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Tiger Woods 2000 PGA Tour (PC) Review

Publisher: EA Sports

Background Info

The main appeal of the EA Sports series of golf sims has been the ability to play as, or against, real life PGA Tour players and play on many of the same PGA Tour courses you watch the pros play. The digitized likenesses of PGA Tour players from Brad Faxon to Lee Jansen have been made available and are easily recognizable. Courses from the classic and controversial TPC at Sawgrass by Pete Dye to one of the greatest courses in the world, Pebble Beach, are just a few short clicks away.

Now, of course, the EA Sports golf sim is built around the most popular golfer of our time and, currently, the number one ranked player in the world: Eldrick “Tiger” Woods. Tiger's likeness is dressed in his classic red and black “Sunday best”. His mannerisms are all there too, from letting go of his driver with one hand when he hits a wild one, to scratching his neck and shaking his head when he misses a makeable putt. The initial appeal of this game is obvious: play with Tiger, play as Tiger or play against Tiger.

Presentation/Graphics : 73
My initial impressions of the graphics are that they are simply not as good as those found in Jack Nicklaus 6 or Links LS 2000. Keep in mind that Jack Nicklaus 6: Golden Bear Challenge first hit the shelves about a year ago.

From posts I've read at various sites on the internet, that's just fine with the Tiger Woods faithful. They wanted to see the majority of the improvements in this series made in the gameplay department. If, indeed, they haven't raised their expectations of what the graphic improvements will be, then they won't be too disappointed. But, someone new to golf sims looking for an attractive rendering of a golf course will not find it in TW2K.

I played the game on both a PIII-550 and a PII-450 each with 128 megs of RAM and each with a 32 meg TNT2 Ultra video card (slightly overclocked). I ran the game at resolutions from 1024x768 to 1600x1200.

The digitized golfers themselves aren't too bad, especially Tiger himself, but some of the other golfers seemed a bit “washed out” and lacked definition, similar to the digitized golfers found in the Links series. Something new to the list of PGA Tour golfers available, is the inclusion of Pro golfer wannabe: Michael Jordan. I wish I could say his inclusion was a treat. Frankly, it wasn't. The animation and overall look of the Jordan character was, by far, the worst looking of the bunch. Besides, I don't need to see Michael Jordan in my golf sim anymore than I need to see Tiger Woods in the next version of NBA Live or Garth Brooks in the next version of Triple Play.

There was quite a bit of choppiness during the swing animation and in the ball flight. This was less prevalent when I did a full install of the game but it was noticeable enough to be an annoyance if doing a “typical” (not complete) install. I was running the game at 1024x768 resolution with the detail level set to High (not Very High). The game was virtually a slide show on my PII-450 machine at 1600x1200 with the PIP window open. At 1024 by 768 and with the PIP window turned off, the choppiness was minimized. However, it looked instead that the golfer animations simply didn't have enough frames of animation recorded to make the golfer movement look fluid and smooth. I found it disturbing that a game that had such mediocre graphics performed so poorly on machines that were well beyond the required hardware. For comparison, I booted up Jack Nicklaus 6 and Links LS 2000 and ran them both at 1280x1024 with detail levels set to maximum. The golfer and ball animations in both games were very smooth even with the PIP window open in JN6 and with multiple camera windows open in Links LS 2000. Why TW2K performs so poorly at lower resolutions and lower detail settings is a puzzle.

The trees and bushes are heavily pixelated, especially up close. It was also obvious, looking down the fairway on a hole or two that the same trees were used over and over again without so much as a change in height to break up the monotony. The trees were also “cropped” and trimmed badly. They looked blurry around the edges and lacked detail.

The textures used for fairway, greens, tees, rough and sand were decent in appearance but where the edge of one texture meets another, such as the fairway touching the first cut of rough, heavy “staircasing” was evident, leaving a “jagged” appearance.

Another problem I had with the animations was that of the ball going into the hole. You see, the ball never really looks like it actually falls into the hole like it does in Jack Nicklaus 6, Links LS (pick a version) or PGA'99. The ball approaches the hole and it looks as if once the “edge” of the image of the ball touches the “edge” of the image of the cup, the ball (Abracadabra!) disappears, followed by the sound of a ball going into a hole. This might sound like a nit-pick, but many times, while putting, you will swear that your putt is going to miss wide only to see it vanish, followed by the sound of surlyn bouncing at the bottom of a cup.

As a whole, however, the general appearance of the courses themselves look pretty good and a solid collection of courses were included on which to play your “Tour.” The TPC at Sawgrass, among others, showed off the game engine's ability to create near vertical walls (something Nicklaus 6 does not do well at all) and as a result, the railroad ties on some of the holes were very well done indeed. The 17th at Sawgrass looks especially nice.

The golf ball, especially on the putting green, looks about the size of a baseball and you can see the bottom of the ball sticking out below the bottom of the putter. That just doesn't look quite right to me. I'd like to see a more realistic scale to the ball, especially on the green.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the graphics is something that plagued previous versions of the Nicklaus series (especially JN4 and JN5): the dreaded “green line”. The green line is an area of the course between where the foreground ends and the background begins. This is an area of “dead space” where the makers of the course can't place objects, elevations or textures. The result is a large area of dead space, void of objects, going all the way to the horizon till it reaches the background. Since this area is usually green, it's been dubbed the “green line” by the Nicklaus users, and in TW2K, it rears its very large and ugly head once again. On the desert courses, especially, this “green line” is painfully evident and a bit of an eye sore.

Golf sims like Links and PGA Championship Golf '99 have gotten around this problem by having full land-plot landscapes rather than the “one-hole” landscapes used in the Nicklaus and EA golf titles. Nicklaus has made strides in this area with the release of JN6 and the green line is not nearly as obvious as it once was. This is something that, hopefully, will be addressed in the next version of the TW series. Most of the time, your eyes are focused on the action at the lower to middle part of the screen and you may not notice the problem. Other times you can't help but see it. It doesn't affect gameplay in the least, but it is unattractive to look at.

The PIP (picture in picture) window has returned for TW2K. You can use this for a multitude of camera angles, perhaps the coolest (or most gimmicky) of which is the “ball-cam” view. The ball-cam view actually follows the flight of the ball once struck. In the PIP window the ball-cam looks merely decent. In the fullscreen mode it looks pretty darn good. The only problem with the ball-cam view in fullscreen mode is that it “dumbs-down” the graphic detail of the course while the ball is in flight. You see sharper edges on mounds and hills and the shadows of trees and objects look like black rectangles and squares. Once the ball lands and comes to rest, it takes a second or two for the game to re-smooth the textures and terrain once again. Ball-cam is a fairly neat idea but I think the implementation could have been a little better. Gimmicky though it may be, it's a fun way to follow the action.

Lastly, a comment about the crowds. They were actually among the better looking objects in the game. Unfortunately, these folks are pure putting enthusiasts only. Unlike the crowds in Links LS 2000, which are everywhere you'd expect to see fans at a golf tournament, the crowds in TW2K are only interested in putting and approach shots. There are no crowds around the teeing area and there are no crowds lining the fairways. The crowds can only be found hanging around the greens. A curious bunch, these Tiger Woods fans! Wouldn't you think they'd want to watch Tiger boom his prodigious drives?

Presentation/Audio : 77
I was fairly disappointed with the sounds in TW2K. The ambient sounds weren't as “full” as some other sims. There seemed to be a lot less going on around me. I thought the wind sound was especially weak. It sounded like listening to a gale wind over a telephone connection (i.e.: tinny and distant).

The sound of the clubface on ball is pretty good, except around the green. While chipping, even if you're only chipping or pitching the ball a short distance, you get the full “swoosh” sound of taking a full swing at the ball, rather than the simple click of the ball on the clubface and maybe the sound of the sole of the club brushing the grass. However, the sound of your driver striking the ball gives a very realistic and satisfying “clink”.

I found some inaccuracies in the announcing. On several occasions, I would hear the announcer say: “He won't be happy with that drive” after hitting my approach shot to a green.

One good thing about the announcer though, is that at least he doesn't talk too much and he never tries to be funny (unlike Gary McCord in Jack Nicklaus 6). The announcer generally limits himself to a simple comment before or after a shot but never really offers anything insightful.

I didn't notice any in-game music, but you can opt to play a music CD or even MP3 files while playing a round of golf. That's a nice feature.

The crowd sounds were pretty good. They give everything from the quiet, polite applause for a bogey like you might hear at Augusta to the beer-induced, raucous explosions you might hear at the Phoenix Open for a birdie or eagle. What the crowds lack in quantity in TW2K, they make up for in volume.

Interface/Options : 88
Navigating your way through the menu system in TW2K is painless. Nothing like the nightmare you encountered with another EA classic: Madden 2000, which forced gamers to find their way through the game with a confusing combination of mouse clicks and keyboard presses. None of that is evident here. The mouse will quickly and efficiently take you where you need to go.

One nice thing about the interface is that you can set up a game quickly without really leaving the main menu. Pick your course, your mode of play, your golfer(s), click the Tee Off button and you're on your way. Real slick! (Attention Madden team!)

The manual is another plus. I've gotten used to the relatively sparse manuals of EA's Madden and NHL series of games. But, the manual in TW2K is far more complete, though the pre-released version of the manual I received had no pictures of the game itself or the menu/interface system. Hopefully, pictures will be included in the final version. (Note: only the manual was a pre-release version, the game itself is the same one that will hit the shelves).

The only area in which the manual was really lacking was in the Architect section. The copy I had lacked pictures and a detailed tutorial on how to use all the tools in the course Architect. That would've been very helpful.

There is a full suite of options available for audio, display and gameplay. You can adjust the graphics settings to suit your hardware limitations. It will take some tinkering if your system is on the low end of the graphic requirements to find a balance between smooth gameplay and aesthetic appearance.

A nice option in the club selection screen is the ability to pre-set a shot “shape” to each club. In other words, you can choose to hit all your clubs with a draw or a fade, hook or a slice and pick and choose which clubs will have which “shape” or trajectory. This will allow the golfer to more closely match the shot shape of their real life golf tendencies (though there'll be plenty of us who will not want to imitate reality when it comes to our golf games).

The shot options and aids are quite robust. For instance, you can choose to have the swing meter display a line that tells you where to set the power of your stroke depending on where you placed your aiming arrow. In other words, if you need to back off of hitting a full shot, you can place your aiming arrow to the point on the course where you want the ball to land and the swing meter will display a line showing you where to stop your “backswing.” This is either a handy feature or a “cheat” depending on whether you're a casual cyber hacker or a golf sim “purist.”

There is also a “Risk Meter.” Clicking the green button will show you, via the aiming arrow, the safest and most conservative route for your next shot. Clicking the red button will show you a more aggressive, but riskier, route to the hole. This may help the golf sim novice who's not too savvy about the course management aspects of the game of golf but it offers little to the experienced cyber golfer.

You can also opt to use a putting aid that will help you read the break on the greens. This is a white line that will show you how the putt will break. This, of course, is quite a bit of a cheat, if you ask me, but it will help you read the greens. After you become proficient, you can always turn this feature off.

While playing at the Pro level in Tournament mode, most of these gameplay aids/cheats will be disabled. And as well they should be. If you want to beat the Tiger, you'll have to earn it! Well, at least if you've set the opponents skill level to “Spectacular.”

Naturally, no golf sim would be complete these days without a multiplayer option for Internet or LAN play. TW2K offers these options as well.

Gameplay : 75
From what I understand, the biggest improvements in this game over its predecessor (TW'99) is supposed to have been made in the gameplay department. If by “improvement” they meant “harder” well, then, they've succeeded. TW2K at the Pro level is far more difficult than is TW'99. The swing meter is faster and far less forgiving. It's the real-life equivalent of switching from cavity -backed, perimeter-weighted irons, to hitting forged blades. Not an easy transition, to be sure. Playing at the Pro level is just, well, brutal is the word that comes to mind. But, those fans of TW99 that thought the game was a bit too easy may be pleased with the change. Remember the old saying: “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it”? That may apply to TW2K. Gameplay at Pro level is very challenging.

There are several modes of play, from practicing at the driving range to playing a tournament or even playing on-line against the real PGA professionals during a live televised event called Playing With the Pros. More on this feature later.

TW2K employs an aiming arrow very similar to the one found in the Nicklaus series and, in fact, EA actually had this device before the Nicklaus series followed suit. You can grab the arrow and stretch it towards your target. As you move the arrow you will get a display indicating how far out the arrow is from the golfer and at what elevation it is. If you place an arrow near an obstacle, such as a tree, a portion of the arrow will turn red to indicate that the flight of the ball, if struck properly, is likely to make contact with the object, potentially altering its trajectory. I like this feature. It's perhaps a bit of a “cheat”, but since we're playing a 3D game on a 2D screen, I'll take all the help I can get.

The game offers the user the choice of a standard 3-click swing meter or a mouse meter. The 3-click is pretty standard. Click once to begin your backswing, click again to set the power of the shot and click a third time at the bottom to set the accuracy. Hitting the third click early results in a draw or a hook while clicking late will result in a fade or a slice. The amount the ball hooks or slices depends on the severity of the miss. Also on the swing meter are arrows at the 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock positions. You can click the arrows at the 3 or 9 o'clock positions to produce a fade or draw respectively. You can click the arrow at the 12 o'clock position to produce top-spin on the ball if you need a little extra distance and you click the arrow at the 6 o'clock position to induce backspin to help hold the ball on a shallow green. Multiple clicks on these arrows will produce more or less of the action they're assigned to. These features work fairly well, though I found that you could barely hold any green even with a mid to short iron if you didn't think to put extra backspin on the ball.

Something else that's a little different with the 3-click meter in TW2K compared to other golf sims is that the meter moves at different speeds depending on what club you're swinging. The meter moves fastest with the driver and slower as you move down to the shorter irons in your bag. This takes quite a bit of time getting used to. The meter also has different speeds depending on the skill level you choose for your golfer. I struggled at the Pro level but didn't care for the lack of distance you get at the lower skill levels. But, there is a speed for cyber golfers of every ability and, over time, and with practice, you will want to use the Pro level to get the most distance out of your clubs. Plus, the Pro level is the only mode available for trying to earn your Tour Card in Season mode. So, if you plan to play a season and join the Tour, you'd better hit the range and practice at Pro level.

EA has also added a few new shot options, one of which is the ability to move down a “half club” on your club selection. This comes in handy for those times when your approach shot leaves you between clubs. This is a nice addition and an option I've never seen before in a golf sim. It's always nice to see something that hasn't been done before, especially when it's done well.

The new mouse swing may be a big hit among those that struggle hitting the third click on the 3-click meter. You see, there is no accuracy required with the mouse swing. You only need to concern yourself with how hard to hit the ball. You heard right. No accuracy setting. You left click once to start the backswing, then you move the mouse quickly in the opposite direction to set the distance the ball will travel. The faster you move the mouse, the further the ball will travel. You can also set the sensitivity of the mouse to suit your comfort level. Once you get the hang of it, you can consistently “overswing” (into the red part of the meter) for extra distance and never have to worry about hitting a wild hook or slice. To me, this makes the game a little too easy, but after struggling with the 3-click swing meter on Pro level, it was a welcome change of pace.

This was EA Sports' first attempt at a mouse swing and, while I can applaud their effort for including the option, I can't recommend using it. The fact that it requires nothing to set the accuracy of your shot leaves you with the feeling that you're almost cheating. The very idea of having a mouse swing should be to more closely duplicate the feeling and rhythm of swinging a club and making the cyber golfing experience more challenging. TW2K's mouse swing fails in this respect, I'm afraid. PGA Championship Golf 99 by Sierra and Links LS from Microsoft both offer better mouse meters with their True Swing and Powerstroke, respectively. Of course, Sierra's product offers the only real-time mouse swing in the business, so if that's something that's important to you, you won't find it here.

I've heard some people rave about the Artificial Intelligence of the players in the game. I have my doubts. I played an 18-hole Tournament with Tiger Woods as my playing partner. We teed it up at the TPC at Scottsdale. I set the opponents skill level to “Great” (not Spectacular, which is the highest level). The results of the round were quite disappointing. Observe:

I played fairly poorly and shot a 9 over par. The winner, Mark O'Meara, shot 10 under. Pretty solid. So, can someone please explain to me why Tiger Woods himself shot 11 OVER par and finished LAST in his own game?! I found this rather amusing, considering it's his game and he's the number one ranked player in the world.

Apparently, I'm not the only one having trouble putting in TW2K. Tiger struggled more than I did. On the first hole Tiger left a 14-inch putt 1 inch short. On two other holes Tiger left 20-inch putts 3 inches short. On another hole Tiger 3-putted from 4 feet. But, not to be outdone (by himself) he later 3-putted from 32 inches! And on the final hole, he missed a 32-inch putt for birdie.

If Tiger played like that in real life, he wouldn't make the B Flight in my company golf league!

Of course, it may not be entirely Tiger's fault. The putting model in TW2K leaves a lot to be desired. Many times, short putts on a moderate downhill slope will roll and roll and roll until they hit the fringe on the other side of the green. I attempted a putt of 3-4 feet on one occasion and missed. That's realistic enough. I've missed plenty of those in real-life. But what left me scratching my head was that my come-back putt was a 44 footer! Yikes! It's as if the greens were modeled with the coefficient of friction of linoleum. Hopefully, this is something that will be addressed with a patch. I've never 3 and 4-putted in a golf sim as much as I did with TW2K. Putting was a pure exercise in frustration. If they could only patch and fix one aspect of this game, putting would get my vote.

One gameplay feature I really enjoyed, and will likely be under appreciated in TW2K, was the inclusion of a Driving Range. The Links series used to have a driving range some years back and I was disappointed when that feature was removed from that title. Well, TW2K brings the Driving Range back and it's a great way to work on your game. And you're not limited to just smacking your driver off a tee, either. You can hit every club in your bag from virtually anywhere on a course you're likely to play from. Practice your tee shots with your woods and irons or take your bag to the practice green area to perfect your putting, chipping, pitching and bunker play. This is a terrific idea that no other game currently has. The game presents a very good challenge on the highest difficulty setting so it behooves you to spend some time practicing at the range. Plus, there are unlimited balls, no waiting, no cost and no blisters!

Another feature I liked was joining the Tour (or trying to, at least). In order to get your Tour Card and join the PGA Tour you must compete in a Tournament at the very challenging TPC at Sawgrass. To qualify for the Tour, you must finish in the Top 10 and you must do so while playing at the Pro level. Not an easy task, by any means. My opinion is that this is a bit more difficult than it should be. The TPC at Sawgrass is perhaps the most difficult course in the game and it's a very penal design with many bunkers and water hazards. Perhaps having the ability to choose a different course on which to try and qualify would have made things a bit easier.

Of course, one of the biggest attraction in TW2K is the Play With the Pros mode. This allows the cyber golfer the opportunity to compete “live” against the real Pros while they play in scheduled events such as the Players Championship at the TPC at Sawgrass. The real Pros will have the results of their shots fed into a computer and you will see the results of their shots on your PC. Then, you can compete against them as they complete their round. In addition, you will be able to go back and play “archived” events in case you're unable to compete “live” yourself. This feature holds tons of promise and will add tremendously to the replay value if it can be implemented smoothly. Keep your fingers crossed!

Lastly, with TW2K, EA Sports has finally delved into the course architect business. Cyber golfers and course architects alike will now be able to design and built their own courses with the TW2K Architect. This feature is beginning to be almost mandatory for new golf sims. Even longtime holdout Links LS will add a course architect for their next release. It's a sure-fire way to add new life (especially shelf-life) to a golf sim as new courses will start popping up even after the “newness” of the title has worn off. I'd expect that many of the terrific designers that have made courses for the Nicklaus series will try their hand at the TW2K architect. If that happens, fans of this series will be treated to many new real and “fantasy” course releases in the coming months. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if some of the user-created courses looked better than the stock courses that come with TW2K.

The course Architect employs a one-hole-only approach, similar to the Nicklaus designer. It does not have full land-plot capability like PGA Championship Golf 99 or Links LS but what it does do, it does fairly well. Users will be able to import their own objects and textures. As a result, new courses will have a look and personality all their own and not simply look like clones of the courses that came with the game.

The Architect has all the typical building tools for shaping the terrain, adding mounds, digging bunkers, laying cartpaths and creating water hazards. The only problem with the Architect is that it seems to require a fairly powerful machine to work well.

Replay Value : 84
There are so many options and just enough modes of play in TW2K to keep cyber hackers happy for quite some time, I would think, especially if the “Play With the Pros” mode becomes successful. The difficulty of the game at the Pro level should provide a challenge for even the most jaded cyber golfer. This is not a game that will be mastered in a week and the increased difficulty is sure to please fans of the series, making TW2K feel fresh and not just a re-hash of previous EA Sports golf sims. For some, however, the difficulty at the Pro level and the repeated attempts and failures to earn your Tour Card in Season mode may prove overly frustrating.

Owners of TW99 will be happy to know that all the courses for that title can be played in TW2K leaving the player with a solid collection of PGA Tour courses.

In addition, since TW2K now has a course designer, I would suspect that user-made courses will begin showing up on the Internet for download. This will add a lot of life to this product. And, as I've said, I'd be willing to bet that in the hands of some very competent designers, the courses that get created by the users could very well end up being better, and more visually attractive, than the courses included in the game.

Overall : 79
I'm afraid my final impressions of the game do not leave me with the feeling that I can wholeheartedly recommend TW2K over the other popular titles currently available (Jack Nicklaus 6: Golden Bear Challenge, PGA Championship Golf '99 and Links LS 2000). TW2K doesn't have quite the gameplay of the other titles (mostly due to its poor putting model and questionable AI). It doesn't have quite the quality of physics of Links LS and JN6:GBC. It surely doesn't look as good as the other titles. Its hardware-requirement-to-aesthetics ratio is poor. Meaning: it does not look as good as the other titles do at similar resolutions and doesn't play anywhere near as smoothly.

While TW2K is likely to retain its fan base from its predecessor, it's not quite as likely to win over many fans of the other titles. But, if you want to play with or against real PGA Tour Pros (on-line or off) and/or you're a big fan of Tiger Woods, then this game will suit your needs just fine, providing you have the hardware to run it at a reasonable framerate.

By: Leeman 3/27/00
Comments on the review?

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