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Tiger Woods 2001 PGA Tour (PC) Review

Publisher: EA Sports

Background Info

I have to admit, I've approached this review with all the trepidation of a trip to the dentist for a root canal procedure, such was the bad taste that Tiger Woods 2000 (TW2K) left in my mouth. I had seen the screenshots and, yes, they looked a little better but, would that be enough? The previous version of this game had shipped with some rather serious flaws: horrific performance even on high-end systems and an awful putting model, for starters. Would they be fixed? This latest version of the game has shipped a mere 7-8 months after the release of the previous version. Was that really enough time to make significant improvements over TW2K? There was reason to think so, since EA Sports had managed to sign Vance Cook and the team at Headgate Studios, the developers of the terrific PGA Championship Golf series from Sierra. But Mr. Cook signed on after TW 2001 was already under development. The question was: Would there be time for Vance and company to have a positive impact on this release?

Presentation/Graphics : 70
Tiger Woods 2001 does look better than its predecessor but, to me, that's like saying Phyllis Diller's ninth facelift was an improvement over her eighth. This game engine, that was really showing its age with the release of Tiger Woods 2000, is now on life support. The good folks at EA Sports have squeezed every last ounce out of it in terms of aesthetic appearance but it still doesn't look as good as the competition. There are still heavy jagged edges that separate one texture from another and this little anomaly is just plain unattractive. On the plus side, they've done a little better job of trimming and cropping the images of trees and bushes and these look a little cleaner than the previous version, though they still pixelate heavily when you get too close to them.

The player models are a mixed bag. As expected, the Tiger Woods image looks the best but, some of the player images are rather poorly done and one or two look so bad that they look more like cartoon characters than real people.

The poor animation of the ball going into the cup has returned. I was hoping that this would be fixed. The ball seems to get sucked into the hole and magically disappears as soon as the edge of the image of the ball touches the edge of the image of the cup. This often results in putts that look like they're going to miss wide to one side or the other suddenly getting sucked into the cup. This is not a very convincing image at all and it just plain looks “cheesy.”

One feature that has grown on me quite a bit since the release of TW2K is the “ball cam.” This is my camera of choice and, though one could argue that it's rather gimmicky, it gives a fun and unique perspective on the flight of your ball and it's a view that is absent in any of the other top golf sims. My only complaint about the view is that, while the ball is in flight, the rendering of the course as it scrolls beneath your ball loses some of its detail. Still, I prefer this camera view over all others.

Another thing I don't like about the graphics occurs on the greens. Sometimes, while putting, you will stroke your putt and the camera view will change not once, but twice, as your ball approaches the hole. I find this annoying.

This also brings to mind one of the weaker aspects of the game, and that is how the ball behaves on the green. I don't like the putting model at all. I didn't like it in TW2K and I don't think it's improved enough in TW 2001 to change my mind. Perhaps I'm spoiled by the excellent animation of the ball actually rolling in PGA Championship Golf 2000 from Sierra but the way the ball behaves on the greens in TW 2001 just isn't very convincing. The ball doesn't give the impression that it rolls at all. It looks more like a ball being pulled by an invisible string. In addition, I was disappointed to find that the ball was still unrealistically large (about the equivalent of a baseball by comparison) and it looks especially bad on the greens where it matters most.

Presentation/Audio : 69
The word “inconsistent” comes immediately to mind. The galleries, as in the previous version of the game, are tough to impress. They'll politely applaud a three-putt bogey but, a long second shot on a par 5 that lands within twenty feet of the hole doesn't evoke any response from the gallery at all. The feeling of “being there” during tournament play in TW 2001 just isn't there as it is in the last few versions of Links or PGA Championship Golf. You can see the crowd but, till something exciting happens, you hardly know they are there. This is contrary to the galleries in Links where there is a lot of ambient sound and even crowd reactions to events taking place elsewhere on the course that really draws you in and makes you feel part of a live event. EA has done a terrific job of adding ambient crowd noise in its NHL series. Its absence in TW 2001 is curious and sorely missed.

The announcing during tournament play is neither good nor bad, it's simply “there.” It doesn't add much to the enjoyment of the round nor does it detract from it. I did, however, like the narration for the hole information.

Interface/Options : 88
I think the interface in TW 2001 is its strongest feature. Option and menu buttons are large and easy to read. Navigating your way around the menu system is a snap and you don't have to go hunting and pecking your way around to find something; everything is where you would expect it to be.

Spanking the ball around the course is done in the usual manner. You have your choice of a 3-click meter or EA's version of a mouse-swing called Pro Swing. As in the previous version of the game, Pro Swing allows you to stroke the ball using mouse movement but, with no “snap” for directional control, you can pound the ball without worrying your pretty little head about where the ball will go. It always goes straight. Boring! I'm sure I'm not the only one that was hoping for a real-time mouse-swing like Vance Cook and Headgate had developed for Sierra's PGA Championship Golf. Realistically, of course, there simply wasn't time for them to implement this feature into the game. Hopefully, with TW 2002, we'll see a real-time mouse-swing (and maybe 3D polygonal golfers as well?).

Anyway, as far as 3-click meters go, the one in TW 2001 is a pretty good one. Within the meter itself are options to hit fades and draws and put backspin on your shots (though, for realism's sake, I think the backspin feature should be disabled on shots hit with fairway woods). There are also buttons to click to show you the safe or more risky routes on any given hole. This is a nice feature for the novice, though the experienced golfer will know these routes without help from the program.

I found the 3-click meter at the Pro Level to be a bit more forgiving in this installment of the game. The Pro Level in TW2K was, for me at least, nearly impossible to play. And since you had to play at Pro Level to compete and “earn your card” at Qualifying School in TW2K, doing so was just an exercise in frustration. This time around, Pro Level is more playable and, in fact, you can earn your card at a lower difficulty setting if desired (that is, if you don't mind your friends calling you a wuss).

There are also some nice options you can turn on to help you get the hang of the game. For instance, there is a power option you can enable that will show a mark on the swing meter to tell you how hard to swing for shots that don't require full strength. This is great for learning the game and can be toggled off as you gain experience to offer more of a challenge. There is also a putting aid as well. While on the greens a line will be displayed showing you the path to the cup and how much break you can expect on a given putt. Again, this can be toggled on or off as the golfer sees fit.

About my only knock in the interface/options area is having to exit and restart the game after changing the game's resolution.

Gameplay : 70
The pitiful game performance of TW2K is “nearly” gone in TW 2001 but I still don't find the game to run as smoothly as I'd like it to even on my PIII-700 with 128 megs of RAM and a GeForce2 video card (running at 1024 x 768 resolution). I won't go so far as to say the game is “choppy” but it's definitely not what I would call “smooth” either.

Though improved, I still think the putting model is lacking. It's not as bad as the previous version but I still found that downhill putts could too easily get away from you and roll much further than you would think they would. Too often I had 12-foot putts that missed and left me another 12-footer coming back. It's much better than it was in TW2K but I think this could use just a bit more tweaking.

I like the easier Pro Level of difficulty in TW 2001 over the nearly impossible Pro Level of TW2K. Though the game is still punishing when missing the “snap” mark (the 6 o'clock mark on the swing meter) it isn't as bad as it was in TW2K and I found my misses more playable as a result. I even managed to earn my Tour Card at Qualifying School, something I was unable to do in TW2K, even after dozens of attempts! My cyber golfer in TW2K had to forgo his dream of becoming a Touring Pro and instead took a job in a cyber Pro Shop selling merchandise.

All the shot options of the last version are at your disposal. Need to hit a high lob over a greenside bunker? Hit a flop shot. Need to keep one low and have a lot of green to work with? Hit the bump-n-run. There are also options to hit chips and pitches depending on how far from the green you are. You won't be left wanting for shot options and the ball behaves more or less as you would expect it to given the type of shot played.

One thing I didn't like, however, was the need to remember to put backspin on my short-iron approach shots. Too often I found my 9-irons and wedges were rolling, unrealistically, to the back of the greens. In real life I can stop my 9-iron within twenty-five feet of where it lands without putting extra backspin on the ball even though I usually play low-spin two-piece distance balls. It's annoying to have to remember to put backspin on your short irons and wedges just to get them to behave as they should under normal circumstances. Also, having the option of putting backspin on a 3-wood is just ridiculous and this feature should be disabled for clubs that you can't, under ordinary conditions, put backspin on.

A nice feature that helps in your shot planning is the PIP window that displays a topographical image of the green, showing its peaks and valleys. This helps the player plan their approach shot and decide where on the green is the best place to land the ball and from which angle will the green provide the easiest putt. I wish more golf sims provided something similar.

Multiplayer was slow. With no ability to play concurrently with your opponent (you have to take turns to hit, rather than ready golf where both players can hit at the same time) it took me and a friend about one hour and forty-five minutes to play eighteen holes of match play. That is just WAY too long when you compare it to online matches played in Links, PGA or JN6-GBC, that take roughly an hour. Thankfully, at least, there were no drop-outs or re-starts in our match and the game was stable.

I also found the gameplay to be too slow in general in TW 2001. For instance, there can be as long as a seven to eight second delay from the time you make your last click in the swing meter to when your onscreen golfer makes contact with the ball. This is just too long a wait and leaves you feeling too disconnected from the action on the screen.

New to this version of the game was the welcome addition of a President's Cup mode of play. It allows you to act as team captain and select your players and pairings for the competition. I enjoyed this format, especially when I was paired with fellow Rhode Islander (and one of the Tour's best putters) Brad Faxon! We kicked butt!

Play Against the Pros returns in TW 2001. This feature, for those unfamiliar with TW2K, allows the player to compete online in real-time against real PGA Tour Pros as they play in scheduled events. You can even play in older events that have been archived. It's features like this that really makes having the PGA licensing pay off.

The course architect is back too, though it's essentially the same as before. To be more accurate, like Jack Nicklaus 6: Golden Bear Challenge, it's actually more of a hole designer than a course designer. Nevertheless, it allows the user to create holes of their own design or re-create existing designs like the birthplace of golf, the historic St. Andrews. Free courses can be found on the Internet for your downloading pleasure.

Replay Value : 75
The fact that TW 2001 has a course designer should help its replay value, so too should the addition of the President's Cup format for those who like that mode of play. The game comes with plenty of courses and more user-made custom courses are available for free over the Internet. This should help but, is it enough? Not for my taste. This game, despite the upgrade and several nice features, just seems too dated, graphically, to hold my interest.

Overall : 74
It would be easy to say I'm disappointed but, frankly, I just didn't expect much from this version of the game given the short amount of time that Vance Cook and company had to put their talents to work. Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 2001 is essentially what I expected it to be, which is to say, a $30 “patch” for the dismal TW2K. Some will take exception to this comment and, perhaps, it is a bit strong. But, I stand by it. At the very most, Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 2001 is merely the game that Tiger Woods 2000 should have been in the first place, and given the fact that this game is now nearly a year older it just simply doesn't hold up to the likes of PGA Championship Golf 2000, Links 2001 or even Jack Nicklaus 6: Golden Bear Challenge (which is now nearly two years old). TW 2001 is, sadly, a classic example of the old expression: “too little, too late.”

It's a shame that this game with Tiger's name, support from the PGA, the Qualifying School and Play Against the Pros features and the President's Cup mode of play, couldn't provide a more compelling and believable round of simulated golf. This game, like the version before it, still just doesn't feel right and it pales in comparison to the other titles I mentioned where it counts the most: gameplay, physics and graphical appearance.

If I told you I had a car for sale and it had power windows and locks, power seats, a sunroof, heated leather bucket seats, air conditioning, a CD player, dual airbags, four-wheel disc brakes and a spiffy paint job you might say: “Cool. I might be interested!” But, if I then told you the car for sale was a Ford Pinto you'd be much less interested. To me, that's what TW 2001 is. It's a game with some excellent features stuck on a bad chassis and an underpowered engine.

Alas, there is reason to hope for this series in the future. There is every reason to believe that once Vance Cook and his team have a chance to really imprint their will onto the next version of this series that it will be one of the very best sims on the market, if not the best. After all, Vance Cook is responsible for the excellent PGA Championship Golf series and I, for one, am looking forward to what he and EA Sports can do with this series in the future. Anyone that can produce such excellent sports titles as NHL Hockey, Madden football, FIFA soccer and NBA Live can certainly produce a better golf sim than this Tiger Woods series has been. It's time for the cyber version of Tiger Woods to break down his swing and rebuild it from the ground up. Let's hope Vance Cook and Headgate can do for the cyber version of Tiger Woods what Butch Harmon has done for the real Tiger!

You'll notice my rating for this game is slightly lower than my rating for TW2K. This is NOT to say I think this game is worse than TW2K. It isn't. I'll explain:

In hindsight, my original rating for TW2K was, frankly, too generous. The more I played TW2K (after my review was complete) the less I liked it. Also, I really wanted to like the game and since it had many good features (though some were poorly implemented) I struggled to deduct enough points to give a more accurate rating. I also underestimated how badly the game had performed even on machines that were much more powerful than the PII-450 I had at the time. I now have a PIII-700 and the unpatched version of TW2K runs poorly on it. If I had to rate TW2K now, as it shipped originally last year (unpatched), it likely would have earned a rating of somewhere slightly below 70.

So, if you liked TW2K and have doubts about buying TW 2001 based on my rating being below what I gave TW2K, don't delay. Though I don't believe TW 2001 to be as good a game as its competition, it is a much more enjoyable golf simming experience than TW2K was. Simply put, if you liked TW2K just forget about the ratings and rest assured that TW 2001 is the better game.

By: Leeman 1/19/01

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