Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 Review

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Publisher: EA Sports (Electronic Arts)
Developer: EA Sports

Platform: PC, Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube
Reviewed on Xbox

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 offers more players and courses than previous Tiger Woods golf games, adding stellar graphics and an online component. It ends up being as brilliant and fun a golfing experience as you can get short of squeezing into plaid pants, hiking up your argyles, and dropping a hundred bucks in greens fees at your local golf course.

Solomon Dirigible

If you ask the average Joe to name a golfer, odds are pretty good he'll come up with Tiger Woods. Woods represents the young, tough, exciting new breed that is slowly taking over the game, and presents the sport to a wide audience. It makes sense, then, that EA Sports picked Woods as its pitchman when it decided to expand its impressive sports library into the golf market. Console golf titles have long paled in comparison to their PC brethren. The Links franchise for the PC dominated the scene with a realism that consoles of the time couldn't match. But the recent widespread adoption of analog controlers has thrown the advantage to the consoles, and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 combines stellar graphics, brilliant control, and a slew of outstanding subtleties to form the most exciting virtual golfing experience yet to appear.

The analog controls are, by now, familiar to those who have played the newer console golf games. You pull back on the analog stick to start your backswing, and press forward to start your downswing. Pull back straight and push straight forward to make a smooth, level swing, and if you accidentally yank it to the left or right, look for your ball to hook or slice, correspondingly. Everything is straightforward and easy to pick up when you first begin the game's tutorial, which teaches you what buttons to press to achieve what effects, and what different types of shots you might want to use in specific situations, such as the flop, a high approach shot designed to minimize roll after landing, and the punch, a low shot which cuts into the wind and avoids overhanging branches. Following the tutorial, you'll probably want to jump into the familiar Tiger Challenge, to unlock characters and courses, while earning money to purchase additional skill points.

The formula for the Tiger Challenge is largely unchanged from last year's edition. You'll play a round of match play against one computer controlled opponent. There are 5 levels of opponents to battle, culminating in a final match for each level that will earn you a new tour card. Your opponents are a nice mixture of real life PGA Tour pros (such as Charles Howell III and Vijay Singh) and fictional characters complete with fictional biographies (such as mobster, Dominic "The Don" Donatello and kilted Scotsman, Hamish "Mulligan" McGregor). Thrown in amid the one-on-one matches are brief qualifying tournaments in which you must compete for prize money and prestige as well as revenge-driven skins games, in which three of your recently vanquished opponents will try to beat you for skins and the matching prize money. One nice feature of the Tiger Challenge is that they've shortened some of the matches considerably. Whereas in last year's version you had to compete for a full eighteen holes against every opponent, here you'll have a number of contests in which you only play the back nine. The result is that you won't necessarily be faced with having to repeat an entire round if you fail to defeat your opponent the first time, and you can generally move more quickly through the Tiger Challenge. You will still find yourself cursing the speed of the game occasionally, however, particularly during skins games in which you have more than one opponent. There is no option to skip an opponent's shot, so you are forced to watch each of your three opponents shots every time you play with them. By holding down a button, you can double the speed of their ball flight, but there is no way to jump to the end of the shot without viewing it. Other games, such as Outlaw Golf and Hot Shots Golf 3, possess this feature, and I wonder why EA couldn't have included it.

In addition to the Tiger Challenge, you'll find the familiar Scenario mode in this year's game as well. There are a number of scenarios to choose from, including a Par 3 Challenge, in which you must shoot under a certain limit on all the par 3 holes on a given course, and challenges to get out of difficult lies within a given number of strokes. You are awarded a gold, silver, or bronze medal and a corresponding monetary award based upon the number of strokes in which you achieve your goals. A new aspect to this year's game that is exhibited in the Scenario mode as well is the Skillzone mode.

The Skillzone mode consists of a number of targets strewn about a selection of three different settings. You can compete with a certain number of balls, a certain time limit, or in a version of H-O-R-S-E against a friend, where you and your opponents must each match the other's shot. Each of the targets consists of a green with a flagstick, surrounded by rings of different colors. Much like a game of horseshoes, points are awarded based on how close your ball comes to rest to the flagstick. The targets are placed at different distances and heights relative to the tee box, and a variety of obstacles will require that you adjust the type of shot you select accordingly. As with the other modes in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003, you are rewarded monetarily, and, as always, you can purchase additional skill points with your funds.

Another subtle touch in this year's game is the option to select different equipment. As you purchase more skill points, you will be given the opportunity to upgrade your equipment – specifically, your shaft, club head, balls and glove. Each of these will contribute slightly to improved performance on the golf course. A stiffer shaft will allow you more distance and a better ball will allow you to put more spin on the ball and better control its flight. This is a nice touch, but is not as effective as it should be. For starters, there are only four levels of each piece of equipment to be acquired, and you are simply awarded better equipment once you have purchased enough skill points to qualify. There is really no decision making on the part of the player, it's a simple question of selecting the next available gear after you learn that it's available. A better method would be to have a wider selection. For example, you could maintain the four levels of equipment, but offer a selection within each level to change your game more drastically. If you are awarded better balls, for example, offer a selection of high-spin, long-distance, and a mixture of the two for each level, so that you could feel as though your choices made a difference to your game. Overall, of course, this is a minor part of the game, and not a glaring oversight.

The graphics in this year's edition of Tiger Woods PGA Tour are simply breathtaking. Each course is rendered faithfully and you are treated to a fly-by of each hole as PGA Tour commentator David Feherty describes the layout. Such subtleties as the flag blowing more stiffly in higher wind conditions and the waves crashing at Pebble Beach add to the realistic atmosphere. There are also more courses in this year's version, including real-life courses such as St. Andrews and Royal Birkdale and fictional courses such as The Highlands, a course played out in the wild hills of Scotland, and The Predator, a daunting course snaking its way through a wild jungle setting. You'll also have the option of creating your own courses by selecting any eighteen holes from any courses you've unlocked and combining them in any order. You can save your created course and hold tournaments, play a skins game, or something else, essentially allowing you to play any type of game you wish on your own course. This feature is new to this year's rendition of the game and adds a great deal, as you can get each course's signature hole onto the same course. You can play the 17th at Sawgrass with the island green and then go straight to the foxhole-like bunkers of St. Andrews on the very next hole.

Online play is just emerging on the console systems, and, while Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 doesn't take advantage of the network capabilities of any of the console systems directly, there is an interesting online component. As you play the game, your statistics are recorded under the My Tour selection, in a window marked "My Resume". Stats such as how much money you've earned, your average drive distance, and the number of eagles you've shot are kept, among others. If you go online to the EA Sports website, you can then log on to the Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 site, and retrieve a password which will allow you access to the "Online Play" feature of the game. Once you've entered the password, you can retrieve a password from the game to enter on the website, which then uploads the data from your resume to the website. There are a number of players who are all ranked by the data contained within their resumes, so you can see how you measure up. In addition to being able to see how you compare to other gamers, there are online tournaments being held throughout the next year or so (for obvious reasons, the online aspect to the 2003 edition will come to an end with the release of the 2004 edition). By looking at the tournaments section of the website, you can retrieve a password to enter in the game unlocking the online tournament. The password contains information about course conditions and what player you will control, so that everyone who plays the online tournament will have the same attributes and play under the same conditions. Once you finish the tournament, you'll receive yet another password to enter on the site, so that you can see how you measure up. This is, undoubtedly, a great idea, and a very nice addition to the game, but it seems to represent a lack of confidence in more direct online gaming for console systems. It certainly seems possible to have taken advantage of Xbox Live, or the PS2 Network Adapter for this game, yet EA decided on a complicated system of online recording using passwords. Still, the online records and tournament feature is an interesting new addition.

Overall, the game lacks specific goals after the completion of the Tiger Challenge. You can play tournaments and other game modes for money, and the Scenario mode gives you enough tasks left to complete to fill you with some sense of ambition, but it's very easy to treat the Tiger Challenge as the end of the single-player game. If you just keep in mind that even without the Tiger Challenge mode, this is unquestionably the most complete and realistic a virtual golfing experience as you can find, you won't be disappointed. The addition of extra courses, more player models to unlock, and the unique online gaming method ensure that Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 remains the best golf game available for console systems.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on February 4, 2003 10:31 AM.

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