Summary: Sid Meier's company, Firaxis, takes a crack at the ever popular "sim" genre of games. In SimGolf, players design and build their own golf courses - how does this title stand up to our scrutiny?
Publisher: Electronic Arts/Maxis
Sim Golf official page: http://simgolf.ea.com/
The man, the myth, the legend. He is the single human cause of most college dropouts and the inspiration of aspiring game designers anywhere. Sid Meier. No matter what I or any other reviewer might say about SimGolf, it will sell like hotcakes. The first reason, is because the full title is "Sid Meier’s SimGolf." It could be "Sid Meier’s Crappiest Game In Computer History" and it would sell out. Sid is far, far beyond the typical game designer. He is recognized among the mainstream audiences as a safe choice.
However, that is only half the reason for SimGolf’s incoming, inescapable steamroller of success. The second reason is ‘Sim’. Since The Sims, anything Sim will sell. It could be SimRock, the real-time simulation of the creation and erosion of igneous rock, and it would sell. Will Wright, the man behind SimCity and Maxis in general, may not be as well known as Sid Meier, but he is no less influential. Take Will’s Sim concept, throw in the Sid Meier name and design, and you have what is going to be very likely the best-selling game of the year. But is it good?
What do I do?
SimGolf does not have the player playing golf. There are far too many golf simulators out there, and they have untouchable leads and licenses to real golf courses. Besides, for most people, playing a golf simulator is as stimulating as watching golf on TV. No, SimGolf puts you in charge of designing and running a golf course.
Every new game gives you $100,000, and the opportunity to buy some locations from around the world. Not all of them are available initially – all but four will be too expensive. The four that are available are random, but there usually will be one of each type of course – a normal course, a desert course, a tropical one and a links course. The differences between these are merely cosmetic, though they add some character to the game.
Once the course is bought, you will start with a clubhouse and just enough money to build your first hole. As with most Sim games, there is no ultimate objective, though there are rewards for success and doing a good job. Milestones, both for your resident pro and the course itself, appear along the way and may or may not be accomplished. There are incentives to do so, but no penalties. All that the player is forced to do is maintain positive cash flow, and even then this task can be eliminated in Sandbox mode.
SIDEBAR: Windows 9X/ME/2000/XP (NT not supported)
Pentium II 300
64 MB RAM
8MB DirectX 8.0 compatible graphics adapter
16 bit DirectX 8 sound card
300MB Hard Disk space
Pentium III/Athlon 400
128MB of RAM
SimGolf is all about old school, 2D sprite graphics. There are polygons, but they don’t look all that accelerated. Characters are frame-by-frame animations. Buildings, trees, the ground – they’re all two-dimensional. Sure, there is a height/depth factor, but it’s blocky, grid-based and more like Populous or Alpha Centauri, than, say WarCraft III. For all intents and purposes, while the world is 3D deep down inside (see: golf ball shadows, object collision, terrain physics), it tries very hard to look like a homely sprite-based game.
All this simplicity works to SimGolf’s advantage. The graphics might not be pretty, but they’re cute. They won’t overwhelm the player, but they will grow on him. It’s almost as if someone at Firaxis decided that the graphics should only support the gameplay, not vice-versa.
What it may lack in sheer, overwhelming quality, SimGolf makes up in quantity. The variety of buildings, objects, players, trees, and terrain is quite astounding. Fountains spring up from water terrain blocks, or you may see dolphins perform jumping tricks there. Celebrities might dance in the patios of the homes they build on your property, a Firaxis blimp will occasionally do a fly-through and cast its shadow over your course, golfers have celebration dances and angry tirades. All this occurs on four different tilesets, each with its own unique characteristics and certain special buildings.
Sound effects in SimGolf are for color only. Some do notify you of special events that have occurred, but once the money starts rolling in, those effects are forgettable. The rest of the sounds simply help the graphics flow along, or add character to the game. SimGolfers talk in meaningless Sim-language ‘wawawas’ and make generally recognizable exclamations to cheer or vent their frustrations.
512MB of RAM
GeForce 2 GTS 32MB
Hercules GameTheater XP
Pioneer 5X DVD-ROM slotload
The interface is beautiful. Anything and everything can be accomplished by mouse, and the only keyboard buttons that have regular use are the Tab and spacebar. The main menu at bottom has three sub-menus, each with two or three smaller menus within. They are logical, self-explanatory, and if necessary, have pop ups that display the general function of most buttons if you hold the mouse over them long enough.
However, after the Europa Universalis games, it’s hard to live with just a ‘stock configuration’. We want the ability to make any notification pop up, pop up and pause, disappear, play a sound effect… anything. SimGolf has dozens of notifications you stop caring about after a while. The special ‘Stories’ that certain character pairs go through, momentous shots in a character’s gaming day that are snap-shotted… on a long 18 hole course, there’s just too many. In moderation, all these events add character and change SimGolf from a serious sim into a fun game. In excess, they can drive the player nuts.
What’s your handicap?
SimGolf is not about golf as much as building the courses it is played on. Now, despite being a cutesy Sims game, it actually does a very fair job of making the player follow the basic guidelines of a good hole. But before we get to that, let’s take thing from the top.
Each terrain has a few different buildings, but they all serve the same purpose. The casino in the desert does the same thing as the airstrip on normal terrain or the castle in links. In addition to these features, every specific location has its own special feature. For some, it is a free putting green or driving range, while on others it’s a special decoration, like those stonehenge formations.
Making the grade
On any single course, the ultimate task is to design 18 holes of golfing bliss. There are no hard and set formulas to do so, however, your holes to have indicators that help to tell you how good the design is. Holes are rated in three skill categories and a fun factor. Length, accuracy and imagination indicate how well the hole trains your golfer’s skills, and how much it challenges them. Fun factor tells you how much your golfers enjoy that hole.
That he does not play a sport
But a passive game
But why bother?
Designing and building a course is expensive. The money has to come from somewhere, and ‘somewhere’ tends to be the golfers who take advantage of your facilities. A good assortment and variety of holes are the best way to attract visitors and entice them to become members. If your course is good enough you may start seeing people upgrade to Silver and Gold memberships. Silver members buy properties on your courses, while Gold members pony up extra cash for every hole they complete.
Strategic placement of snack bars and refreshment servers will increase your revenue stream considerably. Players need food and drink, not to mention rest – which is where your benches come in. Other buildings and landmarks help in many ways. Golf cart garages make players go around the course faster, further helping cashflow. A resort hotel keeps them rested longer, and most landmarks increase the enjoyment of players who spot them. Placing those landmarks around tough holes will keep players from getting angry.
Weeds like dandelions can become a problem, so hiring a lawn technician is a must. Slow players are herded along by a ranger or marshal, and that same marshal will eject unruly players who’ve been frustrated too much and go on rampages.
Naturally, you have a chance to play the game yourself. You, as the course designer, are also the resident pro who can take care of all duties himself – from wacking weeds with his driver to greeting everyone at the entrance like a celebrity.
As your course fulfills certain requirements (1st 5 par hole, 6 holes, 9 holes, 13 holes, 18 holes, 1st $500,000 tournament and the like), your character gains advancement points to improve his golfing skills. You can take yourself out for a practice round, take up a fellow pro on a challenge or enter tournaments. Despite the rather large payouts of over a million dollars for first place on an 18 hole course, tournaments are not where the money is at. No one else can play during tournaments, they take exceedingly long and success is far from guaranteed. All your competition seems to be a play on real pros – players ‘almost’ like Bobby Jones, John Daly or Vijay Singh infest tournaments. In regular play, you have stereotypes like the rappers ‘Biggie’ and ‘Prince’, or tycoons like ‘J.R.’ on your field. All these cute touches add a lot of atmosphere to the game and make it a very friendly experience, for lack of a better word. I mean, when’s the last time you played golf in a crocodile-infested course, almost hit one of the beasts and said “Aww, looks like I almost scared that little crocodile.” SimGolfers do that and more.
Playing your courses can be an exercise in frustration, since shots are based on the same grid system as the terrain. Occasionally, it is impossible to find a shot that say… will be long enough to get past the bunker, but won’t roll into the water hazard beyond the fairway. Fine control is sorely missed.
In the long run, SimGolf is extremely addictive. Designing that perfect ‘Classic’ hole which will challenge all the skills, making the most balanced course, or just touching up some holes to bring them up to par with the rest of the course can become a passion. Conquering the golfing world by making a course on all available properties can be a long-term goal.
Great Gameplay. SimGolf has it all. Fun, laughs, challenge and an addiction rating worthy enough to put it on the FDA’s radar. You can spend hours just designing or perfect a single hole. Tournaments, challenges, making an economically viable course and satisfying important guests… the tasks never end.
Getting the patch. EA seems to have adopted some sort of heinous method of extracting personal information from players, just to allow them to get a patch. You need to register the game, using the CD key, to download a patch. Needless to say, this has some serious consequences for selling the game used (do YOU want to give up your username and password? What if it’s linked to multiple game accounts and CD keys?) … nevermind privacy. BAD EA! BAD!
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