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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Sports

 

Publisher

Microsoft

 

Developer

Microsoft

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

Q4 2003

 

 

- With apologies to Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004, this is hands-down the best Xbox golf title
- Packed with tons of golf game and tournament options
- Plays great online

 

 

- An overall lack of professional players, most notably (with obvious reason) Tiger Woods
- No speed golf mode!
- First Xbox Live content download will cost you (but only $5 bucks)
- Generally below-average announcing and commentary

 

 

Review: Outlaw Golf (GC)

Review: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 (XB)

Review: Mario Golf - Toadstool Tour (GC)

 

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Links 2004

Score: 9.2 / 10

 

links 2004         links 2004

 

Long before the Xbox was even a doodled idea at Microsoft, its Links golf franchise had become the top-selling PC golf game around. Surprisingly, while Microsoft has covered the entire gamut of the sporting gaming world with first-party Xbox titles, Links had been noticeably absent from the Microsoft sports roster. But it was definitely worth the wait. The same high-quality PC game has been perfectly ported to the Xbox and with Xbox Live support topping its impressive array of features, Links 2004 is the best Xbox golf game available, including the current offering of Electronic Artsí great Tiger Woods PGA Tour series.

Now, Iíve said it before: Iím not a big golf fan. But As Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 proved to me last year, a golf game done right can even appeal to the non-golf fans, too. Unlike The Tiger Woods franchise, however, Links 2004 plays a little closer to the simulation vest. You wonít be getting any holes-in-ones on a regular basis in Links 2004. But thatís not a negative in any respect.

Obviously, with EA locking up Tiger Woods for its own golf game, he isnít in Links 2004, and not many PGA players of note appear at all. The ďbigĒ golf stars of Links

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2004 are Sergio Garcia, Mike Weir, and the LPGAís top player, Annika Sorenstam. If you donít follow golf at all, you may not have heard of either Garcia or Weir before although it was hard to miss hearing Sorenstamís name at least once last year in her highly-publicized PGA Tour appearance. If you choose, you can create your own player, who you can pick the clothing and equipment with an allotment of cash to

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disperse amongst the skill points that determine how good your player performs on the course.

You can upgrade skills and equipment by winning money in the career mode tour. The higher you place in each tournament, the more you make and the higher you climb in the world rankings. As you upgrade and reach the upper echelon of the top Links 2004 players, newer equipment becomes available (including balls that affect spin and distance), giving you a better chance of being the tour champion in the end.

Links 2004 throws feature after feature your way. There are five career mode tours, each increasingly more difficult. Youíll play in tournaments and also have skill events like putting or driving shots into a marked area of the hole or trying to match or exceed famous performances throughout PGA history.

If you just want to play a few rounds outside the career mode, Links 2004 provides an unbelievable variety of golf games to play, including skins, best ball, Nassau, Stableford, and stroke play. The only missing game is one last seen in EAís golf game: speed golf.

Learning how to play Links 2004 isnít difficult, although learning how to play efficient and winning golf takes a bit of time. Due in large part to its help system, Links 2004 is an instantly accessible golf game. The aim marker helps you figure out the best shot path, the view aim marker zooms in to the hole to give you another chance at directing your shot, and thereís even a landscape grid to help you judge the ups and downs of the terrain that you will be putting on. A free roam camera allows you to view the course from any direction.

 

link 2004          links 2004


Shooting is made much easier with an array of shooting options. A wind gauge gives you the direction the wind is blowing. The game automatically selects the best club for any particular shot, but to make the game more realistic, you can disable that assist. The power meter indicates the best swing you can take and you can also control the ballís spin. Each of these attributes can be used in tandem to place the perfect shot no matter the weather or course.

Links 2004 is missing some of the more famous golf courses, like Pebble Beach, because of licensing deals already snatched up by Electronic Arts. But thereís plenty enough here to nix the repetitiveness of playing the same courses over and over and having enough different-style courses to make you a well-rounded (video game) golfer. Some of the diverse and beautiful courses that are found in Links 2004 are Mauna Lani, Superstition Mountain, Oakmont, and the granddaddy of them all, St. Andrews. Additionally, Microsoft is providing other courses through Xbox Live downloads to extend Links 2004ís shelf-life.

But those downloads arenít free, or at least the first course that itís offered up isnít, costing $5 bucks. That isnít much to pay for an expansion pack of sorts, and if youíre a golf game fanatic it will be chump change to pay for more courses to play. The casual Links 2004 player might pause at throwing another $5 Microsoftís way after spending $50.

Links 2004 copycats the excellent graphical facets of Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchise. The courses are rendered with excruciating detail, as are the beautiful weather effects. Players appear realistic and move fluidly while swinging, but are just okay on the visual scale. But again itís the courses that are the real draw of Links 2004, and they are done well. A couple of neat eye-pleasing touches are when smashing a great tee shot and seeing the ball flying slow-mo through apparently sonic-type airwaves on its way to the fairway and the rapid camera shutter action (as if thereís a photographer taking a picture) that happens when you hit a great bottom-of-the-hole-finding putt as it heads towards its destination.

I wish I could say the same good things about the vocal commentary throughout the game, but alas, itís overwhelmingly weak. It comes up with the same phrasings shot after shot until it gets plain annoying. Sound effects are much better, especially the chirping of birds as you traverse over the course greens.

Xbox Live gameplay is the one aspect that Links 2004 has over Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 that clobbers EAís prized golf title like a nine-iron to the back of the head. Links 2004 is easily one of the best XSN sports efforts, flawlessly bringing lag-free and heated competitive online sports gaming to a whole new level. Through the XSN, you can either join or host tournaments, and even playing with multiple opponents, Links 2004 never drags, letting you take your shot at the same time as your adversaries to speed up rounds. Thereís a ranking system to show you how you stack up against other Links 2004 players too.

As hard as it is for me to believe, with my heavy disinterest in the real game of golf, Links 2004 is actually my favorite video game sports title at the moment. Microsoft has done a good job of providing an easily accessible but by no means easy golf game. It has an overwhelming amount of golf goodies including a stellar reproduction in video game form of some of the worldís most famous courses. But Links 2004ís green-jacket winning feature is the strong Live gameplay that makes this the champion of golf games on the Xbox.

- Lee Cieniawa
lcieniawa@armchairempire.com

(February 11, 2004)

 

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