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Developer: Firaxis Games | Publisher: Electronic Arts
Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 01/23/02 | Genre: Simulation

So you want to build a golf course, eh? SimGolf will give you everything you'll need to do exactly that. You'll also get to customize every aspect of your course as you try to build the ultimate golfing resort in the world. It's laughably easy to get started and fiendishly difficult to accomplish your goal. But is it yet another masterpiece from a certain gaming god?

If you've ever enjoyed a spirited round golf with your friends, you've likely found yourself wondering just whose idea it was to put that blasted tree so close to the fairway. Maybe you've even played a hole and thought, "Man, they should put a little more slope on the approach to that green." Well fear not, my little golfing gurus. SimGolf is about to change how you think about the low profile world of golf course management.

This game, like almost any Sim game, is ridiculously easy to begin. I still haven't read the instruction booklet. I think it probably only had twenty pages or so anyway (I can't even seem to find the darn thing now). You'll find your building tools along the bottom of the screen. Click on the tee box and place it where you think it looks good. Then click on the pin (flag) and place it a little ways from the tee. Then hit "H" to open the hole. Voila! You've built your first hole. Soon you'll have eager golfers lining up to play your wonderful course. One hole? Yep they'll play one hole and like it.

However, you'll probably not gain any fame with just a tee and one hole. You'll have to add a nice little fairway for your patrons to aim for. They'll like that because it makes subsequent shots much easier to control than shots taken from the rough. And the happier your golfers are, the more popular your course will become. With popularity comes more money. Can't run a business without money, right?

Once you're turning a profit you can add extra challenges to the hole. Rocks, trees, bunkers (sand traps), water and thick gnarly weeds will all have your patrons begging for mercy. Obviously, you'll repeat the process for each hole you build. The goal is to give each hole a nice balance of difficulty and fun. You follow that blueprint and you'll have members paying you handsomely for the privilege of spending the afternoon roaming your wonderful course.

As your fame grows, you'll have the opportunity to buy more land. More land gives you more options for course design. You'll also be able to build houses on your course (this generates more money) with the hope that a famous celebrity will move in, further increasing the fame of your course. You'll also be allowed to build upgrades, such as a driving range or putting green. These will not only generate a little revenue, but will also improve the skill level of your members. Better skilled golfers can handle tougher holes.

Graphically, SimGolf wins no awards. You get the typical Sim overhead "God view" which allows you to zoom and fade or rotate the course any way you like. You can easily tell what every structure is, as well as every course feature. If you're familiar with the Sim series at all you'll know exactly what to expect graphically.

The sounds are good quality. Unfortunately some of them are terribly annoying. For instance when a flock of ducks start quacking or when the bagpipes start playing in Scotland. The dread factor of some sounds had me scrambling to find the sound options. Guess what? There are none. So I basically try to stay away from courses with a high "sound nuisance factor."

That brings me to the options. In general I'd characterize them as weak. You can change themes for your game. Which I think means you'll get different characters and stories as they talk during their round. There are no sound options, no video options, and no game speed options. Perhaps you won't miss them, but better options certainly would have been nice. The game also ends in 50 years. You can continue on in Sandbox mode, but I think it would have been nice to decide the length of your game. That would have allowed the player to further adjust the difficulty level (much like Tropico).

Finally, I have one other complaint. I created a fine course. At the time it was probably the most thought out and best design I had come up with. When I put the finishing touches on my eighteenth hole, the game froze. So I reloaded the game. Built the hole again. The game froze. I've played on without the eighteenth but whenever I try to open the hole, the game freezes. It only happened that one time. But it sure did tick me off something fierce.

On the outside, SimGolf is just another business simulation game. But once you're inside, the game alters your perception of time. SimGolf challenges your imagination and planning skills, reminiscent of the early SimCity days. Somehow Maxis/Firaxis seem to know just how to make a game easy enough for your mother but complex enough for the rest of us. It may be early, but SimGolf is a definite candidate for a PC Bernie.

I truly hate golf (and golf games). In my eyes, when I turn to the word "boring" in the dictionary I should find a cross-reference to "golf". But somehow I just can't hate SimGolf. I will recommend this to anyone who just likes to play a good game?ń∂because that's all you get from SimGolf: a good game. The only people who wouldn't like it are those who believe Sid Meier to be the devil. The legend continues. SimGolf is just short of a classic. Mark this puppy a strong A-.

By Kevin Watson - 01/21/02
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