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Tiger Woods 2004 (PC) Review
By Chris Johnson -- Staff Writer
Published 11/14/2003

Background Info
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Screens (12)

After a less than spectacular beginning, Tiger Woods 2003 almost made up for previous years broken, sometimes unplayable, versions of the game. Almost. TW 2003 solved the resource-related issues that plagued TW 2002, became visually more appealing, and added an innovative "career" mode. There were still some flies in the ointment. Hardcore golf simulation fans complained and repeatedly used the term "too easy" to describe TW 2003. The career mode was too easy, the short game was too easy, and poor ball physics made the game too easy. But it was clear EA Sports was serious about producing a product both hard core and casual cyber-golfers could enjoy.

The current Tiger Woods franchise can trace its roots to one of the finest PC sports games ever created PGA Championship Golf 2000. Headgate Software, then in the Sierra Sports stable of developers, finally perfected their momentum based swing system in PGA 2000. It contained a robust course architect and was the first golf game that allowed players to create a complete PGA field using the player editor. Fan created files and utilities made PGA 2000 a complete "PGA" sim. The transition from Sierra to EA Sports was rough. TW 2003 captured some of the PGA 2000 feeling, but it felt a bit shallow in comparison. Many serious golf fans questioned the arcade feeling of the career mode. The game itself was very pretty to look at, but golf simulation fans were looking for a more realistic simulation. With a revamped Microsoft Links series in the background, EA Sports needed to pull another rabbit out of its hat.

Presentation/Graphics : 96
There's usually a huge battle in various PC golf forums over Links vs. TW graphics. The argument essentially boils down to photorealism vs. dynamic atmosphere. Links fans like the detail shown in their golf courses and don't seem to mind the lack of environmental effects. TW fans place less emphasis on detail and more on the interesting things happening around them on the course. If you liked TW 2003's course graphics, you'll be very happy with TW 2004. There aren't any radical departures from last year's presentation. But there are a number of finer details that improve the visuals.

I own an ATI Radeon 9800 Pro and TW 2004 shows off the power of this graphics card rather nicely. Trees sway realistically in the breeze. Birds fly overhead sometimes in formation and other times by themselves. The flags flap gracefully on their poles. Shadows are perfectly placed on the course. TW 2004 is the finest visual presentation ever available on a PC.

A noticeable improvement was made in the golfer graphics. The key word here is choice. There's a lot more customization available, from the type of sunglasses you'll wear (if any), to sweatbands, and a wide variety of hats. The golfer model is so tweakable that it finally makes it possible for your face to be truly in the game. Eye color, jaw line, hair, age lines, and many other items can be adjusted.

Golfer animations are silky smooth. I tend to watch my golfer swing more in TW 2004 than in previous Headgate golf products because I get a nice visual queue about the speed and sensitivity of my stroke.

There are relatively few camera angles, but I honestly didn't need any additional choices. The system that graced TW 2003 is back and it works very nicely. Keyboard commands and pre-set swing, ball-drop, and green reading views are back. And if these don't satisfy, the camera editor allows custom view creation.

Although TW 2004 generally looks great, there is still room for improvement. The golfer will occasionally forget where he or she is on the course and the actions won't match the location. This usually occurred on the green. Making a nice chip shot shouldn't cause a golfer to holster his iron and go stomping off across the green. There were strange telescoping issues on the grass every now and then. This was barely noticeable, but it seemed out of place in an otherwise flawless presentation.

Presentation/Audio : 85
Why is golf commentary so difficult to do? We're not talking about lightening fast action here. Somebody swings a club, the ball goes somewhere, the ball is hit again - you get the idea. For some reason, David Feherty and Gary McCord's commentary is sometimes mistimed and not reflective of what is going on the screen. The commentators will describe the lie of balls that are still in the air. Headgate needs to listen to the nearly flawless commentary in most of Sega's sports products or even EA Sports' NHL 2004 to hear what smooth and unforced play-by-play sounds like. The crowd also at times suffers from not "in-synch" itis. If I am four putting on the green from 45 feet, the crowd shouldn't wildly cheer if I putt within two feet of the pin. This could be crowd sarcasm at work here, but I doubt it.

The ambient sound around the course are very nice. Whether it's birds chirping or the sound of waves crashing against rocks, TW 2004 provides an unparalleled aural experience. The quality of the sound is first rate, as is the 3D positioning of the sounds.

Yes, there is music - this is an EA Sports product so that goes without saying. However, playing a golf simulation for music purposes is, um, not recommended. The music that is there is tasteful and appropriate for the setting.

Interface/Options : 95
I must admit that I am a huge TrueSwing fan and have been since the perfection of this momentum based swing in PGA Championship 2000. There is a very large Links nation that will disagree, but no golf swing really simulates an actual golf swing better than TrueSwing. Players chose between the vertical or horizontal version of the swing. Swing success is determined by the path the mouse takes in one direction, and the direction it travels in the opposite direction. Miss hits occur if the mouse travels too quickly, movement isn't in a perfect line, or if the transition to a new direction is too fast or slow. This is pretty much how it works on a real golf course.

This year EA Sports includes seven more courses to increase the ante from 12 to 19. Four of these courses are "challenge designs", but this is still quite a bang for the buck. Throw in the fan created TW 2003 catalog and there's a very nice number of options available. There are an increased number of PGA Tour Pros and fictional characters that can accompany your golfer around the course. Fifteen PGA Tour Pros and 12 fictional characters are available.

The career mode in TW 2003 was innovative and received rave reviews. Over time, many fans were disappointed in how easy career mode became and how repetitive some of the challenges were. Headgate partially responded to this criticism by allowing the career mode's difficulty level to be adjusted. They also got rid of the calendar format and created a series of "world tour" events. These are various challenges and events that must be completed in order to advance to the next stage of a career.

Many hardcore golf simulation fans will find TW 2004's career mode too "arcadey". EA Sports has institutionalized the unlocking model across all of its products. Some people enjoy this, others don't. I would prefer having access to all of the different clubs, balls, etc. right up front because I am more interested in the act of playing golf as opposed to the "fun" of unlocking equipment.


Gameplay : 93
TW 2004 is very similar to TW 2003 with the exception that the career mode has been re-designed. Another nice change is that EA Sports Online is free for one year. Otherwise, I must say that I am a bit underwhelmed by the entire package.

There really isn't anything in TW 2004 that makes me forget about TW 2003. The physics are slightly improved, but there still exist wind effect oddities that were identified in TW 2003. Links does a better job forcing golfers to adjust their shots based on environmental conditions on all levels of the game. TW 2004 makes a step in the right direction, but I shouldn't have to play at the hardest level with the wind set at incredible gusts in order to see those effects.

TW 2004 may suffer from the great strides made by TW 2003 in comparison. It is a good game and I like the gameplay because I liked TW 2003's gameplay. All of the options from TW 2003 are there, difficulty levels can be chosen, and there are quite a few interesting rule options to spice things up. But all you have to do is re-read my review of TW 2003 to understand the issues surrounding TW 2004's game play - they still exist for the most part in the current version of the game.

Replay Value : 96
With EASO being free for one year, TW 2004 has unlimited replay potential this year. The catalog of user created courses and online flexibility make you consistently want to come back for more. The course architect is included as well as a course utility program for all of the aspiring course designers out there.

Overall : 93
TW 2004 has slightly improved ball physics, so that earned them a slightly improved score. I'm not as big a fan of the career portion of the game, as I was with TW 2003. The novelty has worn off and while TW 2004's additions are nice, they still feel as if they belong in a less serious golf simulation product. Others may find the continuous challenge-unlock-challenge model fun, so your mileage may vary. However, the bottom line is that if I am going to play golf on a PC, then TW 2004 will be the game I play. And most of the time I'll be very very happy.

The area that still needs to be addressed in TW 2004 is the inclusion of a real PGA Tour career mode. In PGA Championship 2000, it was fun to play in an entire field and actually see different players as they played through the course. I would set a camera to follow Tiger Woods' group and keep an eye on his progress as I played through a round. Yes, these were fan created files that allowed us to use PGA Championship in this manner and maybe fans will figure out how to create the full PGA Tour field so that we can import the players into TW 2004. What is missing is the ability to role-play a real PGA Tour professional's career. TW 2004's has a weak attempt at this, but earning your Tour card and making it to the PGA Tour is actually better executed in Links. Finally, fixing the ball physics and adding this type of career mode would earn the next version of Tiger Woods a near perfect score.

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