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Tiger Woods 2000 PGA Tour (PSX)
Hands-on Preview

Publisher: EA Sports

With the end of the calendar year comes the dawn of a new golfing season. The 2000 Pro Tour is just around the corner, and EA Sports has delivered Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2000 for the Playstation. Sure, Tiger graced our consoles just a few short months ago, but he was awfully big-headed. This time around, all the proportions are the way they should be, which makes those fairways look big.

Let's run down the features of this year's version of the game. The key components of the game include five courses (TPC courses at Sawgrass, The Canyons, and Summerlin as well as Badlands and Poppy Hills), five big-name pros (Justin Leonard, Brad Faxon, Lee Janzen, Mark O'Meara, and of course the game's namesake), and a variety of game modes.

Apart from the practice sessions available in the game, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2000 allows you to play anywhere from 18 to 72 holes of golf at a given course. The Stroke Play mode entails a round of golf with up to four players. In Tournament mode, tournaments can be anywhere from 18 to 72 holes. Besides straight golf, there are two two-on-two modes. In Foursomes, teammates alternate shots in match play competition. The similar Four Ball mode requires each teammate to play the hole independently.

The Shoot-Out mode takes nerves of steel as you battle it out over a three-hole sudden death competition, where the high score is eliminated at each hole. Finally, you can go for the green in the Skins Game. About the only game mode missing is match play with independent, rather than team, play. It's not in the preview copy, and hopefully EA will be able to sneak this one in at the last minute.

For those of you wanting to be immersed in the whole PGA experience, the Tour mode covers all five courses with four-round tournaments. Along the way you sink the putts for cash.

Enough about the huge number of modes. How's the game play? It's a fun game. Personally I can't play a lick of real golf. My shots go left as much as they go straight. For me, virtual golf is my only hope of topping the leader board. And as such, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2000 is my ticket to making virtual millions. Now all I need are some endorsements.

The first few rounds I played, I used a standard digital controller. I am currently beta testing a new wireless controller, and it just sounded nice to lie back on the couch and play a relaxed round of golf. And that's what this game is - relaxing. After a busy day, virtual golf can have the same therapeutic characteristics as actually walking the front and back nines.

Playing in digital mode, the three-click approach is used for swinging the club. The first click starts the swing on a swing meter. By pressing the X button again to set the power of the shot, the swing starts back, where you must try to center it perfectly for a straight shot. Any mistake and it's a hook or slice. If you want to forsake some reality, you can invoke the Tiger Control when the ball is in flight. This feature allows the user to add some spin to the ball in flight, which is useful for correcting poor swings. The feature can only be invoked with good lies. That is, don't expect this feature to be available when you're buried in the rough or traps. It's allowed at the tee and fairways only.

Clubs are automatically selected by the computer for you, but you have the ability to override the recommendation. In addition to club selection, each club carries variable strokes, such as a chip shot, a punch, a chip, or full swing. Expected yardages are listed on-screen for each, but even then there's no guarantee you make the distance. Hitting out of medium or deep roughs will undoubtedly take away some yardage. The preview copy defaults to the pro level, but if you switch to novice, the shot trajectories are displayed to assist you.

The ball physics carry a significant amount of realism. With the Tiger Control spin feature on, you can almost make balls stop in place on shots to the green. On one particular shot, I was about to jump for joy as I hit a great 100+ yard shot onto the green. The ball went right into the cup and bounced out. The eagle was within my grasp. The fairways and greens feature terrain and elevation changes that make ball placement a part of the strategy. Balls roll naturally on the course, and sometimes for long distances. To be honest, I did not see too mention much wind affects on the ball, although the winds were light and variable. To check out a hole, a quick punch of the circle button yields an overhead view of the hole. For ball placement, especially when chipping onto the greens, the triangle button exaggerates the elevation. On the greens, a grid is placed over the putting green and warps as you press the button.

The graphics of the courses are nice. While some of the backgrounds have a good deal of pixelation, the greens, fairways, bunkers, and roughs all have enough detail to give you the full golf experience. The golfers themselves are modeled in exquisite detail. Each golfer sports unique animations, and the clothes wrinkle as the swing develops. Golfers look down in dismay and will even throw their putter on a bad shot. Tiger gives a little pump of satisfaction on the harder putts. His enthusiasm was nothing compared to mine on one 82-foot putt for birdie. Of course my enthusiasm was tempered after posting an 18-round score of 83, to which I was greeted with the comment that I had the worst score on record. Yeah, thanks. At least I didn't have to buy a dozen balls to play. The game also keeps track of your longest drive.

The speech and sound effects are not yet complete, and the preview copy's speech effects were on the corny side. No CBS commentary, but Tiger would offer a few comments like "Great shot" and the like. And while the sound effects aren't at the production level yet, they are some of the best I've heard in any game. The sound on the course gives you the feeling your standing on an actual course at a real tournament. This title rivals the NCAA Football series from EA in terms of total sound spectacular. At one point during play, the ambient airplane noises overhead were so realistic I didn't realize they were coming from the game. I had to pause the game to tell they were fictional. The sounds are so natural and well done it's almost eerie. The ambient noise effects also uncovered distant trains and even a fly buzzing about. Club hits sound great as well, and the balls shoot off the tee with a whack. The quality of your strokes are assessed by cheers and sympathetic cries from the gallery just put this game over the top in the sound department.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention a new feature to the world of virtual golf - the analog swing. This year EA throws in a real-time analog swing mode, which replaces the traditional three-click approach. By pulling back on the analog stick, your golfer starts his backswing. As the backswing develops, an on-screen meter counts up from 0 percent. By holding the stick down, you draw more power. Holding the stick past the end of the backswing adds a little more power, but holding it too long causes the power to decrease. To strike the ball, throw the stick forward to start the downswing. If you've done it correctly, the ball will fly straight. Any stick motion left or right causes the ball to hook or slice. I'm not promising anything, but the analog control was very intuitive and took a few strokes off my game. I found I was more accurate with my shots and had greater distances. I routinely could drive at over 100% power (the highest I achieved was 108%, so I imagine the maximum is 110%) and was consistently hitting fairways. The analog control is more precise and natural than the digital three-click method. The only problem was that I had to get off the couch and use a different controller. The switch was worth it.

On the putting greens, the analog putting is even better. Using the digital controller, you have to estimate how much power is required to get you to the hole. While there is an on-screen putting "target," the cup may be 6 feet away, and your current putter is maximized for a 10 foot put. You'll have to guess how much power to give a putt to put it in. In analog mode, the target is still on the green. But now, as you move the target, your putting distance is a function of where the target is located. As you pull back on the stick, a meter fills up on-screen from your golfer to the target. This gives you a visible gauge of the power of the stroke. While this may not seem like a worthwhile feature, it is. It gives you extra control over putts, especially on greens with elevation changes. Putting downhill or uphill has never been easier, or more realistic. EA Sports deserves praise for finally putting analog in the game.

Even at its alpha state, I can wholeheartedly recommend Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2000 when it comes out later this month. With 90 holes of golf awaiting you, there's enough variety to keep you playing for a long time. If traditional golf gets boring, try out the Skins competition. Unfortunately the preview copy lacked true match play, although you can argue that the Skins mode is essentially a match play competition. The analog control system and sound give the impression you're playing with the pros. And as I mentioned early on, the game is a pleasant change of pace from the more intense sports sims out there. If you like relaxation, you'll love Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2000.

By: James Smith 12/16/99

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