Golf is a game I have never played in real life, but ever since PGA Tour Golf on the Amiga, I’ve always enjoyed a round or two in front of the TV. It must also be said that you can’t have a games console without a decent golf game and with PGA Tour 96, we have Electronic Arts trying to fill that gap on the 3DO. Released in 1995, PGA Tour 96 was the first game in the PGA Tour series to be given a yearly suffix, a naming convention that continued until 2013’s Tiger Wood’s PGA Tour 14. That was an easy win for the marketing department!
Featuring a total of nine PGA Tour professionals, three championship courses (Summerlin, Sawgrass and River Highlands), plus a bevy of presentational features like “digitised golf swings”, instant replay and five different game modes (Practice, Tournament, Stroke, The Skins and Match Play), PGA Tour 96 contains fewer courses and professional players than the preceding PGA Tour Golf III but this was a chance for the noble game to be given a proper 32-bit console makeover.
Graphically, it’s all about those digitised players. Actually, they’re not bad at all and although age has not been kind, they’re much better then any polygon or sprite equivalent of the time. Ok, they look like they have been “green-screened” (good golfing joke there… No? Fair-way enough) but from a presentation viewpoint, it looks suitably next-gen for 1995. The same can be said of the courses – the vegetation is flat but the lie of the courses as well that curved power bar give a true sense of depth. The three courses are unique enough but the re-use of vegetation assets does bring a hint of uniformity to the proceedings. Aside from the golfer, there isn’t much animation about, though you can get a fly by of the hole you are playing which is quite cool. Speaking of the golfer, even the pro’s only get three sets of animations: the tee/fairway swing, the chip shot and the putt. The repetitiveness is obvious when there is so little else moving on screen.
Audio is a mixed bag. The piano music is suitably “golfy” but when you are actually playing, there isn’t much to talk about or indeed much talking. Aside from the sound effects of the ball being hit and landing, you’ll not hear anything until you get to the green, at which point you’ll get whispering commentators telling you the bleeding obvious. It adds to the atmosphere, although the hushed tones are a bit creepy. You also get some crowd input if you sink or miss a close putt but otherwise it’s as silent as a graveyard out there. When selecting a professional to play or play against, you do get a canned sound bite from them to go with a small screen of stats. Your professional also gets an introduction at the first tee, so there is that. Audio, then, is functional.
As for actually playing the game, it’s rather good fun, with enough variation in the three courses and the five modes to keep you occupied. The pace of game is decent and you have three levels of play to try out. Novice gives you the most assistance with club choice and leeway with the controls – those yellow “hit” zones on the power bar are a must. Amateur forces you to make some choices yourself as well as tightening up the hit areas on the swing bar, whilst the Pro level basically leaves you to figure out the technicalities yourself and your swing has to be spot on. Up to four players can take part, so social multiplayer is definitely a strong point of this game. All combined, these give PGA Tour 96 a good deal of longevity and if you are a fan of the sport, you’ll have hours of play ahead of you.
There are some niggles but these don’t really add up to much or spoil the game in any real way. The loading can be a tad slow, but that’s neither here nor there. The comments you receive on the green can’t be skipped, even for the shortest of putts, which is a bit of a pain when all you’ve got to do is tap it in. You can take a “Gimmie” if your not in a Tournament, playing a Skins game or in Match Play, so it’s better to get used to those comments early on because you’ll have to live with them every single time you get to the green. I would also have preferred a change in camera view after taking your shot, at least to show you where the ball has landed, rather than just see a white dot in the far distance (or not at all), but that’s nothing major. It can also take a while to master that swing gauge even though it follows the usual three button technique: tap to start the swing, tap again for the power limit and a final for accuracy. It’s not as easy to read as a simple bar and I for one struggled to get the hang of timing my final press. Your experience may well differ. Lastly, I maybe would have liked more courses, but again, this is not a deal breaker.
PGA Tour 96 is a respectable game of golf on the 3DO and better than many of its contemporaries. The graphics are good for the period, the audio does the job it needs to and, unlike later titles in the series, the game itself does not take a back seat to the presentation, which is to its benefit. With enough depth to keep players involved and good social gaming potential, this one is well worth picking up.
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PGA Tour 96 does the game of golf justice with just enough 32-bit bells and whistles (and all important playability) to counter the drop in content from previous titles.