The king is back! After playing Links 2000, which featured very few improvements over the previous version, I thought the king of golf sims was starting to peter out. Links 2001 finally moves the series forward again, including support for 3D acceleration and a lot of useful new options.
Previous Links games featured photorealistic graphics and looked great, but Links 2001 looks even better. In software rendering mode, the game still looks better than earlier versions, but you have the option to enable acceleration to assist in drawing the courses. This makes the game look better still, but is somewhat buggy. On older, but still popular 3D cards, the game can lock up, freeze, and even force a cold boot of the system. These are the worst types of lockups, as there is no way to gracefully exit the game. Hitting the reset button is not the most valid way to exit a game. While the graphics look great, the acceleration needs some serious work.
Sound effects are wonderful and the commentary is very nicely done. All of the golfer animations come with their own witty repartee, and it is very lively. I found one or two spots where the golfer commented oppositely on what happened, but this is rare.
If you've ever played a Links game, you will know what to expect from the interface. The game supports the classic two or three-click style, and is able to sense which method you're using. The ultra-simple easy swing is present as well, but that is for true beginners or children interested in playing.
Courses included with the game are the Four Seasons Resort Aviara, Chateau Whistler, Prince Course, Mesa Roja, St. Andrews Old Course, and Westfields Golf Club. Mesa Roja particularly stands out as the course is surrounded by spectacular Southwestern mesas. Chateau Whistler's breathtaking mountain views are also quite stunning.
Improvements to the game include more detail around bunkers, better visualization through the rendering engine, much more detail on shot-making (particularly on putts), and less of a pause between calculating a shot and seeing it execute. While Links has always had the animation follow the clicks that formulate the shot, this has never bothered me. I don't mind watching the animation in full after I concentrate on my shot. Other details include the ability to create left-handed player models and the club distance is totally configurable now. Planting the aim flag on a putting green now shows an arrow that points the way down the grade. I was actually surprised at how useful most of the new options are, considering that I never really noticed that they were missing before. Tiny details like showing the steepness of a grade on the putting grid by varying the color of the grid makes the game more realistic. All of the changes in this version of the game are very welcome.
To top it off, a course designer has been included with this game. Once available only in "other" golf games, Links now gives you the ability to create, trade, and compete on custom courses. Want to create your home course so that you and your friends can play on it? Go right ahead. The tool is fairly easy to use and while it takes some finesse to get used to it, has a fairly short learning curve.
It was difficult for me to imagine Links getting any better. At best I thought small changes and new courses would be the most I could hope for. I was blown away by the sheer number of improvements to the game, while retaining the excellent physics engine that made this the top golf game for so long.