Golf games on the PC have always been an interesting concept. There isn't really any fast paced full on action that is hard to turn into a gaming experience. Instead the sedate methodical approach of golf seems to lend itself to games that focus more on recreating the 'look and feel' of playing golf rather than an accurate simulation of the game itself. Microsoft seem to be trying to capture both parts of the game with their upcoming title Links 2003.
From what we saw at E3 and the screenshots that Microsoft have released Links 2003 certainly does the business in the graphics department. The courses have been painstakingly rendered and in places do look extremely photo-realistic. Apparently a brand new engine is providing the graphical horsepower. Texture effects for grass, sand and rock are all very impressive. Lighting effects have also been added which has resulted in some very realistic shadows. If you're too lazy to actually pick up some clubs and play golf Links 2003 certainly looks like it will provide the most realistic looking courses.
Gameplay hasn't been neglected. Our E3 team weren't golf game experts but the run-down from Microsoft on what to expect was pretty convincing. According to them, players now have much more control over each shot. A new realistic swing method using the mouse has been implemented and Microsoft believe it's as close as you can get to actually swinging one of the things. If the new fangled realistic swing mode isn't your cup of tea then you can opt to a 3D green analyser which allows you to improve your putting.
A solid career mode is also featured. You can join the tour and compete against various opponents who according to Microsoft have drastically improved AI. Detailed player models of realistic golfers have been included and these guys even have motion-captured moves and swings. If you feel like it you can play as famous golfers like Sergio Garcia, Jesper Parnevik, David Toms and Annika Sorenstam.
Online play is another big part of Links 2003. Microsoft have gone all out to make it as easy as possible to join up for a session on the greens with some of your mates. To best explain it take a gander at this snip from the press release:
[indent]Challenge family and friends online, anytime-"Links 2003" will enable gamers to start their own online tournament or match with friends or family at any time. All-new Links® Match Maker enables players to join matches with other online players at any time from within the game. Players can also create their own custom tournaments, then run the tournament through email using the new Email Tourney feature. "Links 2003" also offers a revamped version of the extremely popular "Links Tour." The latest version of the incredibly popular tour offers player stats, handicap information and message boards for the ultimate online golf tournament.
Now for the majority of our audience Links 2003 will be one of 'those' games that you buy for that relation who doesn't really like games. It's currently expected to be released in the next couple of months so we'll keep you posted in case any new features like an FPS 'hunt the tour officials' mode is included. If you're in the market for a graphically impressive golf game then we reckon Links 2003 may well be your ticket.