Pocket PC gamers are no strangers to golfing, considering the cross-demographics that both golfing and PDAs share. You're talking about executives who golf for a living and need an organizer as well. Thus, it's no surprise to anyone that golf is one of the popular genres on this platform, or so the marketers want us to think. There are already two golf franchises: iGolf from Korea's CE Craft and the ubiquitous Tiger Woods franchise from Electronic Arts. Hexacto lands the rights to the Links franchise and with it comes Microsoft sponsored Sergio Garcia. On an industry commentary tangent, we see both powerhouses trying to butt heads on whatever platform they can.
That aside, the Links franchise is one of the most successful and longest running in the gaming business. Up until the last couple of years, there has been nary a challenge to the standards set out by this game. Links' photo realistic backdrops, the classic tri-click swing and the smooth animations of the golf stroke are all included in the Pocket PC version. Like competing titles, Links is able to take into account environmental factors , such as wind. But also like its predecessors, it has the classic Links look and feel; including the chriping bird sounds that have been with Links ever since digital sound was introduced to the franchise. Maybe I'm playing on all the wrong courses, but I don't hear nearly as many birds as I do in a few rounds of Links.
The most disappointing feature is in course and player selection. You get Garcia. You get Chateau Whistler. That's it though. That the Chateau Whistler is done so well makes it even more disappointing that there is only one course included in Links. At $24.95 US, that's rather steep. I'm saddened by the fact that St. Andrew was taken out; which used to be included de facto in anything that the name Links graces on. At the very least, I was hoping for a driving range or a nine hole or a practice hole, but alas, all the practicing has to be done at Chateau Whistler.
While you can make custom players, they will ultimately have to use the Garcia animation a template. The generic ones are gone and so are the other players like Arnold Palmer or Annika Sorenstam. It does look like it will be easy to add new content. The menus are already preconfigured with an 'Add more..' function.
Despite this, playability is strong in this game. Links has been critcized over the years for making golf too mechanical and easy. The tri-click method essentially lets you perfect your golf shot. Back when Links experimented with an online component, the virtual tournaments were downright scary, with scores hovering around the low 50s. This classic method serves the Pocket PC version well, yet one would hope that future Links editions would pick up on natural virtual swings; ones where you move the mouse up and down. I think the stylus would be perfect for this type of play. It makes the game more realistic.
The most recent edition of Links on the PC took out all of the Internet connectivity options. Hexacto doesn't implement any. The only humans playing with you are through hotseat play. No artificial intelligence is included, which makes the whole venture a solitary experience.
With all the things Links is missing in its inaugural debut, they are in most part excusable because of the quality and workmanship put into this game. The look and feel is stellar. For those who have never played Links before, copious amounts of tutorials and help material will get you started. For those who have played any version of Links in the last five years, it will be a familiar sight. That's something that its competitors can't beat, even with live multiplayer, computer opponents, many golfers and courses put together. But it leaves a lot for Hexacto to work on next year and like the perennial Chessmaster series, if you're an avid follower of the franchise, you're just going to have to weigh the pros and cons to decide which year is the year you want to buy in.
Hexacto is releasing this game late. Like Microsoft's Inside Pitch, the season for the sport has already started and this release looks more and more like a testing of the waters than one to win converts from other franchises, mainly Tiger Woods from EA. Hopefully next year will bring some much needed content (one course is simply not going to cut it, even with space issues on a tiny PDA) and the inclusion of other features that are fast becoming standard in the handheld gaming arena.
[07/10] Program Size
[14/15] Learning Curve