It's still a little disorienting to see the name Microsoft associated with the Links franchise. Microsoft's own golf series had always been competition with the Links games. Not serious competition mind you, but competition nonetheless. This time around, they're both on the same side, because Microsoft bought Access Software and the Links series with it. I suppose if you can't beat 'em, you buy 'em. It appears that Microsoft really left Access alone to produce Links LS 2000 as they saw fit, so the product still has a familiar look and feel to it, even though it has a new owner/publisher.
It's getting more and more difficult to see the changes to the graphics engine in this latest version of Links. The 1999 version looked so good, it is difficult to improve upon. There are a few minor terrain and foliage touches, making for a slightly more realistic look, but much of the game looks very similar to the previous version. Player animations are still two dimensional; you won't find any 3D golfer models in Links yet. Links LS 2000 is still one of the most photorealistic golf games on the market, but the look is only a minor improvement over last year's game. In addition to Arnold Palmer's inclusion in the game, this year Fuzzy Zoeller makes an appearance, adding his image and even modes of play to the game.
The biggest change to the series this year lies with the included courses. Five new courses are available in the 2000 version - the St Andrews New Course, Jubilee Course, Covered Bridge, Mauna Kae, and Hapuna. The new St. Andrews course is a fine compliment to the old course from the last version, and it is refreshing in general to see more non-U.S. courses in the game. As usual, the courses are beautifully rendered and are a pleasure upon which to play golf.
The interface for Links LS 2000 features only one real difference from the 1999 game - the inclusion of a new "easy swing" method of play. This mode allows true beginners the opportunity to utilize a one-click swing where they need only click and release the mouse button when the desired power level is approached. I don't even really understand the idea behind this one - it is either for those who have NEVER used a mouse before, or those who are afraid of it. More than likely it was added simply so the 2000 version of the game had a new interface feature...
Last year, bunker play was changed to become more realistic. This year, it seems that putting has gotten an overhaul. I noticed right away that I was not putting as consistently as I had in previous years. While putting may be a bit harder now, I do find that it is much more realistic. That close call that used to skirt the edge of the cup and drop into the hole no longer does so. I almost didn't notice this change - I simply thought my putting was off. After playing with it for awhile I realized that this wasn't due to my putting skills being rusty, there was an actual change to the game. Changes that make a game harder are not usually met with compliments, but I applaud Access for making putting more realistic. Combined with last year's bunker improvements, this game gets more and more realistic all the time.
The Links series HAS gotten better. However, this year the game is just not that much of an improvement over last year's version. There are minor updates to the engine that help a great deal and the five new courses are excellent. However, there is little else to entice an owner of Links 1999 to purchase the new edition. This is a judgement call that you have to make for yourself - the courses alone might be worth the purchase price. Just don't expect a significantly different game. To those considering purchasing Links LS for the first time, I highly recommend this series - for years it has consistently been the best PC golf simulation on the market.