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Gabe / on Mon, Sep 29 2003 at 2:43 pm

Links 2004 or Tiger Woods can eat my ass

I know I’ve been sort of quiet on the site recently but that’s just because I’ve been so damn busy. I mentioned a while back that we are making a four page Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon comic to go along with Ubi Soft’s new game. The pressure of creating something that will essentially be CTHD canon is overwhelming. Sony and Ubi Soft have given us these characters to tell a story and we’re working really hard to make something worthy of the CTHD name. A few of you asked and so I’ll just say it here, the comic will be available online at the CTHD website next month some time for free.

I took a break this morning though and went with Tycho over to Microsoft to see some new games. We ended up seeing Links 2004, Top Spin, Amped 2 and Project Gotham Racing 2. Obviously the game I was most interested in was Links 2004 so I’ll go ahead and talk about that a bit now. I’m sure Tycho will follow up later this week with his thoughts on the other games we saw. Obviously I’m playing a lot of Tiger Woods 2004 right now so I’m just gonna go ahead and compare Links with Tiger whenever I can, I hope that doesn’t bother anyone. 

I had a lot of problems with the online component of Tiger Woods 2004. The big one being that I could only play against one other person. To me that’s just insane, especially since they introduced a couple new four player game modes in 2004 that cannot be played online. There were other things though like the inability to see if the person challenging you to a match is using super duper maxed out Sunday Tiger Woods as their character or the complete worthlessness of their tournaments since people can simply create as many accounts as they want and play over and over again in the same tournament. Overall the online experience is um…sub par shall we say.

Links is a different kind of golf game. I’ve been playing Links games so long that I still have floppy disks laying around with bonus courses on them. Tiger Woods takes golf and adds a hip sound track to make it cool and flashy so that people who don’t necessarily like golf can enjoy it. Links is a game for people who already love golf and don’t need to be tricked into playing it. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s more of a sim game than Tiger Woods but I will say that it “feels” more like golf to me than Tiger does.

The real time swing feature in Links is excellent. Whereas in Tiger you rapidly press a button to achieve more boost (or simply purchase a third party controller with a turbo button) in Links it’s all about finesse.  You still pull back on the left analog stick and push it forward in order to swing but your swing path is represented on screen by a semi transparent bar in front of your character. It’s marked with a yellow line that tells you where you should stop your backswing in order to achieve the standard yardage associated with that particular club. But the bar goes beyond that point into a red zone. Stopping your backswing in this region is much more difficult but if done correctly you’ll get some extra juice on the ball and really launch it. Pushing the right analog stick in a direction during your swing will apply spin to the ball. In Tiger Spin doesn’t really affect the flight of your ball in the air just how it will react once it lands. In links though the spin you apply can give you a slight fade or draw. You can still control the curve of the ball by the way you draw back the analog stick and then push it forward but controlling the flight of the ball this way is more likely to result in a much more dramatic slice or hook. 

The approach taken to putting in Links is also a bit different. The difficulty of the putting can be adjusted in the game options. On the easier settings you will see a blue line stretching out in front of your ball that will show you the line of your putt and how the break of the green will affect it. You can also press a button to swing the camera across the balls path and see a grid that will give you a better idea of the greens contour. On the hard settings you will get no on screen indicators and you will be putting entirely based on feel. Dropping putts like this will require a lot of practice but it’s a nice option to include.

The game looks fantastic. The courses are all rendered in full 3D and special attention has been paid to the awesome water effects and cool camera movements. On especially well struck hits you might even find yourself treated to a little bullet time special effect as your ball rockets towards the green leaving a trail of Matrix inspired sound waves in its wake. Little details from ducks that scatter when you drop one in the water to the real time shadows that change according to the time of day are an especially nice bonus. The juiced up visuals combine with excellent ambient sounds to deliver the most complete golf experience I’ve seen in a video game.

Obviously all that stuff is awesome but the best part about Links 2004 is the multiplayer. We jumped into a four player skins best ball game using Xbox Live. Tycho and I were on a team against a couple of the guys from MS. This is what golf is about. I don’t know what the hell EA was thinking when they decided you’d only be able to play one on one in Tiger Woods 2004. Golf is played in foursomes. If you go with only two people they will find two other people for you to play with.  There is a social aspect to the game of golf that just isn’t there when you are just playing against one other person. Not to mention you can’t trash talk when it’s just you and one other guy. If it’s just me and Bob playing and I say “nice shot Bob, does your husband play golf?” I’m not talking trash, I’m just being a fucking asshole. Trash talking only works when you have three or four guys all playing together.  Links 2004 gives you the option to build up your character in single player and then take him online to kick some ass. However unlike Tiger where my not so developed single player character is routinely trounced by people using Tiger Woods, Links gives you the ability to limit the types of characters allowed in your game. If I only want to play against characters of a similar level that is something I can do. Links 2004 also allows you to have a friend sign in on your box as a guest and play with you on Live. EA deciding that in Tiger Woods you could just connect one PS2 to one other PS2 is one thing, but making it so that you couldn’t even have multiple people on that one box is just lame. With Links I can have Tycho signed in on my box and we can jump online to play against two other people. They also mentioned that additional courses would be released via Live which gave me a smile that I still can’t seem to shake.

There are just so many great things about Links 2004 it’s hard to keep them all straight. Tiger Woods 2004 is a great golf game but its online component is a joke. Links 2004 may not have the level of character customization that Tiger does but it makes up for that by delivering a superior single player and online experience. If playing dress up with virtual golfers is what you’re looking for in a game then Tiger Woods is for you. If what you want is the best golf game ever, then check out Links 2004.

I didn’t get near as much time with Links as I would have liked. I didn’t get a chance to really test out all the different shot types or anything like that. At one point I accidentally hit a button and a radial menu popped up offering me all sorts of shot options. I closed it again just as quick knowing that if I began investigating each of them we would never see any of the other games they wanted to show us. That would have been fine by me but I know Tycho likes to drive cars very fast and I had heard good things about Top Spin. They offered to let us come back again soon and I think I’ll take them up on it. Maybe next time I’ll be able to give you some more info on exactly how the XSN functionality works as well as a more in depth look at the shot types.

-Gabe out


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