Review by matt91486

"Watching Tiger Wood’s third round collapse in the British Open yesterday has inspired me"

Grand Slam or bust. Eldrick “Tiger” Woods should tape that sign to the back of his tricked out Buick. Though it seems that the greatest accomplishment in golf (and tennis for that matter) will go unclaimed for yet another year, there’s nothing to stop you from winning the four tournaments at each level in Hot Shots Golf 3!

There are seven levels of golfer classification, and you can win the ‘Grand Slam’ in each -- snagging all four tournaments at each level. Levels range from Beginner to King and -- as you would expect -- difficulty increases as you progress through the rankings, both in weather conditions and the skill of your opposition.

Luckily as you win tournaments, you get handy little prizes that will improve your game, ranging from balls that will fly higher and faster through the air to clubs designed to put the maximum amount of spin as you strike with the face against the dimpled, round mass of white that has frustrated American businessmen for countless years. Also, Hot Shots Golf 3 includes a handy points system; A certain amount of points are added or deducted for various actions taken on the golf course. For example, you get two hundred points if you get a birdie. On the flip side, sixty points are taken away for hitting the ball out of bounds. These points can be used to purchase items in the store, some of which cannot be won through being victorious in tournaments.

The only way to progress through the game is to keep on winning. With each place you have in a tournament, you’ll fill up a meter a certain amount. The higher the finish, the more the meter fills up. When it’s reached one hundred percent of its goal, you move on to the next golfing classification. You don’t need to win all four tournaments to move up either, so if there’s a course you are having lots of trouble with, you can settle for a lower place there, purchase the prize item from the store, and reign victorious in the other three tournaments of that level to progress. Besides, even when you lose you get to try out the Prize Slots, yet another opportunity for you to add some nifty gadgets and gizmos to your bag.

While only four tournaments are held in each classification level, there are five courses overall, some of which are more realistic in their designs than others. One of the courses is actually very reminiscent of Muirfield, where the 2002 British Open is being held, featuring the same intimidating bunker depth, menacing weather conditions, and thick rough. Another course seems to be an offshoot of Pebble Beach, one of the iconic courses in the world. Each course will take a slightly different approach to play. Some courses require more caution, and a very prudent style, while on others you will have to take risky shots to stay in the hunt, as the field climbs further and further under par.

And despite Hot Shots Golf 3’s cartoonish atmosphere, the physics engine will allow you to use those different approaches on each course. You’re given an amazing amount of control over each shot, being able to choose to try and loft the ball over some tall spruce trees, or to trying to top the ball and keep it low to the ground to limit the wind’s impact on the shot. Sometimes you’ll aim to overshoot the hole and have the backspin carry it back towards the pin. Wind speed and precipitation need to always be taken into account for a successful round. Power shots need to be conserved for when you need to juice a little bit more off the tee, and very rarely will conditions allow for all the allotted number to be used. Spin must be altered depending on the location of the ball. And you must decide whether to take the risk hitting out of the rough with a more powerful club, or one that is accurate. If you don’t get a clean hit with your three-wood from the rough, you may end up with a disastrous shot, while a seven-iron is always a fairly safe choice.

All of these extremely difficult facets of golf that are extremely difficult to carry out in real life are a breeze to do on the screen. The meters are all clear and easy to read, and you can measure the strength of your shot by either distance or the percentage of your possible strength used. Top spin is easy to master by pressing and holding ‘Up’ after you’ve began filling your shot meter. Spinning the ball in other directions is carried out much the same. Power shots are easy to access with a quick press of ‘Square,’ but they should only be used when you’ve got a clear shot -- because the physics engine knows that there’s a lip at the top of a bunker, and the ball can very easily roll right down into it, an action more likely to happen when the ball is hit harder.

The one aspect of the physics engine that takes the most time to master, though, is putting. Each course has a different green speed, so putting from tournament to tournament will vary greatly. Also, one must learn to read the break of the green. This takes hours of practice to be able to accurately predict how much the ball’s course will alter as you putt. To assist you in your reading of the breaks is a putting grid. Dots move across the grid signifying the direction of the break, while their speed shows the severity. The grid is clearly visible against the green, so you shouldn’t have any trouble viewing it. When you master all of these aspects of putting and green play, only then will you be having great rounds far under par.

Yes, green seems to be the color of choice (except when playing the desert course in the summer,) in Hot Shots Golf 3. No matter what the course, the time of year, the mode, or the golfers, the flora is lush, vibrant, and perfectly manicured. The plant life is also very course specific -- you won’t be seeing cacti in Scotland, nor spruce trees in Arizona.

If you’re really feeling in a rut, you can change the outfits of the golfers so that their clothes are predominately green too. Granted, with a few of the golfers -- who range from Mafia bosses to country bumpkins -- would look a bit odd in green, but you can do it if you want. (Imagine Tony in a green Armani suit. He’d look like a modern-day Italian leprechaun.) And just like their varied wardrobes, the attributes of all of the playable golfers -- fifteen in all -- have their own distinct advantages and disadvantages. Generally the players with more powerful drives are not as accurate, and they’re far more likely to have a hook or a slice hindering their shots. Shorter hitters (the Mark O’Meara types) tend to almost always get great contact with the ball, and are far more suited for links-type play.

And if you want links-type play, you can surely find it in one of the modes, as the Scotland course is certainly built for just that. If you want to take on yourself in Practice Mode, take on the field in Tournament Mode, take on some friends in Versus Mode, or take on the nation in National Tournament Mode, feel free to do so. Clap Hanz admittedly threw in some “trash-talking caddies” for even more versus mode fun. Whenever you can cry out an annoying catch phrase as a member of your foursome gets ready for a birdie putt, that’s good in my book.

Actually, most of Hot Shots Golf 3 is good in my book, but there’s a few flaws that can make the going tough. the detailed, atmospheric graphical effects, some of the flaws can actually hurt your round a great deal. It’s entirely possible for caddies to block views of putts, and even more likely for bushes to become stealth-like when you’re hitting. For example, in the British Cup tournament that I played today, I hit into the bushes on the fifteenth hole. After one shot through the bushes, I thought I was out, since the graphical engine removed them from the picture. Little did I know that there were still another fifteen feet of bushes in front of where I was hitting. Quirks like that are sloppy programming, mislead players, and are entirely unforgivable.

Thankfully all of the esthetic choices that Clap Hanz made did not fare as poorly. In a wise move, the repetitive background music that is constantly heard on the menus fades completely away on the course. This allows you to appreciate the attention to detail in every aspect of the game even more. You can hear birds chirping as you watch the leaves rustle and a butterfly flutter overhead. The roar of the waterfall deep in a canyon is absolutely deafening. And of course you can appreciate all of the corny witticisms -- done with spectacular voice acting that really adds to the depth of the character (The accents are especially amusing.) -- that caddies and other golfers have to offer during your eventful rounds together.

Hot Shots Golf 3 certainly has the staying power to keep you playing for many eventful rounds too. The wide variety of modes and options virtually assure that you’ll always be playing with someone, because you never run out of incentive -- you’ll always have your records to beat. And the National Tournament Mode takes an idea started by Mario Tennis and one-ups it, allowing you to compare scores with fellow golfers from around the United States in any one of a variety of tournaments by entering the results password you receive into an ever-expanding online database.

Another reason while you will never stop playing is the always increasing difficulty level. To win tournaments at the King level, you not only have to have some very good golfing skills, but you have to have some great luck in less than stellar opponents and great weather. The levels really start picking up with Semi-Pro, so you end up with quite a large stretch of tournaments that are very difficult to win without a lot of practice.

Hot Shots Golf 3 is one of the few games that can suck you in with a variety of methods, and hold you there with still more. The golfing always remains fun, but it never sacrifices the realism to please Palmer-worshiping pundits. This perfect balance creates one of the best sports games on the market, and one with some attitude at that. It’s evident to me that the switch from Camelot to Clap Hanz didn’t hurt the series in the least.

PROS
*Fifteen distinctive characters and seven amusing caddies are featured.
*The physics engine is the best featured in a golfing game to date.
*A wide variety of modes makes sure that you’ll always have something to do.

CONS
*Only one short course is featured -- the inclusion of some more should have been a no-brainer.
*Putting can take a very long time to master.
*There has to have been some more stuff to include in the store for purchasing! Additional outfits or something mindless like that! Anything to use up those extra points!

SCORE SUMMARY

GAMEPLAY--9
GRAPHICS--8
MUSIC--3
SOUND--9
CONTROL--9
FUN--9
CHALLENGE--MEDIUM TO HIGH
REPLAY VALUE--HIGH

OVERALL--9


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 07/20/02, Updated 07/21/02


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