Straight down the middle...

Challenge Golf logo

Publisher: XXXXXXX Price: £00.00

Faldo tees off. It's a nice drive, straight up the fairway. Pity about the crosswind: it's blown him a little to the right, veering towards the light rough at the fairway's edge. No problem for a pro though, I tee off to follow the master and it looks equally promising. Then my slice kicks in and I end up in a bunker on the second hole to the right. In computer golf, you can make the graphics more clearly defined, more colourful or more convincing.

You can add sound that stretches the imagination until the player can close his eyes and be on the course. You can add wind and weather, effects of slope and gradient, length of grass and angle of club face until the ball reacts just like it would on the course.

Taking this all a step further, you could take a camera out for digitising graphics and a microphone out for sampled sound. But in the end there's one part of golf that no game has managed to capture to date. No matter how long a golf game is in development, no matter who the company pay for the privilege of printing their face and name on the box and no matter how wonderful the audio and visual effects are, the missing element is skill.
With computer golf, you pick up the joystick or mouse, go out onto the graphically superb course with the miracle grass that's always the right length, and play out of your skin every time.

Within a degree or two, you're always aiming in the right place, you're always hitting the ball, it always travels as far as you thought it should and (at the press of a button) you can check on just how far that will be according to your selected club. You always know how far the hole is from you too.

Challenge Golf is without a doubt one of the best golf games yet to grace on the Amiga. You may tee off with one to four players at any one of three skill levels. The skill levels affect the power of the wind only, so budding Faldos get veritable tornados. Be honest and the worst you'll get is a slight breeze. You can play with mouse or joystick: I found the mouse to be the better option. As with all computer golf games, there is a pause between holes while the data for the new hole is loaded in and processed. Before each hole begins you are treated to an overhead view of its map in excellent colourful and detailed graphics.

Then there is a pause - something in the region of twenty seconds - while the view from the tee is processed and drawn. This is annoying to say the least. Thankfully the pause between shots is not nearly so long. It's mostly standard stuff. You get the view of the hole, dominating the screen, and boxes for various options. A large red arrow demonstrates the direction of aim for the current shot. The computer selects a club (often a dodgy selection which you could probably better) and this is displayed at the top centre of the screen.

You can re-select using the option box at the left of the screen. This calls up another box showing which club you've selected and how far its range is. When you're happy with the line of aim and your club selection (having taken the wind into consideration) you can begin your shot.

Press fire or click on the golfer. A power bar appears and a line begins to run up it. Click on the bar when you have the level of power required for the shot. There's a red zone at the end of the bar which represents an overpowered shot. If you leave your power selection too late and it falls in the red zone, represented by brackets on the snap bar.

This zone is your margin of error; it's wider for high clubs like a nine iron and lower for drivers. It's also narrowed by an overpowered shot. The shot, once completed, winds its merry way off into the green pastures Once you've landed in yet another set of bushes you are treated to an action replay on the overhead map. This is nice for a couple of shots but then becomes annoying. An option to turn it off should have been included. Putting is a matter of setting the direction of the putt and the power: this is viewed from above and takes a little practice to master.

Challenge Golf logo

Hands up who remembers the golf game Leaderboard? Only the excellent PGA Tour Golf has managed to match its stylish and addictive golfing gameplay. So how does the latest golf sim shape up in a fairway of games which have attempted to go one better than the Leader, which is now showing its colours on the budget circuit?

It's a game of 18 holes Brian
You know exactly what to expect from a golf game. The conditions have got to be realistic, the club selection's got to be easy and the graphics need to look something like a large area of greenery with 18 flags sat on it. On the surface Challenge Golf follows these criteria, but start playing the game and a very different impression is formed.

The menu screen is where conditions are chosen, names entered, players loaded and saved, sounds turned on and off and the skill level chosen. The screen itself is tatty and you soon realise that things don't bode too well for the actual game. Having set up your options you can choose to either shoot at the driving range or take part in a bit of strokeplay. Additionally, computer-controlled opponents can be selected, simply pick the one that looks like he'll get the beers in after the game.

The driving range is entirely bland, but then you could level that criticism at real driving ranges. Different clubs can be chosen, enabling you to perfect your swing, though perfecting your swing is the least of your problems with this game.

But why are the balls that funny shape?
The main play screen presents you with a 'behind the shoulder' view of the fairway with your golfer sat in the middle straddling a large red arrow. On the left-hand side of the screen is a miniature map of the golf course, the currently selected club, a wind meter and the load, save and exit options.

To choose a club all you have to do is simply click on the club screen and cycle through until you find the appropriate stick you'd like to hit the funny white ball with. When the wind looks like it has subsided from gale force you can change the general directions of the ball by moving the large red arrow in the appropriate direction.

Whacking the ball down the fairway (or the sand in my case) you get to choose a different club and have another crack at the pin. Sink the ball and a sample of a goldfish hitting a pavement echoes about and the ecstatic phrase "HOLE" greets your amazing feat.

Oh, so that's a putting green is it?
Unfortunately this golf sim is extremely lacklustre. The gameplay is slow, riddled with annoying pauses and bland. The game brings nothing new to the arena of computer-simulated golf except a bad feeling that people want you to pay money for this game.

In a flight simulator you have realistic combat conditions, in a racing game you have pitstops, but in this golf simulation you have large red arrows and some dreadfully simplistic gameplay.

If Challenge Golf had turned up in the public domain then, no doubt, it would have received rave reviews and a large pat on the back. But it isn't public domain and it isn't a challenge. Either go and buy PGA Tour or Leaderboard (the super-doper 27 zillion course pack), or wait for MicroProse's golf game, because Challenge Golf brings about as much credibility to Amiga games entertainment as Japan does to whale conservation.

Challenge Golf logo

Releasing a new Amiga golf game so soon after Electronic Arts' classic PGA Tour Golf might be seen by some people as rather unfortunate timing, but if the game's good enough, there's always room in the market for more to come. The problem with Challenge Golf is that, in a nutshell, it simply isn't good enough.

The graphics may be a bit on the crude side, with lots of right angles and sudden edges, and the sound is minimalist even by golf sim standards, but neither are terrible. It's the playability that's really lacking here, the 'feel' is simply wrong.

The ball never really seems to get airborne half the time, it almost never goes anywhere remotely close to where you aim the cursor, and when you reach the green you're confronted by a putting sequence that's nothing short of diabolical.

For a start there's no indication of what distance the strength bar represents (a fault found all the way through the game), the supposed slope on the green bears only a slight resemblance to the one shown onscreen, and (most bizarrely of all) the hole itself appears to be made of rubber, judging by the way the ball has a habit of bouncing straight off it and coming back at you.

The instructions are of no help whatsoever when it comes to deciphering all of these quirks, and the end result is that you'll get very fed up of this game very quickly. And it doesn't help, of course, that there are plenty of really rather stunningly good golf games out there already.

Challenge Golf logo

If you have a pair of checked trousers and an equally loud shirt, then tee off with Challenge Golf. The game takes you to the four corners of the globe to play in four megabuck tournaments, battling to sink that little white ball on grass which looks alike a green carpet.

Between one and four players can compete in Challenge Golf. It's best to start with the driving range, which is a 10-ball practice session. If you're a quick learner, though, you'll soon be skilled enough to put yourself down as a pro. Otherwise, be honest and own up to being a rank amateur or a novice.

Hitting the ball smoothly and correctly takes time with meters informing you of power and curve. The indicator on the curve meter enables you to hook the ball to the left of slice the ball to the right. You know if you've hit a perfect drive by the satisfying thwack when you clobber the ball. Then you can sit back and watch it fly upwards and onwards. Upon reaching the green, patience is the answer to sinking the ball while the line of your putt can be adjusted by clicking on the left and right arrow icons.

The practice option lets you whack merrily away at a mountain of balls while tweaking your driving skills. However, once out on the fairway the game lacks the excitement of a real-life tournament and the feel of match play. The graphics are functional rather than flash-harry, but fail to instill a sense of 'being there'.