With Christmas around the corner and more Xbox Live games on the shelves to ponder over, it has been a magical time for us Xbox gamers working out which games are worthy enough to buy for our rapidly growing collections.
With the already successful Tiger Woods franchise already having a years head start on the Links game on the Xbox scene, it seems that Tiger Woods has the advantage.
This is not quite the case due to the fact Links 2004 includes online support which for golf fans is something very special making the fight between the titles a much more brutal affair indeed.
Tiger Woods 2003 / 2004 had amazing gameplay and brought golf alive to the console format but at a cost. Due to the cross-format approach, sacrifices were made and this was very apparent in the graphics area. As good as the gameplay was the average visuals especially in the 2004 version which used the same game engine as the previous Tiger Woods title, really didn’t do enough to push this series on and this is where Links 2004 can have a hefty crack at nipping them to the top spot on the Xbox format.
Thankfully Links 2004 enjoys the Xbox exclusive boast allowing for much more detail all around the game. Graphically the game does push the Xbox much harder then Tiger Woods and to great effect. Textures are noticeably much higher, characters you control look much more refined and the scenery is luxuriant. All courses look superb whether you are on an actual real life course or one of the more exotic creations which have been sparked by the developers imagination. Although a massive improvement I still feel more could have been achieved, but this aside you will enjoy the details as you whack that little ball around the open viewed areas to finally stick it down a hole. A rather silly game some might suggest, but golf does have much appeal for many individuals including myself.
Different weather effects such as rain, fog and a varying breeze make for nice changes in gameplay, but the rain is a little uninspiring visually and when you consider what other games have achieved with rain effects you wonder why this has not had the same amount of detail. A minor moan really, but we are looking for something close to golfing perfection here.
Similar to other golf games a career mode is the way to create your custom player and gain skill points to enhance your player’s abilities especially useful for competing online. Player customization is very limited compared to Tiger Woods 2004, but this game did employ a rather overkill approach to this when you consider the Xbox version of Tiger Woods 2004 was not online compatible meaning there were very few people you could impress with your wacky styling. With a simple tutorial to get you playing as quickly as possible. A very familiar use of the left analogue stick to control the swing, which features in Links 2004 and certainly does not disappoint.
In fact it is so similar to the Tiger Woods control method, people who are moving from this game to Links will find a fairly simple transition. Only real difference is the use of spin which is set before a shot which is much more technical then the Tiger Woods use of Spin while the ball is actually in flight. This led to many eagles and below par shots as you virtually steered the ball into the cup. The power shot is similar, but rather then bashing the silver button to get the power enhancement up, you simply have to time the pulling down of the analogue stick into the red area of the power bar to get that much needed boost off the tee.
Putting is also using the same method. By employing the left analogue stick you again control the power of your putt, but setting the difficulty level makes a huge difference here. On Beginner mode you will have a very accurate line showing you the path of the ball. Simply moving the line you have a very easy crack at sinking the ball down the hole. Advance the difficulty setting though and see the line get less helpful and in the hardest setting completely missing. There are other indicators presenting to you the level of the green and quite a few angles and grids to make use of, but on the hardest setting you have no power gauge which makes life extraordinarily difficult. Luckily the other modes are much more helpful, although for the seasoned golf fan Intermediate setting is the path to take as Beginner is far too easy once you have had some time to get to grips with all the controls.
So control similar, but that bit more refined which is a trend you will notice throughout the entire game. Presentation though could not be more different from the Tiger Woods equivalent. Rather then humorous comments which very quickly get boring after hearing it for the 10th time, Links 2004 employs a much more serious approach giving out useful information through the commentators. They sound very jittery at times and quite false as the break in sentences to insert numbers of distance and names makes it sound very mechanical, but with the various array of information that is presented you can let this pass.
Loading times are virtually instantaneous plus all round presentation is refined and pleasing to the eye. One point to note is the 8 courses that come with the game. Now compared to the huge 20 courses that Tiger Woods sports seems quite a low number, but with the online content download option, new courses will be made available in the future, so some compensation for this but the sooner the extra courses come available the better as the 20 courses on Tiger Woods 2004 really does make a difference for longevity for the people who haven’t yet discovered the wonders of Xbox Live.
Courses include the famous St. Andrews which looks a lot more impressive then it did on Tiger Woods. As for players you are of course missing Tiger Woods, but have such golfers as Sergio Garcia, Mike Weir and Annika Sorenstam. Yes you can play as either female or male characters either one of the professionals or as a custom player have the option to select your preferred gender.
This game is very enjoyable offline, although when playing the skins mode you will be forgiven for feeling a little frustrated with the computer opponents making seemingly improbably if not impossible shots and getting them in the hole. This brings me to the number of modes in the game. Again not a huge amount when you compare to Tiger Woods 2004, but in that game you would be very unlikely to play every single mode as there are so many pointless modes to be honest and all the important ones like Stroke Play, Skins and Match Play are included with Links 2004.
Once you feel comfortable with your custom player you can take this baby online if you have Xbox Live and compete in competitions through the new XSN Sports website, giving the ability to access leagues and tables of varying levels of opponents. If that seems a little too much for you have an unofficial game which doesn’t go towards your statistics and just have a good laugh with some friends. With the Opti-Match feature it is easy to customise just like many other online games for Xbox the opponents ability, the course and what game mode you would like to have, be it 9 or the full 18 hole experience with.
Tiger Woods has indeed been knocked off the top spot for golf games with its unadventurous upgrade from the popular 2003 version. Links 2004 has firmly taken advantage of this and proven that you don’t have to have wacky comedy to prove that golf in the gaming world is exciting and fun. So decide who is going to carry your clubs and walk over to the first tee. You will not be disappointed.