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Tiger Woods 2001 PGA Tour (PS2) Review

Publisher: EA Sports

Background Info

According to the press release for EA Sports' Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2001, this is "the first true next generation golf sim" for the 128-bit system. Well, the "first sim" part is correct, but the "next generation" bit between those four words is a stretch, because not much here besides the updated graphics is truly next generation. In fact, this is very much the same game as the PlayStation version but with polygonal golfers, a mandatory analog-swing interface, and only three licensed golf courses. You heard right -- the PS2 version has fewer courses than its 32-bit counterpart, albeit ones with improved 3D modeling. Also, the analog swing is far from revolutionary, as it has been available in past PlayStation versions (and in the arcadey Cyber Tiger), only here it replaces the tired three-click method altogether. Moreover, the game's audio-visual presentation does not meet the same high standards that the developer set with games like Madden NFL 2001 and SSX.

Fortunately, the physics and course designs are accurate, the motion-captured animation is superb, and the gameplay and overall execution is well done. Along with the usual selection of options and modes, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2001 has a couple new additions, namely, the Play Now and EA Sports PGA Tour Challenge modes, both of which add extra replay value. In addition, the real-time spin control feature has returned, letting the casual fan enjoy the game, too.

Is this the golf sim that PS2 owners have been patiently waiting for? Read on for the full details.

Presentation/Graphics : 80
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2001 begins with a brief opening movie, in which a few of the game's polygon-modeled pros parade around the foreground while FMV footage plays in the background. During menu selection, the main menu screen gracefully shows off EA Sports' new virtual Tiger Woods. Here, Tiger's in-game model is seen bouncing a golf ball off his club and displaying slight facial gestures that gradually expose his pearly whites. This is only a small taste of the game's impressive motion capture and polygon modeling, as Tiger and the five other included professional golfers (Brad Faxon, Mark Calcavecchia, Stewart Cink, Robert Damron, and Justin Leonard) exhibit a full range of motion-captured animation on the links.

Because the developer motion captured the six pros' golfing actions, the animation is highly realistic and well varied. Everything from the golfers' pre-swing warm-ups to their post-putt celebrations -- including Tiger's trademark fist pump -- is, as EA Sports would say, in the game. The pros also display realistic body language that mirrors their performance; they slouch and throw fits after making bad shots and celebrate enthusiastically after making good ones. On the green, each golfer has his own pre-putt ritual and set of idle animations. All the golfers' swinging, putting, and chipping motions are just as smooth as their pre- and post-stroke animations. Apart from some occasional jerkiness, most of the animation is fluid.

Regarding the players themselves, solid polygon models complement the motion-captured animation nicely. Clothing is very detailed, with buttons, wrinkles, shoelaces, pockets, and tiny logos (e.g., the Nike symbol on Tiger's hat) adding much realism. Although at times grotesque, the photographic facial textures make each pro instantly recognizable, and their faces even show subtle emotion. Accompanying the golfers on the links are quality shadows and realistic-looking golf clubs.

Unfortunately, the three licensed golf courses (Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, and Poppy Hills) do not offer the same topnotch look as the motion-captured golfers. While realistically textured and accurately modeled, with visible slopes and breaks in the terrain, the courses are not very visually appealing. Certain background objects -- such as trees, clouds, and structures -- lack polish, especially when compared with the PS2's other golf game, Swing Away Golf. Even the horizon (i.e., draw distance), which is muddy and foggy, pales in comparison.

The biggest graphical blunders are the static, glitchy trees and shrubbery, most of which look like stale leftovers from the 32-bit PlayStation version. Clouds are also of low quality and do not move as smoothly as the ones in Swing Away Golf. Furthermore, there are no weather effects, so you will not see any raindrops or dark clouds. Another major disappointment is there is no visual representation of the gallery (Swing Away Golf had several detailed polygonal spectators), nor are there any animated birds.

However, you will find some tantalizing visual aspects, including beautiful lakes, blowing leaves, pin flags that interact with the wind, and of course, the calm waves of Pebble Beach. Then there are the smaller details like tees that fly off after drives, sand that kicks up in sand traps, and golf balls that leave marks on the green. Ball physics are pretty much dead on--golf balls bounce, roll, and soar through the air realistically. The frame-rate is consistent and only stutters slightly during camera rotation on the green. Rounding out the package is EA Sports' obligatory TV-style presentation, with varying camera angles, replays, and flybys providing plenty of variety and excitement throughout the game. Overall, the graphics are good enough to draw you into the game, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Presentation/Audio : 70
Like most EA Sports games, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2001 has energetic music backing its opening presentation. Obviously, no music plays during gameplay, but the music that plays during menu selection is non-intrusive, if a little tacky. While the swinging and putting sound effects are realistic enough, the ball sound effects are, unsurprisingly, exaggerated. Golf balls land with too much punch on the fairway and sound like they are hitting a hard surface when landing on the green.

Each pro in the game has a limited selection of voice samples, and Tiger is the only one who provided his own voice work. Sadly, after about 30 minutes of play, the voice samples become annoying and repetitious. (Hmm... I wonder how many more times I can hear "sniff it out, dog" or "that's the one" before going insane?) Those who use the real-time spin control feature will find that the voice samples give cues that help with the in-air tweaking. For everyone else, though, the pros' goofy samples may actually detract from the overall experience. Thankfully, the commentator, whom you only hear during putting, has a convincing commentating voice. The bad news is he, too, has a limited range of samples, so expect repetition to set in quickly.

The ambient effects are a mixed bag. You will hear chirping birds and sounds from the gallery (i.e., claps, cheers, and gasps), as well as the splashing waves and seagulls of Pebble Beach. While the sound quality of the background effects is high and well mixed with the rest of the audio, little variety exists throughout the game. All in all, the game's audio presentation is serviceable, but it is definitely the least impressive area of the game.

Interface/Options : 80
EA Sports' typical and stylish menu system adorns the front end. Load times are quick, menu navigation is simple, and options are plentiful. >From the main menu, you can jump into the new Play Now mode, access the game's full list of modes, load a saved game, enter the options menu, or go "inside" EA Sports where you can view the game's credits and see a video of the developer's other PS2 sports games. Although you cannot create your own golfer from scratch, you can edit the name, level (amateur or pro), and club selection of a pre-existing golfer, then save the data to an 8MB memory card. Noticeably absent are options to change weather and wind conditions. And while EA Sports included a Practice mode, a putting green and a driving range are not available to practice putting and driving individually.

Within the options menu, you can toggle the game's sound effects and ambient sounds. You can also disable the vibration function of the controller and view records. Records display ten statistical categories, which include longest drive, longest putt, tour earnings, and more. Finally, you can view three short instructional segments that explain the basics of the game and the control functions of the Dual Shock 2 analog controller. If you are new to the Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchise, watching these segments -- which use the in-game engine -- is a good substitute for reading the manual.

Beyond the standard options in the options menu, there are several options available in the pause menu. Here again you can individually toggle the sound effects and ambient sounds. Other options include spin control (toggle on/off), help (displays the controller's functions), and swing setup. The swing setup option lets you customize your swing by adjusting the forward and backward motions of the left and right analog sticks. During Practice mode, options that allow you to advance and restart a hole are available. Likewise, during matches and tournaments, an option to view the scorecard and leader board is present. A save option is available for every mode except the Tour and Play Now modes (you cannot save in the middle of these modes). On a final note, you cannot save replays, unfortunately.

Gameplay : 85
As mentioned in the beginning of the review, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2001 uses an analog-swing interface exclusively. In short, this method replaces the standard three-click button press, with the swing action being mapped to the analog stick instead of the X button. To swing, you pull back the left or right stick to start the swing meter, then push it forward to stop it and execute the swing. Moving the stick left or right during the forward motion will affect shot direction. Also, pressing the D-pad button left or right during the process draws and fades the shot (respectively), while the up and down directional buttons add spin. You also use the D-pad to position the shot cursor and to change the golfer's stance with the R2 button.

Those who want to cheat can manipulate the direction and spin of the golf ball with the D-pad while the ball is airborne (fairway shots only). This is the game's real-time spin control feature, which fortunately seasoned golfers can disable. Before committing to a swing, you can change clubs with L1 and L2 buttons, select the shot type with the Square button (full, pitch, chip, etc.), and use the R1 and Circle buttons to scope out the terrain and view the estimated landing location, respectively.

Sadly, the analog method is hardly an advancement over the traditional three-click swing, since the analog stick is only used to start and stop the swing meter. In fact, the stick's analog function does not even come into play: how quickly you move the stick, or how far you pull or push it, has no effect on the swing. Heck, the golfer's swing does not even coordinate with the analog stick movement; that is, the golfer does not immediately begin his backswing when you pull back the stick. So, really, the "analog" method is pretty much the same as the old digital one, except here you move a stick back and forth instead of pressing a button three times. This is also the same method that has been available in the PlayStation versions of the game. How's that for evolution? (Shouldn't the PS2 version have a more advanced and refined swing method?)

Still, although it is not much of an advancement, I definitely enjoy using the analog stick interface. At the very least, it makes me feel like I am more involved with the game. Dealing with the swing meter is also less frustrating. The only problem is my Dual Shock 2 controller has taken one too many falls, making putting a nightmare.

Speaking of putting, you have several options on the green. The basic process is the same as teeing off: pulling the analog stick back starts the meter and pushing forward stops it. Obviously, you must carefully read the green so you can aim properly. To get a better read of the green, you can press the Circle button for an overhead view, or press the Triangle (hole view) or X (golfer view) button to morph the green into an exaggerated surface. While unrealistic, these views are really the only ways to read the greens accurately. It's not that the greens do not show an apparent amount of break; it's just that they can be very deceiving, thus making the two exaggerated views necessary. Finally, in certain modes, you can opt for a tap-in, which lets you quickly sink a close putt with the X button.

Like the real game of golf, monitoring wind conditions and checking the lie is essential, since both will affect your game. After all, you want to avoid score-crippling sand traps, deep rough, and water hazards as much as possible. Moreover, it is possible to hit the ball out of bounds, so preventing overswinging during extremely windy conditions is important. On the other hand, underswinging can be detrimental if the wind is blowing toward your golfer. All this, and you must compete with other professional golfers who know the green just as well as you do! Fortunately, the AI makes its share of mistakes, giving you plenty of opportunities to recover from bad strokes. A few modes of play even allow Mulligans (recovery shots), further leveling the playing field.

Gameplay modes include Practice, Stroke, Match, Skins, Tournament, Tour, and Play Now. The first four modes are standard and self-explanatory. Tournament mode is a four-round 72-hole tournament for one to four players. Tour mode (a.k.a. EA Sports PGA Tour Challenge) is a one-player mode in which you start as an amateur, turn pro, and then work your way up the ladder to become the EA Sports PGA Tour Challenge champion. Lastly, the Play Now mode drops you into one of 21 competitive scenarios, ranging from breaking par to winning the final skin of a skins match.

Thanks to the quick load times and brief transitions between strokes, games are fast and rarely boring. When playing against the computer, you can press the Triangle button to speed through its stroke. This feature, coupled with the short load times and quick transitions, lets you quickly play through 18 holes. In fact, I completed 18 holes of a three-way skins match in about 30 minutes. Compare this with Swing Away Golf, where it takes an eternity just to play through 18 holes of a single-player stroke game.

Overall, the game's lack of courses, pros, and rainfall will probably disappoint hardened golf-sim fanatics. Nevertheless, with a good amount of realism, challenge, and variety, the gameplay has enough going for it to please most other gamers.

Replay Value : 75
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2001's shortage of licensed courses and professional golfers does not bode well for its long-term playability. Unfortunately not even a course editor or an advanced create-a-golfer feature is here to offset this. Luckily, the game does have a good selection of modes, some of which allow up to four players to compete. Although most of these modes are old hat to many golf-game veterans, the new Tour Challenge and Play Now modes offer some freshness and extended replay value.

Overall : 78
If you read my review of Swing Away Golf, you probably noticed that I gave Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2001 a lower overall score. Swing Away Golf may lack the visual realism and quick load times of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2001, but it offers more bang for the buck, with crisper, more detailed graphics; more replay value; and ball physics that are about as accurate. Purists, however, will likely prefer this game, since it is currently the only PS2 golf title that offers a selection of real golfers and courses -- even if limited. And with its arcade-like spin control option, beginners and casual golfing fans can have fun without fretting about the sim elements.

In the end, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2001 is a fairly enjoyable golf game that unfortunately does not fully exploit the PS2's advanced processing capabilities. Perhaps next year's version will ship on DVD format and feature additional courses and golfers, along with an improved audio-visual presentation and some of that next-generation gameplay EA Sports promised.

By: Cliff O'Neill 3/19/01

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