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I found myself on a golf course for the first time in many years the weekend before playing Jack Nicklaus 4 for the first time. My golf game hasn't changed at all since the last time I played: average drives, terrible 3 wood, pretty good short iron game and putting that ran from average to awful. I am sad to say, for me, that I play exactly the same way on Jack Nicklaus 4. That's why it is a great computer golf game. Even at its simplest and most forgiving level Jack Nicklaus 4 is a tough game. At the pro level the demands are even higher and the rewards greater. When you find yourself mimicking the golfer on the screen, shouting out "Yes!!" when you make a great shot and groaning and holding your head when you three-putt from eighteen inches, then you know the game has got you.
Jack Nicklaus 4 actually is two packages in one. One is the golf game itself and the other is the Course Designer. In Jack Nicklaus 4 you are given eight different play options to choose from: Best Score Competition - Pro, Best Score Competition - Handicap, Match Play, Sudden Death, $1 Million Skins Challenge, Bingo, Bango, Bongo, Stroke Play and Certified Game. Best Score Competition is played against the top ten rounds on the course of your choice. The players gross score is used to calculate results. In the Pro version handicaps are not considered while in the Handicap the net score is based on the player's handicap. In Match Play the object is to win the greatest number of holes from competing golfers. Sudden Death is just that: sudden death. The highest scoring golfer is dropped from each hole and the last remaining player is the winner. Skins is a Match Play game for two, three or four competitors where a golfer wins a 'skin' by recording the lowest score on a hole. In Bingo, Bango, Bongo golfers compete for three points which are awarded for each hole: first on the green, closest to the cup after all are on the green, and first in the cup. The player with the most points after eighteen holes is the winner. Stroke Play is the traditional method of scoring a match. Certified Game is a stroke play competition designed for email and regular mail play. You can also play a practice round in Jack Nicklaus 4 and the score will not be recorded in the compiled statistics for your golfer. Jack Nicklaus 4 has five courses to play: Muirfield Village, Colleton River Plantation, Country Club of the South and Cabo del Sol. The fifth course, Winding Springs, was inspired by Jack Nicklaus but was designed using the Jack Nicklaus 4 Course Designer. Each of the five courses offers a different challenge to your golfing abilities. In addition, using the Course Designer, you can create your own courses to challenge yourself and others. You can also convert and import Jack Nicklaus Golf: Signature Edition courses to play in Jack Nicklaus 4.
With the Jack Nicklaus 4 Course Designer you can play out your designer dreams and create the kind of golf course you have always wanted to play, or design a course you have always wanted to torture your friends with. The Course Designer will also allow you to modify the existing courses (though you are strongly advised to use Save As before you start fooling around with game files). There is a tutorial to walk you through the learning process (very helpful) of a very complex program. You may design each individual hole, one by one, or use the Course Wizard to create an entire course by inputting par, yardage and direction for each hole in the Scorecard Input box. After entering the information for eighteen holes, the holes are displayed graphically in a Custom Course window where you can re-arrange the course layout and edit individual holes.
Of course, Jack Nicklaus himself is one of the computer players you can play. Though he does play a pretty mean round. As in most games you can design your own golfer(s) deciding factors like skill level (Handicap, Scratch or Pro) male or female, right- or left-handed, which tee to use and what you will look like. You can play alone, with Jack or another computer golfer. Once you have mastered your golf game, or before, you can challenge others on the internet or play your friends on a LAN or modem connection.
In Jack Nicklaus 4, the Handicap skill level is the easiest play setting. The downswing is slow, making it easier to connect at the perfect contact point. Slice and hook penalties for missing the contact point are also minimized. However, a perfect shot will produce the shortest distances of the three game settings. A golfer who plays "scratch," plays to the par of a course, without the benefit of a handicap. The Scratch skill level is the medium setting. The downswing is faster than Handicap, but slower than Pro. Slice and hook penalties, as well as the average distance for a perfectly timed shot, are also set between the Pro and Handicap levels. The Pro skill level is the most challenging setting. Due to the increased speed of the downswing, it is tougher to hit the perfect contact point on the Swing Meter. Additionally, the slice and hook penalties are greater when you miss the ideal contact point. However, a perfect shot will produce the longest distances of the three game settings. In Jack Nicklaus 4 the Swing Meter uses a simple system of mouse clicks (or taps of the space bar which this reviewer found easier to control and time) to simulate a golf swing. However, just as in real golf, the Swing Meter requires your full concentration to master the three steps that compose a perfect swing. The first click on the Swing Meter is deceptively easy. Simply click to start the swing. However, as soon as the swing begins, you need to prepare for the second click, which controls power, and initiates the downswing. Since the goal is to click as the gray swing line passes through the mid-point of the top curve, you need to pick a spot before the mid-point as your target. If you wait until the swing line reaches the mid-point, it will be too late. By the time your click is registered, the swing line will reach the end of the top curve and the end result will be an over swing. The third and final click on the Swing Meter introduces a new variable. While the speed of the back swing is the same for all three skill settings (Handicap, Scratch and Pro), the speed of the downswing varies according to skill level. The downswing is slowest for Handicap, and fastest for Pro, with Scratch somewhere in between. Choosing the level of golfer you are going to play is just the beginning in Jack Nicklaus 4. Any shot type (Full, Chip or Putt) can be used with any club to allow you to achieve the required loft or distance to overcome a particular lie or obstacle. You may also aim your shot, apply draw or fade effects to your shot, adjust the swing intensity and change the swing trajectory. Each hole is introduced with a fly-by and a voice-over description of the hole. On one of the courses it is Nicklaus himself doing the commentary. As promised in the packaging, the screen redraw times are lightning fast though I found the computer calculations for the drives off the tee to be a little slow (using a Pentium 120). Jack Nicklaus 4 may also be played over a network, on the internet, with a serial connection and through a modem.
Jack Nicklaus 4 is an excellent golf package. The manual is clear and helpful especially the tutorials for gameplay and the course designer. The graphics are stunning, the Course Designer is amazing, the challenging gameplay allows you to just bash along or to learn from the game and refine your shot-making ability and finally, and perhaps most importantly, the game is fun to play.Written by Brian Millward
Note: Pentium 133 Mhz or faster for multiplayer options.
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