Even with all the new companies vying for a piece of the computer golf pie, and even with all the old lines putting out new and improved editions, Links is still the benchmark. It is the state of the art, and it continues to push the envelope.
The LS series has been reviewed so many times that it would be pointless to reiterate all its many qualities. For some background, check out our reviews of Links LS and Links LS 1998 Edition. Basically, it is the best looking and playing golf sim on the market. The visuals are gorgeous, the control and ball dynamics are excellent, and the features and extras are plentiful. Links LS 1999 simply builds on these key areas and adds about two dozen new features to improve it even further.
The improvements in Links LS 99 touch every area. Let's start with the basics. Once again, Access has improved the visuals, making them sharper, more colorful, and more detailed. New objects, ranging from trees and plants to full-3D buildings, bridges, and other landmarks add depth and realism to courses. The 3D objects are more than just scenery: They come into play as balls bounce off buildings or come to rest on small footbridges. All these features really help make the three new courses come alive. In addition to Latrobe, the package now includes Bay Hill, Entrada at Snow Canyon, and St. Andrews. All four courses are challenging and wonderfully re-created, but St. Andrews in particular will appeal to hard-core golfers, since it is rarely modeled. Though Access has done an impressive re-creation, the St. Andrews course will strike many as flat and lifeless. That's partly because it is fairly flat and lifeless, but also because the Links system is more effective with the rich colors and closed fairways of "Augusta-style" golf, rather than classic Scottish links golf, which is rather cold and windswept.
Another major addition is in the area of swing control. Following the recent trend toward dynamic mouse swings, Links has implemented a PowerStroke control feature. By sliding the mouse right and left, you control the power and accuracy of the swing. The powerbar used to gauge this new swing is quite effective, with markings to assist in distance assessment and a tempo gauge that displays mouse speed at impact relative to optimal speed as a red, yellow, and green bar. They've also added a three-click swing to the classic Links two-click swing.
Most golf sims offer a dozen or so styles of play, such as skins, stroke, and so on. Links LS 99 ups the ante by including not only 30 modes of play, but also a complete mode-of-play editor. Some of the included play types are already pretty arcane (the Australian Hogan?), so it's hard to see what you can do differently with the MOP editor. It does enable you to create custom rules and scoring for stroke, match/Nassau, and skins-style games, complete with dollar values, points, club restrictions, and even weather conditions. Another editor that's new to Links LS 99 enables you to customize sound scripts, adding your own comments, effects, and other WAVs.
The final major area of improvement is in tournament and multiplayer features. Tournaments are more lifelike with the addition of galleries full of spectators and enhanced crowd sound effects. Online tournament play has been significantly expanded with the creation of the LS Tour: an Internet matching site that not only allows head-to-head competition, but also Internet spectators and live voice chat. Internet play is smooth so far, but I have not been able to test the live voice chat to see if it slows down play or not.
Other, less prominent changes and additions have also been made, such as two new golfers, a very sharp caddie book that shows the yardage and best approaches for each hole, more multimedia tours of each course, and refined physics. If this review sounds like one long paean to Links LS 99, that's merely because ten years of developing golf games and three years of improving this engine has made Links one of the most well-rounded and finely crafted software products on the market. Links LS 99 is the best golf game made, period.