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Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2002 (PC) Hands-on Preview

If I had to summarize this preview with one word, that word would be: "potential." And this game has it in spades. I'm serious when I say that this game has the potential to be THE golf sim of ALL golf sims when it's released, hopefully around the middle of February 2002.

Now, before you get your Jockeys all in a bunch about how I might be some kind of shill for EA Sports, let me just say that I've never in the past been a fan of the Tiger Woods series of golf games. In fact, I'm on record as saying they were the weak link in a chain that consisted of PGA Championship Golf from Sierra, Links from Microsoft and even Jack Nicklaus 6: Golden Bear Challenge from Activision.

But, write down a list of some of your favorite features from those games and, chances are, you'll find those features in TW2002. Full 3D land plot? Got it! Polygonal 3D golfers? Got it. Virtually complete freedom of camera views? Got it (and then some!). A golf ball that actually rolls instead of slides? Got it! Flagsticks that bend under the weight of a heavy breeze? Got it! 3D trees and bushes that sway in the breeze? What? The other golf sims don't have that? Well, TW2002 does! And the effect is way cool. It is very similar to what you'll find with the trees and bushes in the recently released tactical shooter: Tom Clancy's: Ghost Recon and it's only now that we have hardware powerful enough to pull it off and to good effect.

To be fair, if you're a fan of Links, this still might not be your cup of tea. There are no picture-perfect images of trees, bushes, rocks, flowers, etc. But, in my opinion, developer Vance Cook and Headgate Studios have more than made up for it with truly 3D trees and bushes. The trees have volume. Their trunks are cylindrical. They look different from different angles, like they're supposed to. They don't always look quite as "pretty" as the 2D type, but there is something special about a tree that takes up true 3D space in a golf game. It might not always look better but, somehow, it feels better. You'll just have to experience it for yourself to understand. Plus, these babies actually sway in the breeze. I'll take that for added realism over a pretty picture anyday.

Graphically, I see a big improvement over previous versions of the series. In the past, the textures always looked too pixelated to me and there was heavy "staircasing" where one texture met another. Not anymore. Now, I see textures that are equal to (or better than) the better looking golf sims on the market. The edges of textures blend almost seamlessly from one to another in a very natural way. The trees, in the distance, lose some detail and tend to look a bit washed out but, closer up, they look good. Better than I expected in many ways.

The textures for the grass have a real 3D feel to them as well. Now, when your approach shot misses the green you could find yourself in ankle-deep grass with a ball you can't even quite see. And when you hack your way out you'll even see individual bits of grass getting pulled out by your swing. Sweet!

The golfers themselves are well done. I played as Brad Faxon, Justin Leonard and, of course, Tiger himself and the golfers all bore a striking resemblance to their real-life counterparts. Golfer animations are also improved to the point where you'll notice your golfer flexing more in the knees to reach a ball that's below his feet or bending over to clean debris off the line of his putt.

Though it was only an alpha version, the physics of the game felt better than in past versions of the series. I found the ball to react in a very believable and predictable manner when encountering the varying slopes of the terrain in the fairway, rough and on the green. The effect of the wind also produced predictable results. I also liked the “pace” of the ball as it was putted. It felt just about right. Ball trajectory was adjustable through a sliding bar which moved the ball forward or backwards in the golfer's stance.

David Feherty has made the jump from the Links game to TW2002 not only as a commentator but as a player as well. He'll be joined in the virtual broadcast booth by Bill Macatee. I'm a fan of David Feherty's dry wit and I think he'll be a welcome addition to the series.

PGA Tour golfers to be found include: Tiger Woods, Justin Leonard, Brad Faxon, Notah Begay, Vijay Singh, Jesper Parnevik (funny hat and all), Colin Montgomerie, Lee Janzen and others (or several different amateurs).

The version I played included the following courses: Pebble Beach™ Golf Links, Poppy Hills, Spyglass Hill, the TPC at Sawgrass, Princeville in Hawaii and, for a touch of what golf is like across the pond, Royal Birkdale in England. Of course, there will be also be the Course Architect™ that will allow users to create their own personal library of courses as well. And this time it will be a full land-plot Architect similar to those found in PGA and Links. No more single-hole layouts. Now, when you're out on the course you'll see all of the course that you're supposed to see.

There is a new Caddy Book feature that will provide playing tips and even a method for the user to add their own personal notes to the book as well.

The standard fare of game modes will be available: Practice, Stroke, Tournament, The Skins Game™, Shoot-out, Match Play, Foursomes, Fourball, etc. but there will also be the ability to have side-bets for added fun. And there is a new multiple year PGA Tour Season mode as well.

Naturally, there will be Internet and LAN support as well so there will never be any excuse for playing alone. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Also new to the TW series is a real-time mouse-swing that is more than a little bit like the one found in PGA Championship Golf. Of course, you can still click your way around the golf course with a two or three-click swing meter as well. But, you're missing out on a "truer" golfing experience if you don't give the mouse-swing (dubbed: Total Control Swing Technology) a try. The mouse-swing also gives a post-swing analysis of your effort and reports on things like: tempo, power, clubface angle and how far off center the impact between clubface and ball was. This will help those who might struggle with "feeling" what they might have done wrong during their swing.

One of the biggest, and most pleasant, surprises was the flexibility of the cameras. You can do just about anything with them. If you're standing on the tee of a par three and want a good look at the pin position simply push the "W" key and move the camera forward till you're taking a good close-up view of the green! Or, if you're planning your tee shot on a par 4 and want to find a nice level landing area, you can simply move the cursor on the overhead of the hole and not only will you get the yardage from that position to the golfer and from that position to the hole but, you'll also be treated to the view to the pin as well! Excellent idea!

I was also pleased with how the Dynamic Camera will update your view as you move the aiming arrow. You don't have to wait to re-paint like you do in PGA Championship Golf 2000! You can even hold down the right mouse button and pan around to get virtually any angle you like!

So, you're a fan of the PGA Championship Golf game from Sierra and you're worried about having to abandon all those courses you've collected? Never fear. TW2002 has a course converter that will convert your PGA courses (and TW courses) into new playable versions for TW2002! A dream come true if it works, and, since Vance Cook and Headgate were the developers of the most recent version of PGA Championship Golf, there is no reason to think it won't work. As a result, the number of courses that will likely become available soon after its release could be most impressive.

Buy Now! Now, keep in mind that what I've been playing is an Alpha version of the game and I can make no guarantees as to what features will ultimately be included in the final release. However… with the potential (there's that word again) that this game possesses it's quite possible that, for the first time in over 10 years, I may only need to have ONE golf sim taking up space on my hard drive.

By: Leeman 1/7/02

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