot, undershoot, or just plain shank the ball. Etc.

The basic Links 2003 only comes with 6 courses. However, there is an expansion pack available which adds 20 courses. And there is a community of Links 2003 fans who are still very actively cranking out fan-created courses for the game. Nearly 1000 of them are available for download, and can be found with a simple Google search.