With this update, Links LS (Legends in Sports) can rightfully reclaim its status as the king of golf sims. The graphics are gorgeous, there are many playing options, the physics mirror reality, and Links finally offers network play. But there are several golf sim contenders in the wings and Links LS has enough minor weaknesses that one or more of the up-and-comers may soon topple it from its throne.
Links has more than a 50-percent share of the golf sim market. But its luster has faded of late, largely because, until now, it's had no substantive upgrade for three years. Access has sustained Links' No. 1 position by releasing many add-on courses - 17 in all. Meanwhile, the newer Electronic Arts PGA Tour 96, with its clever golfer interface, multiple big-name pros, and improved overall gameplay, has moved ahead of Links.
But that's now ancient history. Links LS raises the bar far above anything on the shelves today. First, it is visually dazzling. It looks and feels like you're there; down to the trees, shrubs, and cart paths. The customizable sound effects, coupled with animations of flying divots and sand, plus backspin and ball marks, put Links LS in a class well above the competition.
Golfer animations are superb and eminently emulative (if only my swing looked like that!). Your golfer can be male or female and can have a full range of abilities and appearances. You can adjust course conditions, including wind speed, fog, and putting surface characteristics. You can place up to five camera views onscreen any one time, plus add a tracer and alter the ball's size for easier viewing. And finally, Links LS offers a wide variety of gameplay options including stroke, best ball, match, and skins.
The game ships with three courses: Kapalua Plantation and Village plus Arnold Palmer's Latrobe Country Club. All 17 previous courses will work with Links LS and will look better. Arnie comes along as well with his inimitable swing and commentary. Plus you can take a virtual 3-D tour (ala Under A Killing Moon) through Arnie's office and Kapalua's clubhouse.
There's so much excellent software here that finding flaws may seem like nitpicking, but after three years in development there shouldn't be flaws. The old Links let you see the player's swing as you clicked the mouse. Now, in a gameplay quality step backward, it's click, release, click...and wait for the swing. Soon-to-be-released golf sims from Sierra and Maxis will give the player more control over the swing by incorporating mouse movement to adjust swing timing and direction. Access ruled out such nuances, saying they did not translate well to computer golf. We'll see.
In addition, on my Pentium 90, it takes 15-30 seconds to redraw each new shot location. To take full advantage of the optimum 1600x1200 resolution, you'll need 64MB of RAM and a 4MB video card. A full install requires a ridiculous 150MB of hard drive space.
The virtual reality tours are virtually useless, the resort videos are mundane, and the hole fly-bys offer few playing tips. The network play is for only two computers using a modem or LAN. The modem setup is kludgy and no Internet play is available.
And finally, the bulky packaging establishes a new nadir in environmental insensitivity. Links LS ships in two full-size retail boxes. This attempt to create the look of two games, Kapalua's and Arnie's, is belied by the fact that the three CDs are in one box and the manual is in the other.