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Looking Glass' Golf Sim Is Jolly Good, Despite a Few Rough Patches

by Scott A. May

Looking Glass, the high-flying publisher of FLIGHT UNLIMITED, has made the move from wild blue yonder to terra firma with BRITISH OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP GOLF--and it's a mostly smooth landing. The game is solid, but cast in the shadow of LINKS LS and Accolade's JACK NICKLAUS 4, it's somewhat unspectacular.

Still, several items make this simulation special. For starters, it's the first major golf championship developed into a PC title. It's also the oldest: The British Open was 65 years old when the first Masters tournament was played. Plus, Looking Glass is one of only two software publishers granted official license to use Scotland's historic St. Andrews course. Finally, it heralds the return of designer Rex Bradford, creator of the infamous "swing meter," first used in Accolade's MEAN 18.

Green Acres

In addition to the "Old Course" at St. Andrews, BRITISH OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP GOLF also features another legendary Scottish links, Royal Troon. History aside, the first thing most jaded American duffers will notice about this game is its scenery--or rather, its lack thereof. Graphics are well drawn and feature quick redraws between strokes, but beyond a few patches of trees and bushes, both courses are quite flat and barren, giving the game a somewhat desolate look and feel. Digitized backdrops featuring castles, large spectator stands, and crane-mounted TV camera stands accentuate the feeling of isolation. It's almost eerie.

Up to four players--human or computer-controlled--can compete, either as amateurs or as one of eight British Open professionals, including Ian Baker-Finch, Chip Beck, and David Duval. However, all humans have to compete on the same machine, as the game completely lacks remote multiplayer capabilities, such as serial, modem, or network links.

Game styles include practice, stroke, best ball, match, and multi-round tournaments. Play mechanics are similar to most new golf sims, with an adjustable directional arrow and 3D swing meter. The meter is unique because it realistically depicts the speed of both the backswing and power (snap) of your stroke. The latter is particularly difficult to gauge, because the velocity of the meter increases significantly as it nears the bottom "sweet spot." The tendency is to click way late, thereby producing one terrible slice after another.

Simply hitting the ball straight is the game's biggest initial challenge. Beginners can compensate by overadjusting the direction of their aim. On the other hand, the calibrated putting meter is one of the best I've ever seen.

Good Show

The two best features of the game are its extremely precise physics model--which adjusts for wind, humidity, temperature, and surface texture--and the ingenious audio commentary by veteran sportscaster Jim McKay. Boasting more than 5,000 unique phrases, McKay's play-by-play is almost frighteningly cognizant of your actions--it chides bad shots, mocks you for taking too much time, and accurately reflects on your previous strokes. More so than any other golf sim, the reactive crowd and interactive caddie are definitely not window dressing, but rather totally integrated into play.

Overall, BRITISH OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP GOLF is a very good simulation of two historic links. Unfortunately, its lack of amenities--true multiplayer modes, course designer, recorded play--in this highly competitive sports genre will ultimately place it further down the leaderboard than it otherwise deserves.

British Open Championship Golf

Difficulty Level:

Price: $49.95
System Requirements: Pentium 60 (P90 recommended), Windows 95, 12MB RAM (16MB recommended), SVGA graphics, 40MB free hard drive space, 2x CD-ROM drive (4x recommended), mouse; requires DirectX-compatible sound and video cards.
Multiplayer Support: None.
Designer: Rex Bradford
Publisher: Looking Glass Technologies
Cambridge, MA

APPEAL: Duffers of all levels, but particularly those with an appreciation for historic links.
PROS: Briskly paced, with an excellent interface, good graphics, and realistic physics model; verbose audio commentary is intelligent and entertaining.
CONS: Historic or not, the scenery is downright dull; swing mechanics can be frustrating to learn; no true multiplayer capabilities.

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