I’ve been a big Links fan for a long time on the computer. I would buy it every year it came out as it was seen as the pinnacle of golf simulation games on the computer. Now Microsoft has eliminated the computer line and brought Links to the Xbox with online play. Can this game stand up to the juggernaut that is Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004, a game already available on the Xbox, but without online play? Let’s see.

This game looks quite good. The ability to create your golfer is not as vast as it was in Tiger Woods 2004, but it holds its own. Where Links 2004 goes beyond Tiger Woods 2004 is in the course and player graphics, but it suffers in framerate when compared to Tiger (the latter runs at 60fps while this game runs at 30fps…the difference is noticeable). There are real courses and all the beauty is presented very well in this game. Ron talked about the Arizona course and he said that was pretty spot on, so I am guessing the others are as well.

The shadows don’t have the jaggies I saw on the Xbox version of Tiger Woods 2004 and the environment effects are just wonderful. Yes, you will play in the rain (something that doesn’t often happen in the real-life game unless it is a spritz) and you will feel the wind as it takes your ball with it. The sun changes its angle as the day wears on during a tournament and clouds fly across the sky and have a nice shadow on the ground. This game is just well done in the graphic department and I think many people will like it. However for Links people from the PC days you may be a bit aghast by the look as it is something much different than what this series used to have.

It is obvious from the music that Links 2004 is trying to go head-to-head with Tiger Woods 2004. The problem is they have left behind those of us that grew up on the simulation heavy games in the series that came before this. You have some rocking out tunes in this game (much like Tiger), but somehow it just doesn’t fit in with the Links series as a whole. I’m able to look past this though and see that you do have the option to put in your own songs to play the game to.

The commentary is pretty horrible and I honestly don’t remember any commentary being on the computer games (maybe I’m forgetting it), so why put it here? The commentary is just so off and so stilted (with 4 commentators) that they need to go back to the drawing board and fix this for next year’s iteration if they are going to have commentary there too.

The golf sounds though are stellar, although not quite as good as those found in Tiger 2004. The sound of the club hitting the ball just sounds a bit more hollow than it does in Tiger. I know I’m getting nitpicky, but sometimes things like this can make a person decide between one game or the other, you know? The sounds of the ball hitting the grass sounds a lot better than Tiger though…is that better? There also seems to be more fans around in this game and they don’t sound as lound, so they are a better representation of their true numbers.

The control is good, but it just isn’t as good as Tiger Woods 2004. You’ll want to start off at the Beginner level, but you will soon find that too easy and want to move to the other 2 levels. In Beginner mode you have a bar that shows power and where you need to push the analog stick forward to get the best shot off for the distance you have left. The swing works much like Tiger, except that Tiger‘s seems a bit more robust. Many people like analog stick swinging, but I miss the old days of links where you clicked a few times to get your shot off, you know? Yeah, it was a timing issue, but so what? Aiming is pretty cool in this game. You press A and you are sent directly to the current point. You can then move it to where you want to hit the ball.

You switch clubs with the R and L trigger and you can do fade and draw shots by using the spin control on the right analog stick. You can also choose your shot type from six different ones via the B button. The swing controls just aren’t as robust as Tiger unfortunately. The biggest complaint many reviewers have is that you don’t have as much control over the spin of a ball as you do in Tiger Woods 2004 and I will agree with that. Spin control doesn’t come into effect as much as it did in Tiger, which is unfortunate.

The Swing meter will change depending on what level you are playing at. In beginner mode you have a swing bar and a yellow line that shows where it is best to start swinging forward. In the Intermediate level you do not have the yellow line and in the Advanced level you don’t even have a swing meter, so good luck! Beginner is way too easy though, so you will at least settle on the middle difficulty.

Putting can also be easy or difficult depending on your difficulty level. In each one you are given a blue line that shows how the ball will travel when hit. In the 2 higher levels the blue line will be wider than the one shown in Beginner. Much like the swing meter the yellow line is gone on the middle and top difficulty and the meter is gone totally in the top one. This game’s putting game is far better than Tiger because you aren’t guessing the difference between 4 feet and 5 feet. Here you have a blue line to at least line up your shot given the grade of the green.

This game is not as easy to pick up for a single-player experience as Tiger Woods 2004. The problem with the single-player mode is that you have a Career mode where you go through different levels of difficulty and have different tasks to finish to continue on to the torunament(s) in those levels and advance to the more difficult levels. Compare this to Tiger Woods 2004 where you have day specific tournaments (based on your internal clock), a pretty cool single-player mode where you can easily pick up and play the game and you’ll notice my problems with Links 2004‘s Career mode. You have the ability to rake in $47 million through the Career mode to spend on skill points that make your golfer better. There are better clubs you can get and some stuff you can wear, but the amount of things to purchase just does not stand up to Tiger.

Where this game excels is in the online arena, even moreso than Tiger‘s PS2 version (the only online version). You can play with up to 3 other people at the same time. You can go through match play and stroke play (with or without cuts). You also have the option for “fast play” which allows all players to play at the same time. “Fast Play” works well though and there is no lag at all, which is pretty cool. You see each person’s shot via a colored line as you are hitting your own shots. You can also set up XSN Sports tournaments with up to 32 players (meaning 8 different games and up to 3 games total in a tournament). There is nothing more fun than hopping on Xbox Live and either playing with people or setting up an XSN Tournament. This game is simply one of the best uses of Xbox Live that there is and possibly the best sports-based use yet.

This number is high only for those that have Xbox Live. If you do not have Xbox Live I would highly recommend getting Tiger Woods 2004 for your golf fix. For those that want to play an arcade style golf game on Xbox Live, this is your game…actually, it’s your only game. For a game that is okay in single-player, it totally rocks in online play.