previews\ Aug 5, 2003 at 8:00 pm

Links 2004 - XB - Preview

 Golf has long been a sport of man versus course.  These warriors of the links come equipped to tame the beasts of Pebble Beach, Sawgrass, and St. Andrews with only their clubs, their minds, and, if they’re lucky, a good caddy who takes ten percent.  Ask any golfer and they’ll tell you the game isn’t a casual hobby, it’s an all-consuming passion. 


The Links series for the PC has been one of the top-selling golf franchises for the home market.  This year, Microsoft brings Links to the Xbox for the first time, and it’s been completely rebuilt specifically for the home console and is one of the premiere titles for XSN Sports.


GameZone got a hands-on preview of the title in San Francisco recently, and from the early looks of it, Links 2004 may be the most enjoyable XSN Sports title this year, and possibly even the best golf game for a home console, toppling the mighty Tiger Woods franchise from EA sports. 


Links 2004 is all about realism.  You won’t find tons of fantasy courses, power-ups, or silly taunts from wacky characters in the game.  What you will see are real PGA courses and golfers, stunning environments (both visually and aurally), and authentic gameplay. 


Even with all the bells and whistles I have mentioned that Links 2004 offers, the biggest bell and loudest whistle in Links 2004 is without a doubt its online play.  Golf may be a game of man versus course, but why can’t it be me versus Vinny from Brooklyn?  Or me versus a whole field of competitors all over the world?  Tied into the XSN Sports system, it can be.  With Links 2004 and XSN Sports, gamers can compete in simple stroke matches with a few buddies or massive tournaments with the best video golfers around the world.  For more information on XSN Sports, check out my preview:


Links appears to be a tad more realistic than most golf games out there.  As an avid video golfer, I can usually pick up any golf game (Mario Golf, Outlaw Golf, Tiger Woods) and hammer a 300-yard drive down the pipe easily.  Not so with Links 2004.  I saw some things immediately that I haven’t seen in other golf games.  Hooks.  Slices.  Links 2004 isn’t going to yield rounds of 62 or 63, which is a fantastic thing.  Golf isn’t about destroying a course and shattering PGA records, it’s a game of concentration and consistency, and that’s what Links 2004 offers.  The swing is along the same lines as the Tiger Woods swing using the analog thumbstick, but it is a bit more sensitive, resulting in the aforementioned hooks and slices.  All the golf shots, including chip and roll, flop, punch, and blast are there, and the real-time swing gives gamers complete control over each stroke.  The gameplay looks to be incredibly solid and rewarding.


Mark Twain (apparently an awful golfer) once said, “Golf is a great walk spoiled!” in reference to the beauty of the courses.  His affection and appreciation of the visual beauty of the game is easily transferable to Links 2004.  The courses are all well detailed and absolutely gorgeous.  Lush green fairways, deep roughs, and sand in cavernous sandtraps are all rendered incredibly well.  3-D trees and animated surf add to the detail and feel of the course, but it’s the little details such as birds, deer, and even bears with cubs that really bring the courses to life.  To my knowledge, Links 2004 is the first golf game to incorporate an animated gallery that responds to players’ shots.  Stuck on the lip of a ten foot deep bunker?  Your golfer’s stance will adjust accordingly.  No more Jesus-like walking on water or hovering over edges, these golfers take real stances in trouble shots. 


Links 2004 also offers some incredible audio.  Supported by Dolby 5.1, the game offers complete surroundsound.  If there’s a babbling brook to the left, you’ll hear it.  If another player makes a great shot on hole 5, you’ll hear the fans erupt in cheers.  There are thousands of lines of commentary, and the audio engine knows whether you’re having a good or bad round, knows other players standings, and knows streaks. 


From the look I got of Links 2004, golf fans looking for that great golf sim should be very pleased.  It has the perfect combination of graphics, audio, and gameplay to satiate any golf fanatic’s appetite.  


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