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Tiger Woods 2003 (Xbox) Review

Background Info
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Screens (9)

Background Info The relationship between the Xbox and video game consoles with a realistic round of golf is hard to explain. The style of golf does quite well as a PC product and is one of the most popular sports genres. The Links series is one of sports gaming's founding fathers, but no version of the title has ever been ported to a console. It almost seems that console developers made the conscious decision that console gamers are not interested in golf simulations.

Tiger Woods 2003 for the PC was one of the most hyped products in cyber-golf history. Much of the hype centered on the improved real time swing, career mode, and other nice additions that are revolutionary for a golf product. Many golf fans waited with great anticipation for the console version of Tiger Woods 2003 because they assumed that many of the PC features would be included in the Xbox title. Sadly, EA Sports made the decision to create a two-tiered system for their golf products. Simulation fans will flock to the PC version with all of the neat extras while Xbox owners will experience good old-fashioned console arcade fun.

Tiger Woods 2003 for the Xbox isn't an "extreme" arcade golf game in the Outlaw Golf fashion; however, it is very much tilted toward providing an easy golf game wrapped in a pretty package with interesting things to do. Tiger Woods 2003 might not be the most realistic golf game around, but is it still a good game?

Presentation/Graphics : 88
Tiger Woods 2003 really shows off the Xbox's graphics power. Playing the game through the console's S-Video connection was quite a treat. The 3D player model is nicely rendered and golfers move fluidly on the course. The various types of equipment that can be used to outfit a golfer look very realistic. Club shafts and the different types of golf balls are available.

The only real limiting factor is that there is not much choice for individual golfer modeling. Only stock golfers are used as body models and there are choices for shirt, hat, and pants colors. While this does provide quite a few choices, there's no way to create your own unique golfer body within the game. The course graphics look much better than those available on the 2002 PS2 version of the game. Trees sway in the breeze, waves ripple, and the galleries are very dynamic. The only really noticeable graphics glitch can be seen where bunkers and water connect to the course fairways and greens-here jaggies make an unwanted appearance in these locations.

Instead of standing around like cardboard cutouts, the two dimensional people watching the action on the course move around before the golf shot and will "hoop and holler" at the appropriate time. There's a definite golfing atmosphere in the solitude on a course and when playing in a Tour event.

Camera angles and visual effects in Tiger Woods 2003 were created with the arcade golfer in mind. The camera follows the golf ball through its flight and is still one of the best ways to view a golf shot in any game. Pressing a controller button starts a camera angle that follows the course along the ball's path. The angles are TV-like and create dramatic moments both as the golf ball approaches the hole and in the golfer's reaction. The camera will switch to wide screen mode for particularly dramatic shots. Sequences include multiple replays at different angles of the golfer's swing as well as dramatic close-ups of the golfer's face as he watches the ball go toward the hole. Most of the really arcade explosive sounds and visuals occur during these dramatic sequences, although if a shot is hit very well, watch out for more explosions and arcade effects.

Presentation/Audio : 90
The game probably has the best sound experience I've ever encountered in a golf game. Tiger Woods 2003 shows off how Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound can really enhance game atmosphere. Waves that are on the left side of the screen make crashing sounds in the left speakers. It is very clear that the developers spent some time getting the positional audio just right and it shows. What's really neat is to hear accurate golf swing sounds. Folks that play golf a lot know that driver swings sound very different depending on the type of shaft being swung. Players swinging drivers with flex carbon shafts sound like they are swinging these types of clubs in Tiger Woods 2003. Golf is probably the only genre where I generally can tolerate hearing announcers when I am playing the game. Tiger Woods 2003's commentary isn't great, but it doesn't hurt the game either. David Fegerty and Bill Macatee don't really do much analysis except for the occasional read of the greens. They act as cheerleaders most of the time and will let you know when a shot looks good or when you've missed one.

The arcade experience plays itself out through the interesting reproduction of a heartbeat as dramatic shots are being hit. This feature is called "Gamebreaker" mode and is triggered for events such as going for the green in two on a par 5. The heartbeat starts, the game controller vibrates with each beat, and the visuals switch to wide screen mode. I thought this was pretty nice after the first couple of times it happened, but the more I played the game the more annoying this mode became. What's even more annoying is that this mode doesn't seem to take into account how well the ball is struck. On a couple of my attempts to hit the green in two I failed miserably all within Gamebreaker mode's high drama. If you play golf games for the music included in them, seek help. There's a nice mix of standard EA Sports offerings - but this is a golf game folks.

Interface/Options : 85
Arcade fans will not be bored with the number of game play options available in Tiger Woods 2003 and many of these are familiar to PS2 owners of last year's game. The main difference I saw was the number of choices available expanded.

Traditional single player games are limited to stroke and match play variations that don't allow for much customization, but tournaments can be created. Other than these, the overall gameplay theme in Tiger Woods 2003 is "mo' money". I imagine the developers snickering when they decided to include "Tour Cards" in the game. They must have had a good laugh as those of us who know what a real PGA Tour Card is, discovered that the cards referred to in the game are actually things to be cashed in for prizes (editor's note: The aforementioned "real Tour Cards" are used like driver's licenses by PGA golfers who must have them to compete in tournaments. They are earned by finishing as one of the top 100 or 200 golfers on the Tour or by qualifying at Q-School). Tour Cards are earned in the Tiger Challenge mode and depending on the type of card, multiply earnings for the round.

Cards aside, this is easily the best portion of the game. It is where players play against 28 golfers that include 17 real-life PGA Tour pros. The rest are fantasy golfers who have their own set of individual arcade special effects and interesting quirks. Scenarios are included that put golfers in specific situations that they must accomplish to unlock various courses and equipment. Speaking of courses, there are 13 included with the game. There are 11 courses based on real venues like Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill. One course is a fantasy course that must be unlocked. Tiger Woods picked his favorite 18 holes from the available course and created his own fantasy course (that must be unlocked). And there is a random 18-hole generator that can be played.

While money is important in the game, playing Tour Challenge and scenarios unlock golfers, courses, and all sorts of golfing equipment and balls. Money is also used to upgrade the individual attributes of your golfers. The announcers will even suggest that you spend some money on your attributes if they determine that you're weak in an area. Power, accuracy, putting, and other characteristics vary in price. This system replaces the difficulty settings found in other golf games. You'll have plenty of opportunity to win "mo' money" because there's also a "Skillzone" that's similar to Madden's minicamp with specific tasks that lead to cash rewards.

The interface itself is typical console button driven affair. Getting to the different play modes and customizing golfers isn't hurt by this interface. A limitation of the console is the inability to use a mouse-pointing device in the game. This awkwardness is highlighted in "My Tour" mode where players can create their own series of challenges and golf courses. It is a golf course architect of sorts. Individual holes in all of the courses can be linked to make new courses. Be prepared to spend a lot of time pushing buttons to create that dream course. Most choices that need to be made on the course are a button push away. One button determines the type of shot you're trying to make with the club. Another button is used to cycle through club choices.

Gameplay : 80
Tiger Woods 2003 claims to be an arcade game with true-to-life physics. The arcade portion of the game is well done. Balls explode and are rocketed toward holes, all sorts of wacky characters are included with the fantasy golfers, there are things to unlock, and money to win. These are the elements that make a strong arcade foundation. The best thing that I can write about this game it this: even though it is an arcade game, I never felt that it got too silly. I knew that ultimately my success or failure would be determined by realistic shot making and that everything else going on in the game was for pure entertainment value.

Unfortunately, Tiger Woods is just too easy. The first thing that players will have to do when firing up the game for the first time is go through a series of tutorials. These explain how to hit the golf ball and putt. It is a nice feature and showcases the game's real time swing. I headed off to a course and shot 8 over for my first round. I hit every green in regulation, but my putting took a while to master. I really don't understand the developer's putting design decision. The game showcases the use of analog controller sticks to create a nice fluid swing everywhere, but on the putting surface. All putting swings are taken with full force. Setting a distance beyond the hole determines the speed.

Once I figured out this counter-intuitive swing, I mastered the game in about an hour and a half. What makes it even easier is that attribute purchases greatly increase player skills. After a few upgrades, I was hitting eagles as I've never done on the easy setting of any golf product I've played. Another odd "true-to-life" design decision made by EA Sports was to include a power boost and completely unrealistic ball spin function. Yes, it's an arcade game and power boosts are obviously required, but who cares what my power attribute skill is when I can hit 280 yards with the lowest skill and a little boost? I won't even mention how far you can hit the ball on higher skill levels with a power boost. Ball spin is added to the ball by mashing buttons...after you hit the ball! Backspin and forward spin are just a few taps away while the ball is in flight.

Weather effects are in the game, but do not seem to impact shots very much if at all. Maybe it is my power boost or ball spin, but I rarely had to worry about the wind as I would in other golf games. The rough does, to the game's credit, cause balls to behave in strange ways. The greens themselves are easy enough to putt on. I wasn't too thrilled about ball physics on the green or how the slopes read on the surface. If I ever had a "two-putt", it was usually because I forgot to take a full swing during my putt. The absence of gridlines on the greens was probably intended to make putting more challenging. The only thing challenging about putting is to remember to take a full swing. The only way to make the game more challenging is to play as one of the weakest players available in Tiger Woods 2003 in a stroke or match game. Using a player that has high attributes is almost cheating.

Replay Value : 80
Tiger Woods 2003 doesn't have a real golf course architect, but it has enough to at least allow people to create some more variation in the courses. Once you've completed the Tiger Challenge, the My Tour feature extends the game with its customized tour schedule. The biggest game-extending feature is online tournament scheduling through the official Tiger Woods web site. I wasn't able to test this feature for the review because this feature wasn't operational by the time this review was submitted. People play the game in a tournament and post their scores to be ranked against other opponents. Issues about reporting honesty aside, the ability to set up tournaments and a formal ranking system look pretty interesting."

"Speed Golf" places golfers on the course with different challenges that they must complete quickly. Not sure how this will work, but seems like a nice online variant.

Overall : 85
The decision to purchase a version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 is platform dependent. PS2 owners face a difficult choice. Tiger Woods 2002 for the PS2 is very similar to the 2003 Xbox version. The main advantages of the Xbox 2003 version are the better multimedia effects and its online play. I plan to own both the Xbox and PC version of Tiger Woods 2003 because each emphasizes a different type of golf game. The PC version is aimed squarely at the jaded simulation fan. The Xbox version has enough interesting going on in it to provide a quick golfing fix and is fun playing with friends.

Some games I play seriously, very seriously. Other games I play to pass some time and Tiger Woods 2003 falls under that category. If golf simulation fans check their attitudes at the door, they will find an arcade product that is tame enough that they just might crack a smile while playing the game (editor's note: in joy or in humor?)

Forget about all of the claims that Tiger Woods 2003 has realistic physics - it doesn't. But they aren't ridiculously bad and don't take away too much from the overall experience.

By: Chris Johnson 11/14/02

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