I never played last year’s version of this game, but I remember playing the PGA Tour games from EA before Tiger Woods was connected to it. They were pretty fun, but always seemed to be behind the Links series in overall greatness.

The big thing in Tiger Woods 2004 is the new Game Face section where you can make a golfer that looks a lot like you or make your own freak if you like. There are also lots of different modes you can play, such as Real-Time events (scheduled events on certain days), World Tour (where you go around the world to win tournaments) and even the PGA Tour. Then there are multiplayer modes such as Speed Golf, Battle Golf, Skins Games, etc. The only problem for the Xbox version is that it is not online like the upcoming Links 2004 from Microsoft will be. Once again, only the PS2 version is online…although you can only play against one other person, a decision that many people dislike.

This is a hard one to rate. For the most part this game is quite beautiful. The Game Face section looks fantastic. No seams or clipping is present as you build your character for the challenge of such things as the PGA Tour and World tour. Inside of the game is also very pretty, although there are a few problems.

First off is there is a little bit of draw-in as your ball flies through the air. Some trees just appear out of nowhere, although the draw distance is far away. It’s something you get used to and it doesn’t bother you, but I did notice it a few times when I first started playing this game.

Another big problem is when there is a close-up of the hole as you put the golf ball and your shadow happens to be close. Both the hole and your shadow have terrible jagged edges in this close up view. I was very disappointed by this, but this is just a small problem in the overall graphic package. On some holes it will rear its ugly head. On others you will have long puts and won’t have to worry about it if you nail the shot.

The other glaring problem would be that few fans are on the courses, yet there are loud cheers after a good shot. To be frank, the amount of people along the way would not be able to make that much noise. The people that are there are also poorly animated. Yes, they clap, but it looks very bad.

The EA Trax in this game are better than those found in Madden 2004, although they still rely a lot on rap. It may just be me, but I don’t equate DMX and golf as being in the same league as each other, but what do I know? Much like Madden 2004 you can add your own music to the game. You also have the option of having the music play in all modes or have no music in different modes. I tried to play PGA Tour and World Tour with the music on and it is difficult to hear the commentators and it is tough to concentrate when I’m into a song.

The commentators are pretty good, although I wouldn’t be able to tell you their names off-hand. They do a good job, although they repeat more than other sport’s game commentators in my mind. The sounds of the game are also good. Everything sounds spot on with the clubs hitting the ball and the ball hitting the fairway, rough, etc. The only thing odd is when you hit the ball well and they do those effects that would not happen in the real world, such as an explosion as your club hits the ball or a Happy Gilmore-like driver shot. Then again, this is supposed to be a game anyone can pick up and not necessarily sim-centric, so I won’t dock anything for that.

Control is very intuitive, I just wish they would have added the old 3 hit system. What you have here is quite revolutionary. Yes, I know it was in last year’s version, but since I didn’t play it this is quite new to me. Swings are done with the left analog stick. If you want to do a straight hit you pull back and push forward after the club reaches the height you want it to. To do a fade or draw shot you use the diagonals on the left analog controller. The swing will have a colored “wind” arc along with it to let you know you aren’t doing a straight shot.

The digital pad controls where you are aiming your shot. The B button hones in on the target you currently have set. This makes moving the target to where you want it to be easier. The A button will speed up gameplay, the white button can be pressed while the swing is going up to increase power, the black button, along with a direction, does a spin. You’ll get the hang of it in no time.

The putting engine is also quite good, although I don’t know where I would be without the caddy help (some may consider using the caddy help a cheat, but I’d be putting forever if I didn’t have it). Even with the caddy help it is hard to recognize on-screen the difference between 3 and 5 feet away from the whole when aiming. I missed many a shot because I didn’t move the cursor short enough or long enough. The left and right is easy to spot, the long and short is the problem. Once you work on it for a while you will get used to it though. All of these things are well explained in the tutorial section which comes up when you go to Play Now at the menu (which you can skip at the main menu by hitting the white button and going straight to Game Modes, which will be unlocked).

The first big thing about this game is the Game Face mode. You have to go through this to be able to play any main single-player modes like PGA Tour and World Tour. You can’t just be Tiger Woods and plow through the tournaments. Nope, you have to start from the ground and gain money to up your abilities (such as power, shot accuracy, luck, etc.) and get some cool, authentic clothes (from Nike, Calloway and other companies) on that frame of yours. There is literally tons of sliders to go through in Game Face mode. You may spend hours just trying to get someone to look somewhat like yourself. I have someone that looks somewhat like me, but the hair isn’t quite how I want it and you don’t have the option of glasses until you buy them.

This game has a metric ton of playtime in it and it is a heck of a lot of fun to play. I have played through the single-player modes and played a few multiplayer ones against the computer. I must say I have the most fun in the PGA Tour and World Tour modes. Of course, this is where you make tons of money and can go to the Pro Shop and pick up better equipment and apparel. Then there is the tons of things to unlock to be able to buy as well.

Cool things in this area are the Real-Time Scenarios where you are presented with a calendar and there are tournaments on certain dates on the game itself (I do not know if there are any on-line ones on the PS2 game outside of the ones presented on the base Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 with no online capability). You have to click on the date the same day it happens and you are entered in a tournament that has different things to do. EA had one the day the game came out in stores and there was one last Friday I believe. I played in that one, but I sucked at the game at that point.

Multiplayer games are pretty fun, even against the computer. During multiplayer modes you can choose from PGA stars like Tiger Woods, Jim Daly and others. You’ll see an immediate lengthening of drives and a lot more skill with the pro players than with your “green” character through single-player modes. I want to talk about Speed Golf because that is where I spent most of my multiplayer time. You swing and then you run with the white button to your ball, all the while trying to beat the other golfer to the whole first. It’s an exciting mode. Other cool ones are Best Ball where the best score in a 2-player team vs. 2-player team match wins and Battle Golf where you can take your opponent’s clubs for winning a hole. Pretty cool!

There is plenty of gameplaying in this game. I can get a whole round (18 holes) done in about 25 minutes. That’s pretty speedy and allows you to get through a whole tournament weekend in a little over an hour and a half…pretty good! That is the great thing about this game…even non-golfers can pick it up and be thoroughly engaged by it I think. I watch and play golf from time to time, but I wouldn’t call myself an expert. This game is easy to pick up and play for anyone I think.

Much like other sports games, the value of the game depends on how much you like the game. There is literally a ton of things to do in this game. A plethora of single and multiplayer games, the ability to make your own golfer, the ability to buy new things with the money you receive, etc. This game has a ton of replay value and I think it is well worth $50 if you like golf or have other people to play with you.

Of course the big minus is that this game is not online playable via Live. Even the PS2 version that is online seems to be neutered a bit from what it could be. Only two players at one time? The upcoming Links 2004 will allow 4 at one time, the correct number in my estimation. The question is whether it will be as robust as Tiger Woods 2004 or not.