Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: September 22, 2003
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 is EA Game's latest installment of their popular and best-selling golf franchise game. Taking the 'Don't fix it if it isn't broke' method, EA and Headgate Studios have improved upon an already great game. This year players are treated to a robust career mode as well as an innovative create-a-golfer mode featuring what EA calls the 'Game Face' mode. What makes Game Face unique is the fact that you can modify your characters entire face. This includes cheek bone width, head height and width, hair style, body type, eye shape and size and more options. If you really spend enough time on your golfer's face you can make near life-like recreations of yourself. Once your face and body are set, it's time to pick out your clothes, shoes, hats, sunglasses, clubs and a slew of other accessories. Tattoos, golfing gloves and equipment are sparse at first since most are locked, but winning events and breaking records will unlock quite a bit of the hidden stuff.
After completing the aesthetic side of your golfer it's time to pump up your attributes. This is accomplished by spending what money you have in your bank account on your various stats such as power, putting, long game and short game skills. In order to raise the bar of your skills the game makes you compete in the World Tour events. Think of these as mini-games, and by completing different ones you will earn money and pump up potential stat points to spend money on. If you complete enough events on a certain course, you will unlock the course championship match, in which, you will face that course's club pro. Beating the club pro will beef up the potential stat points for your character and drop some money into your account, too.
The cost for each point of your skills rises with each level you pass; you'll see the $600 price tag of amateur soar to $3,000 once you hit pro status. Your money also buys you golf lessons, which, just like in real life, are not cheap. Passing a lesson adds that particular golf shot to your players so-called 'bag of tricks', giving you many more options on the golf course. These skills prove themselves more than worth their price when you're stuck in the medium rough and need to use a punch shot to break back onto the fairway without hitting the tree directly above your ball. The PC version will probably appeal more to those who want to spend a lot of time building up their golfer through the low ranks and into the PGA tournaments.
Headgate Studios has done a tremendous job in adding near RPG-like qualities to their golfing game. I spent many hours in the career mode before even touching the simulation mode. After you've built up some decent stats for your golfer, it's time to tee up and test yourself in the game's simulation mode. You'll be able to tour on the PGA amateur tour and must complete the EA Qualifying tournament before you can play on the PGA. Once you've made the top 35 in qualifying round it'll be time to step up with the big boys. Simulation mode is very trying at first since your shots are very sensitive to any slightly bad shot you may hit. Just like in real golf you will find yourself hitting the hazards if you heel your ball and yelling at the ball when it misses the cup by mere inches.
Another thing I really enjoyed was playing well enough to have Ping golf equipment offer my golfer a sponsorship. Not only do I get a nice fat bonus when I play well, but, this makes the game feel much more realistic as well. The more stuff you use and wear from your sponsor, the more money you will receive from them when you play a great round on the course.
Simulation mode is no picnic and if you haven't mastered one of the control schemes you will be frustrated. Thankfully, the game has a practice feature to allow you to hone your skills before jumping into competition. The game uses the Trueswing method as well as the classic three-click control method from older golfing games. Trueswing works by clicking once to initiate the swing process, after which you pull your mouse back and then push it forward to complete your golfer's swing. Depending on how fast you pushed forward and how straight your mouse stayed will determine your shot's path. Move the mouse to the sides a little and you might find your ball hooking into the rough or sand bunker.
After each shot you can check your Trueswing analyzer to see how you're swinging and help make adjustments to improve your swing. Your swing will also change once you’ve passed the advanced golfing lessons. Once you learn advanced driving you can choose to have your golfer lean forward to help the ball catch itself in a breeze and carry, or lean back and cut it through a breeze. These options also appear for chipping, pitching, punching and flop shots and really help you tweak each shot you take.
Putting is still just as hard as you might remember it to be. You must judge putter weight, ball speed and read the greens like an expert to sink those birdies and eagles. The game does offer a color-coded grid to help assist you in reading those long tough putts, which helps a lot when you're first trying to learn the greens. Ball psychics feel just right and look very realistic when you’re driving for 290 yards, approaching the front of the green from 150 yards out and rolling the ball down the hump in the green.
Besides Simulation the game boasts new game types including Long Drive Shootout, Best Ball, Stableford, and Alternate Shot. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to check out any of the game modes on EA’s online gaming system. You can play them against the computer to experience more than just skins and stroke play.
The game sports 18 courses available to you all unlocked and ready to be played on in any game mode, including the newly added Bethpage Black and EA's fantasy courses such as the Predator. The game’s Course Life system really draws you into the game’s many courses. You’ll see trees swaying in the breeze, long grass blowing around your ankles as you try to dig your ball out of it and beautiful reflections on the water’s surface. You can really tell Headgate Studios wanted to revamp the game’s engine and they did a great job. The character models have been animated with realistic movement and given high-detail textures on all parts of the model.
The lighting in the game is also superb and helps make you feel like you’re actually playing on Pebble Beach since each golf course is modeled exactly like its real life big brother right down to every last detail. I did experience some slowdown on my system running at 1024x768 (P4 2.6 GHz, 1 gig of ram, GFTi46000 128) when swinging while stuck in high grass at times. Some slowdown also appeared when stuck in bunkers, but there were all rare occurrences and didn’t detract too much from the game play. Around the greens and fairways you will find a psudo-3d crowd lining the edges. These look very rough but fit well enough into the game’s atmosphere. I did notice a few draw and clipping problems while playing but nothing major enough to ruin the overall great package that Headgate Studios has put together with the graphics this year.
David Feherty makes a comeback but newcomer Gary McCord provides the narration in this year’s game. Their commentary is somewhat limited and is only heard in a few spots. After you tee off and drive your ball you will hear a comment, as well as on your approach shot. They do help on the green where David Feherty will usually make estimation on your upcoming putt that can help aid you in sinking a tough par. You’ll probably get tired of hearing the same canned comments after a long playing session, but on the whole the commentary is tolerable and could always be worse.
Ambient sounds such as chirping birds, rolling water from the streams, wind gusts and the sound of rain falling really enhance the playing experience. The game supports 3D positional audio so that you can hear the trees rustling around behind you and distant sounds of water at Pebble Beach breaking onto the rocks. All music was recorded in-house and is used instead of the EA Trax that populates the console versions of the game. The music is a standard mix of rock guitar and techno beats that fits very well in the menu screens, but is boring overall.
The actual feel of the game play is excellent. Once you’ve passed the learning curve for the controls you will see how awesome Trueswing really is. The entire game screams polished and mostly bug-free. I’ve noticed more than a few times some random graphic glitches which include golfer putting with their irons and driving with their putters. Obviously this doesn’t hurt game play and will probably be fixed in future patches.
Tiger Woods 2004 is definitely a huge step up from last year’s already fantastic game, which is quite a feat. With the revamped Tiger Challenge (World Tour mode), Game Face and the close to a 1,000 locked items, amazing RPG-like career mode and expansive online community all help TW2004 offer tremendous replay value. The small gripes with graphic glitches are easily outweighed by the excellence of the game play and the beauty of the best-looking golf game you can buy. I highly suggest picking this up if you enjoy golf and great golf gaming.
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