I love the game of golf. Unfortunately, I can t play it very well on a real course. The combination of variables (weather, course condition, mental and physical state) makes it a great challenge, but it can be extremely frustrating when things aren t going my way. On the other hand, I can master computer-based golf simulations and enjoy the thrill of a great drive or an accurate putt without losing a bag full of Titleists. I recently tried the Hexacto/Microsoft product Links for Pocket PC , and had a ball . This is by far the best sports simulation program I have ever played on a Pocket PC. The courses look super realistic, the game play is sophisticated but not frustrating, and the program is chock full of customizable features.
Installation was simple, but be warned: this program takes up about 6MB of Storage space, and you need about 9 MB of memory to run the game. I put everything on my SD card, and it ran quite smoothly.
The first screen you see is the Main Menu. From here, your selection options are Quick Start, New Round, Resume, Players, Player Stats, Credits, and Exit Links. Quick Start just takes you to a single player game without having to choose various setup options. If you select New Round, you have options to select different courses, 18 holes vs. front or back 9, rules for mulligans and gimmes, course conditions (wind, pin position, green hardness/speed), and players (you create players in the Players screen). You should note that the program being sold now only includes one player and one course (Chateau Whistler). If you want to add courses or players you need to buy expansion packs, but they are not currently available on the Hexacto web site.
Under Players, you can either create a new player or clone an existing one. You can select the skill level, and animation file, which tees they play, and whether they are right or left handed. Unfortunately, the program does not allow you to designate a computer opponent to play in a new round. I think this is a big drawback, because Pocket PC users are most likely to be playing this game by themselves while on the road. Even if I was with a companion, it s not much fun to pass the PDA around and squint over their shoulder to watch the action.
Player Stats is a really neat section of the program. You can choose to view the total number of holes/rounds played, the average score, the number of holes in one, longest drive and average drive. You can also look at the stats for each club used, including number of strokes, average distance and percent hit safe. It s kind of like having your own caddy giving you feedback on which club to use, based on your historical performance. There are also stats for putting, including longest putt made, average putts/18 holes, and average putt/hole.
During play, you get an enormous amount of information and control, but not to the point of being overwhelmed. You get an overhead preview shot of the hole at the beginning, and then a very realistic view down the fairway from just behind the tees. The swing is controlled by an oval-shaped gauge: one tap to start the swing, another to set the power, and a final tap to control the contact with the ball. In addition, there is a menu option to select various shot types, including straight, draw, fade and punch. The screen includes three small oval windows showing the slope of the course, wind direction and strength, and the lie of the ball. There is also a section view showing the ball location in relation to the green, with the elevation noted by a stepped landscape. Windows also indicate the shot number and distance to the green. The power meter indicates the club being used, and its average distance, which helps you select the proper power bar. Menus at the bottom of the screen allow you to select a different club, the type of shot, a different ball address position (rotation) and numerous other options.
One of the options is auto-continue, which moves you directly to the next shot. With this option disabled (my preference), you get a pop-up screen after each shot which allows you to continue, take a mulligan, or pick up the ball. You can also do a shot over by quickly tapping the screen twice immediately after making contact. You can choose to restrict the number of mulligans or make them unlimited. The program also gives you numerous options for views (panoramic, top or dynamic) and tracer modes. I like setting the dynamic view and full tracer mode, which lets you fully track the ball in flight. As the ball nears its landing, the view zooms in on the landing zone.
[Ellis] The realism and dynamic play really keep you hooked. You have to develop your skill in order to hit the ball accurately and with power, but once you master the technique you are rewarded with soaring shots. As with real golf, the program throws enough twists at you to keep things interesting. I was most impressed with the smoothness of movement, considering that I don t have a huge amount of available program memory on my PDA.
[Brian] This is the best looking game I have ever seen on a PDA. I love the graphics, the sounds are appropriate and it’s easy to pick up. Some of my favorite games growing up were the golf products produced by EA for the Sega Genesis and other consoles. Any fan of traditional golf games will be able to pick this one up and get going with ease. It ran very fluidly on my HP h2215 and on an Axim as well. I expected some stuttering on the screen redraws, but was surprised by the overall speed. No other golf game on a PDA comes close to the quality of Links from Hexacto.
[Ellis] The only major drawback for me is the fact that you can t play against the computer. Also, I don t know why they would release the program for distribution before the expansion packs are available. It does get tiring playing the same player and course over and over again. Finally, play on the greens can be tricky. When you are putting, all the factors of green speed/break, and the power of your stroke are more critical. However, it s hard to read the greens well on a small screen, even with the grid setting activated. I suppose this is a generic problem with any golf program designed for a handheld.
[Brian] I too find it problematic that you can’t play against the computer or other opponents via WiFi or other wireless connection. Maybe we’ll see that in future releases. I’d also like to see tournament options and other games styles like skins, best ball, etc. The release of more courses is certainly needed, while I love Whistler, you can only play the same course so many times. Hexacto has assured me more courses and player animations are coming soon though.
[Ellis] Overall, I give this program a rating of Double Eagle !
[Brian] Anyone who likes playing golf games needs to buy this one right now. It’s simply amazing and can only get better with more courses and player animations.
Links is available at Handango for the price of $24.95. A free trial is available and new courses and player animations will be released over the next few months.
-By Ellis and Brian