Sid Meier's SimGolf Review (PC)
For a long time the only golf course design I'd ever done was either wasting time designing my ultimate course on a legal pad or trying to recreate masterpieces with golf games. One allowed me to be as creative as possible but never actually playing it and the other was too time consuming and detail oriented to enjoy. Now comes along SimGolf, a mix of SimCity, with a dose of Roller Coaster Tycoon and a dash of The Sims for good measure. Simply put its all these things except with a golf course.
SimGolf streamlines golf course design and management and makes it fun. While you won't recreate Augusta or Pebble Beach, you'll have a great time creating a course from scratch and watching the golfers come to play it.
Let's take SimGolf from the start and see what it has to offer.
Right off, you will have to select the location that you want to create your course. At first you start off with 100,000 simoleans (the currency of SimGolf). To make it harder the plots of land range from 40k to 80k and offers such locales as desert, links, tropical, and woodland. There are 17 locations from Scotland to the Rocky Mountains to Phoenix and Hawaii. Each locale offers a different enticement for the course. In Scotland you might have a castle, while in a tropical location; dolphins or a waterfall.
Once you select the location, of your golfing majesty, it's off to the course. The land plots have no holes just trees, grass (desert), water or various special landmark items. From there it's time to create the ideal course. Creating a hole is very easy. All that is required is a tee box and a green. After that, you fill it in with fairway, curve it around a group of trees or water and then add all the extras like a bunker, heavy rough, rocks, more trees or flowers. The easy part is designing a hole the hard part is designing one that will make it into a special category that makes more golfers want to play it.
With the limited amount of funds you won't be able to build a full course right away. Then again you don't need to. After the first few holes are complete, golfers will arrive to play them. Instead of other games like RC Tycoon or Themepark, you don't set the amount of green fees. When a golfer completes a hole he pays you depending one what he feels that hole is worth. If he thinks the hole is great he'll give you a tidier sum, thinks a monkey designed it than less money will come your way. Sure it's not very realistic but works well for the game.
At first glance this idea of just design a course might get old quickly. However the real gem to the game comes as you progress further into course design. More golfers mean more money and more money means more additions to the course, which in turn makes the golfers pay more.
Once in a while a few important people play your course, Ivana Richman and I.P. Freely (the Maxis humor is starting to show through!). Both have significant impact on your course. If Ms. Richman likes your coure she will donate a relic that might add to the beauty of it, or keep dandelions away. I.P. Freely when happy will offer to donate more land which is needed because you can't build a full 18 until you have a few land plots.
Once you get money and achieve certain golf course goals, like building a dog-leg right or winning a tournament more course structures are available like a putting green, snack bar, or a hotel. Each one contributes to making your golfers play better which makes them happy, which makes them pay more.
Some other fun options occur once you get members to the course they'll come back and play and might upgrade their membership. When this happens you'll be able to sell housing plots, upgrade course structures and of course get a higher sum for green fees. Housing is a hoot because not only do you make money on selling your house but celebrities move in like Britney Aguilera, Pamela Panderson or Bubba Klinton.
Lastly every so often the SGA will want to host a tournament. At first you'll get the run of the mill hacks but by building a course to SGA recommendations you'll get better pros like Tree Levino, Palmer Arnold, Fred Pairs or the ever so great Tiger Forest.
The sidenote to this is while you accomplish your goals designing a hole and sometimes playing it, your golf pro will be able to get better through allocating skill points. Design a really great a hole and you can distribute these skill points to over 10 categories. But the emphasis of the game isn't to solely play the course but to design a great one. That's why the playing model is rather simplistic. You don't get a swing meter and you aren't able to read a green with a grid. All you can do is select the type of shot and general direction and hope your tiny little golfer doesn't mess up.
I could go on for a few more paragraphs on the features alone but let's move this onto the more critical part of this review.
Graphically the game isn't going to make you think wow those are the best graphics this side of Silicon Valley. They are a sim game's graphics, meaning they work well enough, look cute but don't raise any eyebrows. The courses look great, in fact if you where to take aerial shots of real course you would want them to look like SimGolf. However the golfers and their animations are the ever so eye-appealing 2D variety. In turn, you get the herky jerkey, I-only-move-in-45-degree-angles animation.
Sound, well all I have to say is there is some. It's not great music like SimCity 3000 where they had a few appealing sound tracks. All you get is ambiance noise, golfers screaming (one women has about 10 orgasms after hitting a great shot), sounds of golf balls going everywhere and the annoying SimChat goobly-gook. It would have been nice to have sound track similar to each location. For example in Scotland have the bagpipes rearing, in the Rocky Mountains some acoustic John Denver type guitar, or in Hawaii have the hula music. While the sounds doesn't make you want to pull your hair out it could have done so much more.
As for the game itself it’s fun period. But if you are expecting the ultimate golf course simulator you won't find it. The game isn't made for hardcore golf fanatics, and it doesn't have to be. I only bring this up because if you know a lot about golf and try to design really great holes you'll be disappointed what has to be done to make a great hole. The conventional golf wisdom gets thrown out of the window and anything goes. This makes the game more accessible but also allows for great holes to have trees in the fairway, weird shaped holes, and missed placed bunkers.
Another gameplay problem I have is that after so many golfer that play a hole eventually after a while all golf holes will become on the 100 best list or top 18 list. For instance I designed a okay hole, for the first years of my course, other holes where receiving higher green fees and getting praise. But it seems that any hole can become great because the point system for grading holes seems to be accumulative and not average (holes are graded on a point system with imagination, length and accuracy criteria).
My last criticism is that if you are still playing SimCity or RC Tycoon then this need not apply. But for the rest of the world with very short attention span the game seems rather shallow. There's no denying that you could build endless amounts of courses but after a while it will become too predictable. The formula is design a hole, have people play, get money, add more holes and more additions then some features are unlocked. So if you ever get bored, that's the end of the game. You could play the courses you designed but with it's very simple golfing model that does become a little boring.
Since this is a PC game, I always add a paragraph about bugs or what I think are bugs. With a patch this problem is fixed but if you design a course with over 14 holes and try to hold a tournament it will crash. Second is that all the landmarks you acquire in one course are carried over when you start another course. Also it seems strange that all the landmarks are the same. You'll have a Civil War statue donated when you design a scottish links course. All in all, the game is extremely stable. The game hasn't crashed on me once before the patch and hasn't since.
To conclude, SimGolf is a fun golf course simulator. While not revolutionary as other "Sim" games it does a great job of what it is supposed to do. My complaints with the game are the same I have with all Sim games, once you experience it, the only thing bringing you back is the sheer fun of designing golf courses. Bottom line, this game is a fun experience, and one that really should be had by anyone that loves golf, golf design or Sim game lovers.