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Tiger Woods 99 PGA Tour (PSX) Review

Publisher: EA Sports

Background Info

Golf games have always been a tough proposition on consoles. The graphics can't compare to what a high-end PC can produce, and if the interface is oversimplified to fit on a standard joypad, those interested in the depth of a sim may be put off. Oh yeah, and golf games can, at times, play like watching paint dry if you don't have an appreciation of the sport. To put it mildly, it's an acquired taste.

EA's golf outings since the days of the Genesis have centered around their PGA Tour series. In the latest installment of the series, EA has gone from the more general focal point of the PGA to the very specific focus of its hottest young star, Tiger Woods.

This doesn't really change the overall product that much, it just means that Tiger's all over the place (even on the soundtrack - more on that later), though other golfers are available.

Presentation/Graphics : 60
When you get right down to it, the PSX just doesn't have the muscle or RAM to realistically produce the kind of artwork available on PC golf games these days. That's fine, and we shouldn't expect it to. But what we get in TW99 are pixelly, splotchy graphics that frankly are disappointing.

Five real PGA courses are included in the game. The graphics of the fairways and greens do a decent job of portraying the slopes and hills of the landscape, but the surrounding trees and bushes are very splotchy, and when the camera rotates terrain objects stutter badly while moving.

I remember this sort of "tree flutter" from the first PGA game EA put out on the PSX a few years ago. When the field of vision is rotated, the trees and bushes seem to slowly slither into their new perspective. Again, the PSX limits what developers can do, but I find the course graphics in TW99 to be distracting and unacceptable.

The animation of the golfers is good enough, and more importantly, the swing meter moves smoothly in its arc, and has a nice flow to it that matches the feel of a golf swing. The only problem with the swing meter is that it is somewhat transparent so that parts of its details can get lost against the background at times. The camera angle can be changed (zoomed in or pulled back from the golfer) to correct this, but that sort of manual adjustment shouldn't be necessary to play a game.

Presentation/Audio : 50
Sound in golf games is fairly simple. There really aren't a ton of small details to worry about. Well, EA should have paid a bit more attention to what they were doing. Swings sound fine (except for the annoying "jet engine" noises and smoke trails when you make a solid power swing), and ambient sounds on the course are sparse and acceptable (birds and such), but there are other problems.

First, the ball makes the same sound no matter where it lands - green, fairway, rough, sand, etc., all make a dull, quiet thud. This is ridiculous, to say the least, and detracts from the feel of the game. And then there are the "Tiger Comments." If you hit a bad shot, you get an apathetic, low-energy "Oh, no" or the like from Tiger. The comments add nothing to the game, become old very quickly, and, as noted, come across with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

And then there's the music. Somewhat mellow hip-hop dance mixes are the best way I can describe it. It's OK, but it doesn't really fit the world of golf, and when they throw in random quotes from Tiger (such as "It's in the hole") it just comes across as goofy. Not my cup of tea.

Interface/Options : 80
TW99 features clean, simple, easy-to-navigate menus that are a refreshing change from their usual labyrinthine designs. Options are easy to locate and change, and it will only take a couple of minutes to become familiar enough to easily find whatever you need.

Controls are pretty standard for a golf game. The swing meter is controlled with a single button (the usual 3-tap method), and clubs and distance can be adjusted easily, along with getting a quick view of the ball's landing area with the press of a button. Within a few holes, the controls become second-nature.

A point of note is that EA included an "analog" swing method which consists of quickly pulling the left stick back, then pushing it forward. The problem with this method is that it doesn't replicate the feel of a golf swing in any way, and seems to lack any measure of subtlety, which an analog method should have. I applaud EA for including something different, and maybe in future editions this feature can be fine-tuned to be more useable.

Gameplay : 65
As mentioned earlier, TW99 has a great swing meter, which is the first hurdle toward a golf game being fun, and the rough course graphics don't really hamper playability. The actual game mechanics are very standard, and if you've ever played a golf game, you'll find no big surprises in this title. But there are problems that hurt TW99 overall.

The physics and flight of the ball don't seem natural. The accuracy of a physics model is impossible to prove or disprove, but it becomes apparent very quickly that the ball will sometimes go too far, or stop too short, or stop rolling too quickly, just doesn't feel right, and that's the only way I can describe it. If you've played or watched golf, as I have for years, the oddities of the ball physics not only become apparent, but ruin the feel of the entire game.

The model for the wind is also off, and highly unnatural. Pause to gauge the wind before teeing off, and you will see the wind meter not only change directions almost constantly, but the force will vary greatly as well. How can you adjust your shot to the wind if the it is a totally random, haphazard force?

TW99 is by no means a terrible game. The gameplay is pretty standard, and easy to pick up and get into. Whether or not the poorly-modeled natural elements of the game take away the fun will be up to the individual gamer.

Difficulty : 70
TW99 will provide a good challenge to any who cares to take it on. The good part is that the swing meter is done very well, which means the interface doesn't add to the challenge, but enhances the enjoyability of the game. With eight real PGA golfers (including Tiger) and play options ranging from practice to skins to tournaments, there's a lot of game to go through, and the computer provides a good opponent for all skill levels.

Overall : 65
While I don't dislike TW99, it has too many rough edges to make it something I would recommend. The best golf game on the PSX is still Hot Shots Golf which, despite its cartoony look, manages to simulate the basic elements and physics of golf much, much better than TW99. Ultimately this game is disappointing, and perhaps EA should try to simplify their overall approach for next year's effort, especially the graphics. A better looking and playing game is needed to do justice to their high-profile license.

By: Andy L. 2/17/99

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