They say that much business is done down at the golf club. Well it appears American outfit Access, along with US Gold, have been out on the greens a-waving and a-swinging their irons and woods, to come up with Links - American contribution to the Amiga golf war. Well you won't find me giving up my Sunday morning chasing tiny balls with funny shaped sticks over silly, green hills and sandpits. With Links, though, the Ed said that all I'd need was an Amiga.
The first impression you get from Links is its stunning realism. The course graphics have been put together using digitised views of a real course, and the animated golfer has also been constructed with digitised graphics.
What you have initially then, is a golf simulation far more realistic than any other golf game we've seen on the Amiga. Links' realism is enforced by its 'Life On Earth' soundtrack (there's even an option of game commentary, with some decent speech), it all goes to make an enjoyable 'Sunday morning' experience on the fairway, without leaving your seat. All well and good, but what about the game?
Structurally, Links seems to be a well put-together game. Initially you're confronted by the menu screen. Among the options here are practice, new game, resume an old game or your choice of players. To start off you type in your name - there's room for up to five players, so if you've got some mates round you can have a tournament. Then it's a good idea to go to the practice mode for a quick bash at either the putting and chipping green or the driving range.
Once an option has been chose you'll eventually (and I really do mean 'eventually') find yourself surrounded by a great deal of graphic detail including a deck chair and your caddy. This is typical of the whole game - you're overwhelmed with course detail. But let's not forget about the scenery and objects for now - there's no doubt that this is a graphically superb game. The real crunch, as ever, is the gameplay.
With a sports simulation it's the mechanics of the game that make or break it. Being a golf game, it's the swing control that I'm concerned with. You'll find this at the bottom of the screen in what appears to be a very complex control panel. This instrument is the crux of the game - without it there'd certainly be some lame golf!
To drive, chip or putt, click on it with the mouse. A circular red gauge comes into effect, and as it reaches the top mark you must release the mouse button. When the gauge falls back to the bottom mark on the dial, click on again.
You're overwhelmed with course detail
The swing gauge will always return from the top of the dial, so there's certainly no bias towards power hitting as I found with PGA Tour Golf. Now watch the results of your swing action as the ball makes its way towards the green.
On the right hand side of the control screen are the statistics of your drive, chip or putt. Here you find out by measurement in feet or yards just how well or badly you're doing. It's certainly a very easy to use control method, and, once mastered, a pretty accurate one - so first impressions of complexity are completely unfounded.
If your swing stats show that things aren't going as well as you'd like, then a few adjustments are called for. Help is at hand in the form of the set-up option. Here you can change your stance by moving the shoe icons in the desired direction, alter the swing plane or change the angle of the club face as it hits the ball.
As well as this there's also an address-the-ball mode, allowing you to step back from the line of contact with the ball, which is an option that makes a lot of sense if you just want to have a few practice swings without hitting the ball.
Links is easier to play than either MicroProse Golf or PGA Tour, with its satin smooth controllability, but what else does the game offer?
If you're really fussy then you'll probably want a choice of clubs, although the game does select what it thinks is the best club for a particular shot. Links even provides a choice of different clubs on the control screen, contributing once again to the game's flexibility. Links also offers the choice of playing one of three different skill levels - professional, amateur or beginner. Even if you really louse up, there's always the option of a Mulligan, enabling you to retake a shot, so there's plenty of scope for players of all abilities.
With so much course detail, judging the lie of the surface can be confusing, but the game does provide the option of an overlying grid. If you get stuck in the rough like I did on a number of occasions, then finding the direction of the green can become a problem, but Links covers that one too with a top view option.
This gives you an overhead perspective map showing where you are and where the green you're heading for is, also giving you some useful stats - how far the ball is from the pin for example.
Once you've found the direction of the green it's useful to click on screen to bring up the marker, to aid the direction of your hit. This facility really comes into its own when you're facing a long putt on the green.
Easier to play than either MicroProse Golf or PGA Tour
Links is probably the most playable golf game on the Amiga - it far exceeds either PGA Tour or MicroProse Golf in terms of controllability. It certainly offers scope and flexibility with three different skill levels, the facility to play a five player match and the option of either the nine or 18 hole circuit.
Sadly, it's also the most frustrating golf game on the Amiga. Where MicroProse Golf follows the ball in play down the course to the next position of play, Links simply shuts down to redraw the game detail before any play can recommence.
At the lowest level of detail this period of waiting is almost bearable at 40 seconds. But if you want the detail that makes the game so stunningly real, you'll have to wait over two minutes (even if you're only after a replay)! This is slow, frustrating and tedious, and very seriously spoils what could otherwise be a perfect golf game - there's no flow whatsoever, and it makes the Links feel more like a long succession of practice shots than an actual progression through a course.
Then again, maybe Access wanted to convey the realism of walking across a golf course - though, it would probably be quicker walking from green to green then waiting for Links to redraw the course view.
Access would have been far better off simplifying the game, and including less background detail to enable a bit more speed - after all, most of the background serves no real purpose. Consider also that Links runs only with a hard drive and all those superbly realistic graphics begin to look just a little bit less attractive.