SimGolf Review

SimGolf is a collaborative effort between Sid Meier of Civilization and Alpha Centauri fame, and Electronic Arts, publisher of The Sims and SimCity.  The result is a golf course design and management simulation heavy on the fun and addicting gameplay, and light on the hardcore economics.

The story behind the game is that a dear old uncle has left you with a lot of money, providing that you use it to fulfill his dream of building golf courses around world.  That's about the extent of the story and about all of it that you'll see in the game.  SimGolf forgoes story and scenarios for more of an open-ended style of gameplay - in fact, it even provides a "sandbox" mode which gives you unlimited cash to design and build your dream course.  Unless you're one of those players that feels that they need a compelling storyline to provide motivation for play, you won't mind this at all - you'll be having too much fun with the game's jump-right-in, open-ended and freestyle mode of play to notice.

On the surface, SimGolf is not too complicated.  You begin the game by selecting a property from the 16 provided by the game.  The properties are spread across the globe and provide differing amounts of starting land and bonus structures.  Some of these properties are more expensive than others, and players will not be able to afford to purchase every area when starting out.  The properties also fall into one of four classes which affect the type of terrain and the buildings available.  These classes are parklands, links, desert, and tropical, where parklands are temperate climate courses and links are traditional European courses in the St. Andrew's mold.  Once a course is selected, the player is taken to a screen which provides a three-quarters, overhead perspective of the purchased land.  Each property comes with a clubhouse, and perhaps bonus buildings, but nothing else.  It is up to the player to create the course and support structures. 

Creating a hole is a pretty easy process.  The player is provided with an interface that will have a very familiar look to players of The Sims.  It provides palettes containing icons for the available buildings and the components of golf holes.  Players first select the location of the tee and then place the green.  The game will draw a line from the tee to the hole during hole construction to help the player judge the hole distance and the most likely approach golfers will take when they play the hole.  The player can then add sand traps, fairway, rough, water, and a host of other hazards by selecting the corresponding icons and placing them along the hole.  Every item placed costs money, though, so players will need to keep an eye on their bank account before going too wild while designing a hole.  Once a player is satisfied with the hole it can be opened for business and golfers will begin to play it.  Opened holes can be redesigned or upgraded at any time, so players can always tweak them to their liking as time goes on.

Income is earned when golfers complete a hole, with the amount tied to the degree of enjoyment experienced by golfers while playing it.  Golfers come with varying degrees of skill, and their enjoyment of the hole will be directly affected by its difficulty.  Make a challenging hole and the top golfers will be very pleased.  However, you'll end up frustrating the majority of golfers and they may end up leaving the course in disgust - and take their money with them.

Players can also earn money through various course facilities such as snack bars, or by winning tournaments hosted at the course.  The player's in-game persona takes the form of a golf pro who can enter tournaments or play a game of skins with visiting pros.  The prize money for winning the tournaments is usually quite significant, so there is definitely an advantage to shutting the course down for a tournament.  Playing the course is quite easy - the player selects a type of shot (drive, hook, high backspin, etc.) and the desired length and direction (chipping and putting are handled automatically).  The golf pro will then try to make the shot, with it's accuracy based on the pro's skill ratings.  No need for the player to deal with the timed mouse clicks prevalent in golfing simulations, the games simple but elegant method of play removes the need for a well-timed trigger finger.  Well-placed shots and certain other events will provide the player with additional skill points to further customize and improve the golf pro. 

The game's relationship to The Sims goes beyond its interface.  Players of The Sims will recognize the sound of "simlish" drifting across their course and the currency of the game is "simoleons".  In addition, the golfers are all rated on various skills and personality traits.  When two compatible golfers join each other for a game, a "sim story" begins.  The story unfolds as a conversation between the golfers during their round.  If they are enjoying themselves, the story will move in a positive direction and eventually reach a successful conclusion.  Successful sim stories are tracked by the game, and courses receive an award for successful stories which includes a special item to place on the course.  There are also special golfers which periodically come to play a round.  If they complete the course and enjoy themselves, the player is awarded with the opportunity to buy more land for the course or a special item to add to the course.