Head for the links with excellent golf game

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Let's get one thing straight. Golf isn't much of a sport.

Baseball is a sport. Can you picture Barry Bonds hiring some guy to carry his bat to the plate and tell him which way the wind is blowing? Or hitching a ride to left field in a cart?

That said, the game of golf can be fun, especially if you can play in your family room in your pajamas. That brings us to "Hot Shots Golf 3," new for your PlayStation 2 from Clap Hanz Limited and Sony.

Start out by selecting one of three golfers -- a young woman, a nerdy guy and a Joe Sixpack-type. Other characters can be unlocked if you challenge and beat them in Versus mode.

You can pick your stand-in's clothes and, in what has to be a first for southpaw gamers, you can even have them swing left-handed.

You can play single courses or go on the tournament trail, playing against a collection of unseen opponents for points, glory and other goodies. Points are useful for buying new gear.

There's also a taste of the future in the National Tournament, which lets you go online to compare your scores with other duffers around the nation. It's likely to be the basis for future online competition when Sony gets its online operation going.

HSG3 uses a swing control which calls for you to push a controller button three times. The first push starts the strength meter moving, the second sets the swing strength at your choice up to 100 percent, and the third sets the spot where the ball is hit.

Master this system and you're ready to take on Tiger.

The game gives you a bit of help with those all-important putts, with an interesting grid system showing the undulations of the putting surface and a series of moving dots to show the slope of the course.

Graphics are A all the way, with sharp detailing and a nice use of color. The greens are lovely, while the characters have their own strange quirks -- and really bad golf duds.

My main complaint? You are often left aiming for a pin you can't see because it's blocked by trees or rocks, making a decent shot very difficult. It is fun to blast the ball through the branches, however.

Sound gets a C. Sound effects are OK, but the horribly repetitive comments quickly rival fingernails on a chalkboard on the annoying scale. I wound up turning the whole mess off.

At least they weren't whispering.

Control gets an A. Once you master the shot meter, you can count on a decent score. Putting, especially the longer ones, really requires practice. Learning how hard to hit the ball and how to read the grid so your aim puts the ball in the hole takes some time.

Give "Hot Shots Golf 3" a B. It's the best video golf game I've played, and if you're looking for a way to play without being forced to buy a pair of plaid pants, this could be it. Golf may not be much of a sport, but "Hot Shots Golf 3" is a great game.

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