Interesting that this month we should have two golf simulations to look at, both boasting a 3D representation of each hole being played. Ariolasoft's Golf Construction Set is more complex than US Gold's Leader Board because, as its name implies, it allows you to design a golf course on which to play. However, you can dive straight in with the golf by playing any of the four famous courses already supplied, The Belfry, Wentworth Old Course, Sunningdale or Royal St Georges, Sandwich (home of Nick Faldo Plays The Open).
Let's look at playing a game first. First you must select one of the supplied courses or one you have designed and saved. Between 1 and 4 players may take part in either Match or Tournament Play and the individual's handicaps (if already saved) may be entered after typing in the name. The conditions to be encountered (wind, air temperature and ground condition) may be defined or allocated by the computer. The screen display shows a plan view of the hole (tee at the bottom, pin at the top) with ground slope indications along the fairway on the right and across the fairway on the left of the plan. Top left of the screen is a 3D view from the player's position (updated for each stroke), and below that lies the selection box. From here the clubs may be selected - woods 1 to 5, irons 1 to 9, a sand and pitching wedge, and a putter. Wind and ground conditions are also displayed alongside the hole number, par and distance in yards.
Pressing fire takes you to the aim box and you can move a cursor over the plan view to select shot direction. Fire then takes you to the loft box, a graphic of ball and club. The club may be raised or lowered to alter the angle of attack on the ball and therefore its flight trajectory. Next comes the fade box - a pair of feet are swivelled left or right of the centre line which causes the ball to fade left or right in flight. After this there is an option to go back and revise any decision.
When taking the shot, a small graphic of the golfer appears and pressing fire makes him start the backswing. Controlling the strength of the shot is done by pressing fire again when the desired amount of backswing is reached. In the top view, the ball can be seen flying away, while its path is mapped simultaneously on the plan view. Once on the green, the 3D view is replaced by a larger scale plan of the green, but the control system remains the same as for a tee or fairway shot.
With the handicap system, player difficulty levels are introduced from a handicap level of 28 (beginner) to zero (professional), the category affecting the probability of making a successful shot by introducing common playing faults. As in real life, the longer clubs (1 and 2 wood/irons) are more difficult to use, and it's harder to play out of rough than from the fairway.
The construction set display a box on the right for building the holes with some listed information across its top, another box to the left with the essential bits and pieces, and a message box below it. Everything is cursor driven. First the hole length must be chosen and its par. The tee and pin automatically come under your control after this is done and may be placed where desired, as long as the distance between them matches the par and length selected. Next the 'out of bounds' area is drawn in by 'dotting' your way round the perimeter of the hole with not more than 14 points. These are then joined up by the computer and the outer area filled. Now the various elements may be added, different sized shapes for greens, bunkers, water hazards and trees, and a colour editor to ensure they look right.
Having designed its shape, the last act to is to add gradients from flat to a steep slope left or right both across and along the fairway and green. Each hole designed is then allocated a number and saved out to build up an entire course which may be loaded with the main program for play.
Golf Construction Set comes complete with a manual containing six pages of instructions and hints, and a full colour booklet detailing one of the Wentworth courses as an aid to course design. The cassette version contains two tapes - side 1 the main game, side 2 the courses supplied, side 3 the construction set, and side 4 is available to save handicap and games. This review was prepared from using the disk version.
Someone has worked hard to make this program flexible and variable, but it hasn't quite been pulled off. Using GCS on disk is a slow and labour-intensive process, so goodness knows what it will be like on cassette. A serious handicap is that no one thought of a sensible quit function from games or main selections, so you're forced to reset and reload if you make a mistake. Following the time-honoured reviewers' test of friendliness (ie, play without referring to the instructions) proved a bit confusing generally, but downright infuriating when using the construction set. Having placed tee and pin I marked the out of bounds area but failed to close the encircling line; result - an entire out of bounds hole. Now I am locked, the cursor can't be moved off the plan view to 'oops' the mistake and there is no way of quitting. Reset and start loading again time.
The graphics work reasonably well, but it is hard to avoid comparing them with those in Leader Board and GCS falls down a bit in its sense of realism. I don't want to sound too hard on it, because I think there is a lot of fun here for the more serious-minded golfer, and certainly for one who has wanted to design a course and never been given the £4 million odd they seem to cost these days. It's just that the polish is missing to make GCS a really fine program.
I must admit that I'm not overly enthused by this golf simulation. The packaging is good, as is the documentation which is plentiful and comprehensive. Although the graphics are reasonable, the sound is week and virtually nonexistent. But what really puts me off Golf Construction Set is the number of selections that have to be made just to play a single shot. It may well be true to life, but it does make Ariolasoft's computer golf laborious and unexciting to play. Just like the real thing? Well, that depends on whether you like golf or not, but I can't see Golf Construction Set appealing to anyone other than hardened golfers with computers, and I doubt there are that many about.
Good instructions, plenty of options but it all seems like hard work at first and not having a 'quit' really hits the rating.
Generally neat and tidy but because of their blocky character, the 3D fails to be convincing.
Hardly any worth mentioning.
If you enjoy golf you'll probably persevere, otherwise it takes a bit of getting into with all the menus and selections.
And if you do persevere then there's as many courses as you care to design.
Value For Money 83%
Good for serious golfers, a bit pricey for the person who just wants as exciting a game of golf as possible.
An interesting attempt that doesn't quite hit the mark because of some silly little faults, but probably worth forking out for if you're a golfing type.