HOT SHOTS GOLF: FORE!, Sony Computer Entertainment America/Clap Hanz
Sony's Hot Shots franchise has built its reputation on one core element -- the fact that, unlike real-world golf, nearly anyone can pick up the game and play it. Hot Shots has no fancy swing mechanic, just a basic three-tap control (once to start the swing, a second to adjust its power and a third for contact). Most golf aficionados will probably stick to the detail-soaked realism of EA's Tiger Woods titles, but Fore may draw a lot of fans from the rest of us.
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After players pick from a stable of 34 goofball characters (characters from other PS2 games, such as Ratchet, Clank, Jak and Daxter, become available in later levels), it's time to start competing in tournaments. Winning will open up 15 additional courses and send players into additional short games -- the miniature golf contest is a hoot. In addition to the traditional single-player mode, Fore adds an online game-play option. You can challenge one other player head-to-head or enter tournaments with up to 50 players. In the smaller tournaments (for four or fewer golfers), you can use a headset to chat with your competitors -- or do your best "Caddyshack" impression by trash-talking when they putt.
Fore's graphics also look much better than those of previous releases. The courses exhibit more lifelike detail, including moving clouds and swaying grass and trees, and characters appear sharper. Lighting effects highlight expertly played shots.
Most interesting was the way Fore hides deeper play mechanics that more ambitious gamers can exploit. When you get bored with its triple-tap control, pressing the right buttons on the controller at the appropriate moments will allow finer adjustments -- you can hook or slice the shot and even put a little backspin on the ball. That makes this game more than the cartoonish take on golf it's advertised as.
-- Tom Ham
PlayStation 2, $40