For some, the Links series is the only golf series worth having. Generally speaking, it's a franchise that has consistently delivered the goods. But others would disagree, for them it's either Sierra's PGA Championship Golf, or EA's Tiger Woods Golf. Point is - it's bloody hard to make an impact in the ferociously competitive world of PC golf.
Microsoft's answer is to tempt women into the virtual golfing arena. With LPGA veteran Annika Sorenstam's name and likeness on the Links 2001 box alongside those of Sergio Garcia and Arnold Palmer, Microsoft is definitely appealing to established Links fans as well as an entirely new audience.
"Annika is the perfect addition to the Links franchise as women's presence in the golfing and PC golfing world continues to grow," says Links 2001 product manager, Scott Lee. OK, so a successful female golfer adorning the box is a nice gesture. But the big question is what does Links 2001 offer in terms of gameplay? The answer is plenty, of course.
An entirely new 3D graphics and physics engine has been developed in an attempt to make the game's six real-life courses, including the now legendary St Andrews Old Course, as realistic as possible. The terrains available include cliffs, arches and bunker overhangs. Also, objects are now in 1280x1024, meaning background images such as hills, trees and clubhouses should be less blurry or blocky than usual.
Links 2001 is also the first Links game to include a course designer. The Arnold Palmer Course Designer is the actual editor used by the programmers, and from what we've seen it looks set to blow away all other architect tools - you can even create tunnels. How this can be applied on a golf course is another story entirely. But still, it should make for some interesting rounds.
When it comes to your actual superstar pros, Links 2001 has 14 of them all gagging to show you how it's done. There's also the option to create your own left- or right-handed golfers, you can even adjust club distances. As far as the actual swing interface goes, it's a standard tri-click or real-time swing method that varies little from Links 2000, or anything else around at the moment. But hey, it works, so why change it?
Finally, one of the most interesting features of Links 2001 has to be the monumental online golf tour that boasts a staggering US$100,000 jackpot. You never know, it might just cover the phone bill.
Links 2001 is the most significant update in the history of the long-running Links series. Alas, only the most loyal of Links fans will actually notice any difference.
In general, this latest addition to the Links family is a poorly presented simulation, with an abundance of confusing menus, a very tricky control method, and a messy and uncommunicative online clubhouse. Still, with real cash up for grabs in a whole range of virtual tournaments, there's also plenty of incentive for you to try and win your money back if you do make the purchase.
The main areas of improvement in Links 2001 are apparently centred on the digitised graphics and ball physics. However, actual evidence of this is sparse to say the least. Forget the reliability of PGA Championship Golfs bouncing balls, in Links 2001 expect your ball to end up about a mile away from where you last saw it before it disappeared out of view. Still, wayward balls aside, there is one very intriguing addition to the game - and she goes by the name of Annika Sorenstam.
Golf's female equivalent of Tiger Woods has been recruited, along with Sergio Garcia and Arnold Palmer, as one of Links three digitised professionals. Microsoft, it seems, is attempting to lure females into the exciting world of computer golf. Frankly, the concept is laughable. If ever there was a non-existent demographic, this is it. It's like trying to get men to use tampons - there's really no need. Similarly (according to my girlfriend anyway), women couldn't give a toss about golf games. If they want to play golf they'll get out in the fresh air and play it for real. Let's face it - only males can truly understand the intoxicating pleasure of simulating something, in a room, by themselves.
One area of the game that should be praised is the putting. A coloured contour system reveals exactly how steep the burrows are, and in conjunction with that a slope indicator affixed to the mouse pointer shows what direction the slope is leaning.
When it comes to iron and wood shots, the tried-and-trusted tri-click method is by far the easiest way to play. However, for the truly courageous there's the mouse-wrenching Powerstroke. While this method remains totally indecipherable to the average Sunday hacker, golfing anoraks will lap it up. The amount of information you're given after each shot is almost overwhelming - everything from open or closed clubfaces to the speed of the clubhead on impact is covered. Never has there been a more precise way of hitting a PC golf ball; sadly, there's never been a more difficult one.
While there's no denying the fact that this is a well-rounded and complete golfing package, it has to be said that Links 2001 offers nothing substantially different from Links 2000 and comes nowhere near the instant accessibility or enjoyment of PGA Championship Golf. We suggest you think very carefully before buying because Links 2001 is a serious golf game, with serious amounts of options, for serious golf fans with serious time on their hands.
Download Links 2001
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Links 2001 Screenshots and Media
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