PGA Tour Golf 486
You get a bit of a mixed impression when you first load PGA 486. On the one hand, there's the lush graphics, exquisitely-turned logos and gorgeous col-ourways of the various intro screens, and on the other, there's the music. Somebody at EA has obviously decided to abandon its recent trend toward toe-tapping poptastic-ity, and gone all out for "taste" with a bit of low-key acoustic guitar-work. Unfortunately, it sounds uncannily like when Americans get cancer in made-for-TV movies. After a while you have to turn it off, if only to stop the laughter.
So, apart from music that will make you chortle up your sleeve and spurt beer out of your nose, what do you get? You get three exquisitely appointed courses, recently modernised, all with g.c.h. and good access to shops and transport. Fewer courses than the seven you got with PGA II. but then they take up a lot more room. You also get the usual option to play practice rounds, tournaments and skins games, and to practice any individual hole you want. What you won't have seen before, unless you have played PGA European Tour on the consoles, is the Matchplay option - also known as "real Golf, as it should be played" (preferably in tweed hacking jackets and plus twos, using clubs with funny names).
Also new to this version are the selectable difficulty levels, which directly affect the new swing-meter. (It works the same as every other power-bar - except Links - with the three click system.) Previously when you created a golfer in PGA, you had the choice between pro or amateur tees, and whether you'd have a caddy to help you out. whose choice of club you could then completely ignore before each shot. Now there are three levels of difficulty - the easier the level you choose, the slower the power bar moves round the swing-meter and the more leeway you get when you try to hit the directional bit at the bottom. At the easiest setting, you could probably have an epileptic fit and still get the ball on the fairway (as long as nobody blocked your view trying to put a sock in your mouth).
To counter this ease of use, you can't hit the ball as far - it's about 50 yards less with a driver than at the hardest setting. In terms of comparative difficulty, I'd say the middle setting equates roughly to that of PGA II. The shape of the bar takes a little getting used to at the hardest setting, but this is as it should be. Foolishly, I loaded the game and launched straight in at the hardest levels and my first shot went so far right it took me a simulated hour to walk over and get it.
Your very own Fanny...
The caddy help facility has also been refined, with three levels of interfering busybody to select. At the easy and middle levels, the presence of the caddy even gives you a target area on the power bar to aim for. In other words, lazy gits don't even have to work out what strength of shot to play any more. Caddy levels operate independently of the difficulty levels, so you can have your golfer playing on maximum difficulty, but with maximum help from the caddy.
Many of the elements that made the old versions of PGA a bit on the poor side have either been removed completely, or have been improved. Obviously the graphics are the major difference: no more crappy, six-frame swing animation, with the sprite winding up for a 300-yard drive even when you're playing a five-yard chip, and no more three trees per course. What they haven't changed is that Godawful random wind factor, whereby you carefully calculate out your aim. taking into account wind direction, shot shape and hazards, only to see the wind direction change as you reach the top of your back-swing. Still, you can always switch it off.
The designers have also borrowed freely from other golf games' good points: like Jack Nicklaus Ultimate Golf, you can now set the weather, course and green conditions yourself (except the wind direction in Nicklaus is logical): like Links, an overhead view of the hole can be seen at all times; like Links (again) and David Lead better, there are ways to adjust the type of shot you'll play i.e. adding extra back- and side-spin without recourse to deliberate miss hits. Players the world over will also rejoice that, finally, EA has seen sense and trashed the God-awful separate screen "putting grid" and added a standard grid overlay, like every other golf game in the known universe has had for years.
The courses available - Summerlin, Sawgr-ass and River Highlands - will all be familiar to anyone who's played PGA II. They look amazing - a lot of time had been spent researching each nook and cranny of the courses so that every tree, rock, tyre mark and discarded condom is as it should be. If ever a computer game could be called a thing of beauty, it's this one. Unfortunately, the game only has American golfers as pros to play against - but the difference is that this time, they're digitised from video footage of the real players. This lot swing, miss putts, and relieve themselves against nearby trees just like the real thing.
The fact that it's on cd-rom allows for a lot of "extras," in the form of crowd responses and reverential whispered commentary. This is fine, as far as it goes, but there isn't that wide a range of phrases. Stuff like, "This very long putt looks more or less dead straight," would be more entertaining if the commentator lapsed into "Ten bucks on the fat guy to miss." But I suppose that would undermine the majesty of the Tour.
One of the things that the game lacks is any real sense of taking part in a tournament. Yes, you get the other golfers' scores after each hole, but you don't get the old-style reporter popping up to tell you what's going on elsewhere on the course anymore. And with less courses to play, it won't be long before you've won every tournament. Still, I'm sure we won't mind coughing up again for a few extra courses at a later date. One we've heard of would be nice.
Direct comparisons with Links 386 are inevitable. It doesn't attempt to compete with Links on the multiple-view screen-layout front, and golfing purists may still prefer Links for the shot-making niceties, where shots are played by adjusting swing path, ball position and stance rather than by adding spin to the ball in a relatively artificial manner. Basically, this is a very flash version of a previous game, that, apart from digitising the pros, doesn't do anything stunningly new. It's a visual feast - and if you have the machine to run it happily, it plays very well, too. But remember that coming in the near future are World Cup Golf. Sensible Golf and even, lawks a mercy, Links 486 - I shudder to think what that will need to run. It might be worth waiting for our all-encompassing golf feature in next month's issue before you go throwing your money around.
PGA 486 has "adapted" ideas from Links 386 to aid you in your shot making. The deliberately-chosen draw or fade shot is nothing new, but where Links does it "properly" by altering your swing-path (out-to-in for fade, etc.), and adds more or less backspin by positioning the ball in relation to your feet, PGA's approach is more basic: you simply adjust the amount of side or backspin you want to put on the ball with the keyboard or mouse. This is where the option to have the overhead view of the hole constantly on display comes into its own. The big arrow onscreen shows where the ball will end up from your viewpoint, but as you move this around, it moves on the overhead view as well. When you select a draw or fade (note the spin indicated on the ball at the left of the screen sec pic below right) the projected shot path alters accordingly on both of the indicators.
Time is of the essence
As you can see, PGA 486 has some pretty fabbo-looking scenery. But, as we already know from the days when Links 386 ruled the visual roost, it seems like only yesterday that a 386/33 was a scarcely-tamed monster - fabulous looking scenery always comes at a price. The price in this case is that the recommended minimum processor for running this is no less than a 486/33. It does say a 386/40 in the manual (with 8mb ram) but, believe me, you won't enjoy it. I tried it on a 486sx/25, and was plunged into snailspace, the virtual netherworld that lies beneath Jerk-o-vision. leading each hole took an age, and play ran in fits and starts. Several times there was a good 30 seconds between completing a swing on the swing meter and the player starting to move to play the shot. Putts progressed in stages toward the hole - on one occasion, I thought that the ball had stopped on the lip of the hole: I reeled away in annoyance, falling to my knees to tear at the carpet and curse the inventors of golf (it's the taking part that counts. Yeah, yeah.) only to hear, a few seconds later, the plop of ball into hole.
On a 486DX2-66, sporting a throbbing 16 megs of ram (that's going to look pretty funny in 18 months time, isn't it?) the game - as indeed you would hope - ran pretty damn smoothly, but we're still talking about a good minute between finishing one hole and being able to tee off at the next. So pay heed to the minimum requirements, or a life of bitter torment will be yours. The days of the 386 coping happily with a major game are no longer with us - especially in America, where a Pentium too costs $1.50.
Download PGA Tour Golf 486
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP