World Series Baseball (Sega, CD-ROM for Sega Saturn, $69.99). Baseball simulations hit the market almost as often as Albert Belle throws temper tantrums. What makes this game stand out are its smooth graphics, crisp stereo sound and—this part is a bit unrealistic—briskly paced game play. All right, so Sega took a few shortcuts: You can play in only four stadiums, the physics of the ball are a bit curious, and all the batters have the same swing. Still, World Series succeeds because it makes the game look like fun. Forget deep statistical simulations and complex managerial strategies. Throw the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball. And gaze lovingly at Wrigley Field's ivy-covered brick walls. That's what baseball is all about.
Nascar Racing (Papyrus, CD-ROM for PC, $45). You don't have to be Richard Petty to understand the appeal of competitive racing: speed, the thrill of man mastering machine, and speed. This meticulously detailed stock car simulation conveys these elements by providing breathtakingly fast action with bright, clear graphics while offering the player an amazing level of control. How much control? You have to decide what brand of tire you'll race on. (Tip: Hoosiers are stickier, but Goodyears are more durable.)
If you're really into this control thing, try NASCAR Racing with the Formula T2 driving controls (Thrustmaster, peripherals for PC, $179.95), a steering wheel and pedal accessory set for your computer. Clamp the full-sized steering wheel to your desk, slip the heavy-duty brake and accelerator pedals under your feet, and you're ready for a driving experience that will have you screaming and cursing out loud as you trade paint with the other cars on your computer screen. (Tip number 2: Don't hook this system up at your office unless you have a really cool boss.)
Virtual Pool (Interplay, CD-ROM for PC, $49.95). From seedy pool halls to CD-ROM: Pocket billiards might not seem like a natural choice for a computer video game, but after a few minutes with this disc you'll wonder how pool was ever played before this program came along. Sophisticated modeling software reproduces the physics of a pool table so that the action of the balls has a highly realistic and satisfying feel. The game's tracking mode is enlightening: Turn it on, and you can see the projected paths of all the balls before you make your shot. Change your aim or apply some English with your mouse and see how the various vectors respond. The effect is hypnotic and educational. Who knows how good you could have been if you had misspent your youth playing with this program?
PGA Tour 96 (Electronic Arts, CD-ROM for PC, Sony PlayStation and 3DO, $59.95). If there's one lesson we've learned from the digital revolution, it's that golf was meant to be a computer game. Who wants to put up with tee times, temperamental weather and ugly pants? It's the crisply struck irons, the beautiful landscapes and the challenge of course management that draw us to the links, and all of those attractions are duplicated in this program. Why go to your local muni and hack around in the weeds for five hours when you can pop in this disc and play a round at Sawgrass, spanking 300-yard drives and fading high, soft two-irons to the green? You can play stroke or match play, or even a skins game against some of the PGA's top pros. Just remember to keep your left arm straight and your head down when you press the swing button.
Pro Play Golf (Thrustmaster, peripherals for PC, $799.95). Of course, if you like your golf simulations a bit more true to life, you might want to try out this system. First, make sure you have room (and money) to spare: This swing analyzer works in conjunction with your real golf clubs. Plug the electronic mat into your computer, load the analyzer software, address the tee on the mat and take full swings with your clubs. Sensors measure your club-head speed, club-face angle and follow-through, and the computer churns out a statistical profile of your swing, letting you know how badly you sliced. Next a golf-adviser program tells you which areas of your swing need improvement.
You can also load a version of the game Links 386 and play a simulated round. If you hang the safety net in front of the mat, you can actually hit balls off the tee. This way you can finish an entire round in the comfort of your presumably high-ceilinged den. The illusion is very convincing. Best of all, you'll never lose a ball, wait for a foursome in front of you or get hassled about a mulligan.