Microsoft Golf 3.0
It's perhaps telling that if you visit the Microsoft Golf 3.0 website, one of the first things you see in the "Inside golf" link is the catch-phrase: "Adjust your grip on reality." Yes, that would be a good idea. The farther you are from reality, the more you'll enjoy this game. For example, if you have no friends, dislike the smell of fresh air, are slightly vacant and easily amused, you'll enjoy this game.
Like all new games nowadays, the speed of your computer will greatly affect how you feel about MS Golf 3.0. If you have a slow video card, your swing might not be smooth all the way through, which can really screw up your timing when you're trying to click at 100%. On one (admittedly badly tuned) machine I played on, the 2 MB PCI video card apparently couldn't keep up so it was nearly impossible to hit the ball cleanly because the swing indicator was jumpy.
One major problem I had with this game was that the distance varies greatly between, say, hitting the ball at 95% effort and hitting it at 100%. On the Amateur level, a 5 iron hit at exactly 100% effort and dead center strike point (with the wind at my back) went 145 yards. The same shot at 95% went 108 yards. That's too much difference. Remember: "Adjust your grip on reality."
Skill level apparently has nothing to do with difficulty, here. Beginner, Amateur, and Pro all seem to control how far you can hit the ball and don't noticeably affect how badly the ball hooks/slices if you mis-hit it. Thus, Pro is easier. If you want realistic distances, go pro; if you normally hit like a wuss, play Amateur; nobody is bad enough to play Beginner. Of course, we all know that in the real world experience or skill has nothing to do with how far someone can hit the ball. But you won't need any help being reminded that this is not the real world. I've only been playing golf for 14 years or so, and it's always been my experience that a slight pull tends to fly even farther than a straight hit -- it doesn't come up 20% shorter. Phil Mickelson pulls almost all his drives on purpose. Makes you wonder ... of all those rich nerds in Redmond, doesn't anyone play golf?
Two really helpful hints: pay no attention to your stupid caddie, and don't ever use the "chip" stroke (unless you're trying to get closer to the elk). If you use the club Noonan picks out for you and hit it 100% strength dead-straight every time, you'll probably shoot over 100. If the punk thinks you should chip it, bet him a gumball machine it'll be short. When it's short, beat him, tell him he owes you a gumball machine, and then humiliate him further by making him clean up his own blood.
The graphics seem to be one of the biggest improvements since. The coolest feature by far is the fly-bys. Just like on CBS' coverage of the Tour, before each hole you can choose to hop in a helicopter and cruise at golf ball's height along the hole with narration on how to play the hole like the pros would.
I heard a radio essay recently where Bailey White talked about how a movie sound man came to her home to record its sounds. After recording "Dog walking across dry leaves," and "Door creaking" he said into his microphone "silence, take 1," which kinda freaked her out. Then he looked at Bailey, held his finger to his lips, and pressed "Record." She found out that, in the movies, when you think it's just quiet, they're actually playing recorded sounds of silence, because the sound of silence is different from dead, empty air. Well, Golf 3.0's sounds of silence annoyed me (and I have a SoundBlaster AWE 32 and 28w Altec Lansing speakers -- it's not my fault): At Harbor Town, the subtle background noise is like a finished record that keeps spinning with the needle down, or maybe the rustling canvas of a fast marching army: "pht pht -- pht pht -- pht pht." At Banff, you're treated to something like the brown noise of distant rumbling buffalo herds from long ago. I think it's supposed to be wind. For just a second, forget what Microsoft PR says and readjust your grip on reality. Ready? Okay, this is real: The sound of the ball hitting the bottom of the cup sounds just as sweet as the real thing. Okay, go ahead and adjust it back again.
Documentation for Microsoft Golf 3.0 is a short CD jewel case pamphlet ... adequate, but just barely. I know that I may be sounding like a broken record about this sort of thing, but c'mon, folks, give the people who pay such good money for your games a little more depth of documentation and explanation. There are online help files included with Microsoft Golf 3.0, but these too are somewhat wanting. I, for one, would certainly be willing to pay an extra buck or two to get better insights into how to enjoy a $40-$50 game.
Required: Headphones or speakers, Super VGA display (800x600 resolution) 256 color monitor, SoundBlaster or compatible sound card, 2X CD-ROM drive, 20 MB hard disk space, 8 MB RAM, 486DX (66 MHz) or higher microprocessor, Multimedia PC or compatible, Windows 95 operating system or later
Recommended: Pentium or higher microprocessor, Hayes-compatible modem (with Multiplayer Patch),12 MB RAM
Maybe I'm being a little too hard on MS here. After all, it's gotta be a tough job trying to make this game interesting in a world of pixels with the smell of plastic and radiation. What can you do with a game where your only options are to aim, click, and click again, without all the intangibles that make golf such a beautiful game? Does the buffalo stampede background rumble compare to the soft trickle of the 18th fountain at Indian Wells? No. Does your competition with this game's designers or a virtual Tiger Woods of your own creation have any relation whatsoever to the feeling golfers get when they're beating par, beating the course, or, ultimately, beating the course architect? No. Have you ever been in the first group off really early in the misty morning -- before the pro shop even opens? Were you held up on the 3rd tee by a pair of slow deer playing through, disobeying course courtesy by munching grass right next to the green before heading up to the next tee? NO? Then do this: look at the empty pizza boxes scattered around your apartment. Smell your armpits. Recover. Go to your closet, grab your clubs, rub the rust off with steel wool, and go out there and play some real golf.