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SimGolf - A fan's review

I saw this review on the Usenet comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.strategic group. It's very detailed, rather amusing at times, and I agree with practically every point. It was from a thread titled "Sim Golf - first impressions" written by a person calling himself (or herself) radiospace, but to prevent spamming I won't list the email address.

I didn't have any intention of picking up Sim Golf but out of idle curiosity I downloaded the demo this evening and I got so addicted that I had to go out and buy it. Pretty pathetic, I know, but that's the story...

Anyway here are my first impressions, having hardly read the manual and played long enough to build a thriving 6-hole course.

The game is very, very addictive. I'm don't play golf, either, so I don't think is has much to do with pretending that I'm out on the course. There's a subtle complexity to laying out a hole that gets your brain firing on all cylinders. For instance, even a seemingly minor change like replacing a piece of fairway with a piece of "firm fairway" (the ball rolls farther) can completely change the way the hole is played if there is a water trap just beyond that tile... suddenly everyone has to pull the ball in short or risk taking a bath.

The map I started on is an island and it's fun building holes than run along the ocean and force the golfers to shoot it over the ocean and back into land. My favorite trick is to put the tee out on an archipelago and the cup down the coast, so that most of the drive takes place over water. Like I said, I don't play golf, but if you were knocking balls across the ocean on a regular basis I'd probably take it up.

There's definitely some frustrations, some of which I imagine will work themselves out once I've read the manual or played longer. In particular there are some unintuitive interface issues that get quite irritating. Frequently pop up windows interrupt your building process with a message from a noteworthy golfer ("C.E. Jones loves your course so much he's decided to donate $5,000 and become a member of your board"). The thing is, they stay up too long, and while sometimes left clicking on the message will make it go away, sometimes left clicking on it will, well, left-click on the map. So that if you have a tree already selected and you left click to get rid of that message, it might put the tree on top of the tee of your World Famous 5th Hole, forcing you to dig up the tree, replace the tee, and in the process lose the entire historical record of your best hole. (Yes, it happened to me just like that.) Very frustrating.

Also, this isn't the first game to do it, but it irritates me to no end that hitting -escape- when you have the "plant tree" cursor doesn't revert to the plain cursor; no, it quits the game, or, at least, asks you if you're sure you want to quit. Maybe it is a personal idiocrisy, but 10 years of computer gaming have somehow imbedded deep within my subconscious that I should hit -escape- to get rid of that plant-tree-cursor. It's little things like that that keep you irritated when you're playing a game; you'd think Sid would know better by now.

There's also a level of story interaction that goes on with some of your golfers. I haven't been paying much attention but it seems like lots of golf partners are falling in love on my charming course. So far they are all heterosexual pairings, but after all those backrubs in The Sims I'm keeping my eyes (and my mind) open. As far as gameplay they are just more pop-up windows that interfere with my building or playing a round of golf. "Angie and Matt have fallen in love" pops up, I left click on it to make it go away, and my country club pro drives his ball to where I clicked, which happens to be the parking lot of the pro shop. Thanks, guys. You can keep that ball for your wedding present.

Probably the most disturbing activity I have seen in the game is when players start using the fairway of the wrong hole to get to the green. In other words, the player tees up on hole 4 and drives backwards onto the fairway of hole 3, sending ladies shrieking into the woods... "He about HIT me!!!". I have to plant a LOT of trees sometimes to stop this sort of bad behavior. There ought to be a way to teach the fools which fairway they are allowed to use. (And maybe there is, like I said, I haven't read much of the manual).

The second most disturbing thing I've seen in the game is sheep falling out of the sky. I'm serious. I can't explain it. They come falling out of the sky like that guy in the Salman Rushdie book, and land with a plop then start grazing on my fairways. On another occasion a barn fell out of the sky and landed on the fairway of the 4th hole. I'm thinking tornadoes, but my course is in Wales; I didn't know they had twisters over that-a-way.

Finally, as alluded to earlier, the game includes the ability to play a round of golf as your country club pro. This is a pretty neat addition, but it also has problems. The isometric view doesn't really let you know whether or not you can clear that tree beside the fairway, and there's no way to find out except by attempting the shot. If you fail a shot it will sometimes actually detract from your pro's ability rating, so in addition to pride there are strategic repurcussions to muffing a shot, even during a practice round.

Again, maybe there is a solution in the manual but on this issue, I seriously doubt it.

In conclusion Sim Golf looks to be surprisingly good despite the many shortcomings I have listed here. It is new and fresh, and not just another "tycoon" game (though it does belong in that family of games, I think). I find it more inherently interesting than Roller Coaster Tycoon because designing a good golf course appears to be considerably more open-ended than designing a roller coaster. The very detailed feedback you can get on your course adds to the immersion level. While you can click on golfers and see their scorecard, their attitude, their profession, and lots of other seemingly chromey details, the real interest lies in clicking on the cup of one of your holes, where you're treated to a statistical analysis of everyone's play on that hole. It will tell you, for instance, that the average number of strokes to complete your Par 4 hole 3 is 4.8; it shows you how many people have shot 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7+ on that hole over the course of its lifetime, and it shows you how fun people think the hole is, and whether it challenges their ability to make long shots, accurate shots, or creative shots, or, if you designed it very well, all three. Very interesting stuff indeed. Whether the game has enough variety when I move on to different terrains remains to be seen.

Fore!

Thanks, radiospace, for a great and entertaining review!

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