reviews\ Nov 19, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 - GC - Review

It seems as though only a decade ago the sport of golf was reserved for retirees in pants hoisted up to their navels in sunny Florida.  Play the front nine, have a Manhattan or a Glenfiddich on the rocks, and stumble through the back nine while living off of a 401k.  Then word got out about a kid from Southern California who could tame 18 holes like Crocodile Dundee could a wildebeest.  It took only one man, a Tiger actually, to completely turn the normally conservative sport of golf upside down and breathe new life into it. 


Much like Tiger Woods saved golf from the mires of Cardigans and plaid pants, Electronic Arts has saved the sport’s video counterpart with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003.  The latest edition of the number one selling golf franchise is the best yet, retaining everything that made the previous versions great and adding features to push it beyond. 


Much of the time spent playing Tiger Woods 2003 will be in the Tiger Challenge Mode.  In this mode, golfers tackle progressively harder challenges to unlock golfers, both real PGA tour pros and outrageous fictional characters, and golf courses, nine official PGA courses and three fantastically designed courses.  Most of the challenges are match plays versus one other CPU-controlled golfer, with the winner taking home cash and unlocking courses and golfers.  Other steps in the Tiger Challenge ladder include Skins matches, Tournaments, and Scenario modes, where golfers are playing in odds-against-them challenges.  There are five rounds, each culminating with a difficult challenge to attain a Tour Card that will boost your money earnings.  


Returning from last year’s edition is Speed Golf, a rock n’ roll version of traditional golf that awards golfers on speed as well as accuracy.  This mode is especially fun when playing head-to-head against a friend.  Various cash prizes are awarded for getting the first strike, longest drive, fewest strokes, and finishing first.  Once gamers tee off, it becomes an all-out first-person sprint by rapidly pressing the L button.  It’s a much different take on the sport, and a blast to play with a buddy. 


A new addition this year is Skillzone mode, which is akin to Madden 2003’s Minicamp mode.  Skillzone challenges golfers in mini-games by placing targets in picturesque driving ranges.  Golfers will need the accuracy of a plastic surgeon in Hollywood to successfully hit all the targets in each game which range from a single-player timed target challenge to a game of head-to-head Horse, appropriately renamed T-I-G-E-R (is there enough room on the disk for Tiger’s ego?).  Unfortunately, each game in Skillzone is basically the same: try and hit the targets with approach shots from 30 – 300 yards.  There is no putting or chipping mini-game (hopefully something to look forward to in next year’s version). 


Scenario mode returns with 50 various situations (versus last year’s 26) varying from a pitch n’ putt par-3 challenge to salvaging an 18 hole score on the back nine in typhoon-like conditions.  Certain goals are set to complete each scenario, with the gold medal goals requiring perfect play.  Scenario mode offers an excellent diversion once the Tiger Challenge is completed. 


Rounding out the game modes are the obligatory Match Play, Stroke Play, Skins, Practice, and Tournament modes.  Winning each hole is the key to the one-on-one Match play, lowest number of strokes for the round wins Stroke Play, and each hole is assigned an amount of dough in 4-player Skins competition.  In practice mode, pick any hole on any unlocked course, place the ball anywhere you want, and start hacking away and refining your touch.  Tournament mode throws golfers right onto the tour to earn some extra coin.  There are 26 tournaments to compete in, some real, like the British Invitational at the hirsute St. Andrew’s course across the pond, and some home to the EA-created courses such as the Mayan Classic. 


What makes Tiger Woods the best golf game available are the controls.  While most golf games still use the three-button-pushes control (once to start, once for power, and once for accuracy or spin), Tiger 2003 uses the analog control stick to simulate a backswing and stroke.  Pulling back on the joystick initiates the backswing, and power can be adjusted by pulling back more or less.  The golfer on-screen will be right with you to help you gauge how far back the swing is.  After setting your back swing, pushing forward on the joystick begins the swing.  The faster and straighter the joystick is pushed forward, the further and straighter the ball will fly.  Effective draws and fades can be accomplished by altering the plane of the joystick stroke, and really come into the game at higher levels of play.  In order to attain maximum power and accuracy, the backswing and foreswing should all happen in one smooth motion, just as in real golf.  This control gives video golfers a feel for the swing, and eliminates much of the quick-math associated with the three-button-push control.  It’s also much more accurate to a real golf swing, and is less likely to result on an 8-iron smashed over your knee in frustration.  Shots can be powered during the backswing by frantically pressing the Z button, and spin can be controlled mid-flight with the Z button as well.  Flop shots, punch shots, and approaches are included and can be selected with the B button when you’re feeling crafty. 


The golfers in the game come in all shapes and personalities.  You can choose from one of many tour pros, like Vijay Singh, Ty Tryon, or Lord Tiger himself, or opt for one of the wackier characters such as mob boss Dominic “The Don” Donatello, the kilt-clad Hamish McGregor, or sexy Val “Sunshine” Summers.  Each golfer has their strengths and weaknesses, so even if you out drive ‘em, they may still knock them in from 50 feet on the green with consistency.  Unfortunately, customizing your own golfer is limited.  The only player models available are those that are already unlocked.  There are no faces or shirts to choose from (aside from customizing the shirt’s color), which really limits the extent to which a user profile can really feel like it’s your own.  Once a created profile is taken into the game, prize money can be used on stats to beef them up. 


The courses are all true (as far as I can tell) to life.  Pebble Beach is as gorgeous as ever, Scottsdale sizzles in the desert heat, and St. Andrew’s is patchy and deep.  The three EA-created courses are purely ridiculous.  With 600-plus yard holes, gaping golf ball-eating chasms, and more bumps than a teenager’s acne-ridden face on prom night, these courses are both challenging and frustrating, but mostly frustrating.  Each course is both grandiose and gorgeous.  Mark Twain once said “Golf is a good walk spoiled.”  Mr. Twain obviously never walked some of these beauties. 


The graphics on Tiger 2003 have been improved over last year’s version.  Tiger 2003 boasts some of the best character animation of any game, sports or itherwise.  Golfers replace divots, size up drives, and pout in frustration with all the fervor and realism of Chi Chi Rodriguez.  The close ups on the faces are a step below the graphics in the Final Fantasy movie, but the clothes could use a bit of work at times.  Each course looks fantastic, with the exception of some of the poorly textured hills.  The minor gripes don’t intrude on the easy-on-the-eyes visuals, making Tiger Woods 2003 one of the best-looking sports game out there. 


The new breed of golfers and golf fanatics have cultured sounds beyond the prissy golf clap of yesteryears, and the whoops, hollers, and “Get in the hole!”s widely associated with today’s game erupt on nearly every shot.  Similarly, shank one and be riddled with a chorus of groans.  Ambient noise, such as waves crashing or seabirds calling, bring the courses to life and really throw golfers into their environments.  There’s nothing like the cool sound of a Titanium head crushing a golf ball off the tee or the satisfaction of the PLUNK as a ball caresses the bottom of the cup, and EA nails these on the head.  And what would golf be without a Scottish fellow commentating on your game, be it commendation or complaint?  Real life commentators Bill Macatee and David Faherty run through the lines in the game, but never really steal the show.  Just like other EA titles, EA sports tracks plagues Tiger 2003.  More thrash-metal abounds with Saliva, and Paul Oakenfeld and brit-rockers Ash are thrown in for good measure. 


Consider yourself a scratch golfer or just a hack?  Tiger Woods 2003 won’t disappoint. 


Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 is rated E for everyone.



Gameplay: 9

The controls in the game are excellent.  Skillzone is fun, but could have been expanded more.  One major flaw in the game is the inability to save a game mid-round, meaning once you start a round, you need to finish the whole damn thing or get no credit at all.  Other than that, it’s the best golf game out there.


Graphics: 8.5

The character animations and close-ups are fantastic.  Everything that is either close or far on the course look great, but objects in mid-range, like the poorly textured surrounding hills, look plastic.


Sound: 8

There is only so much that can be done with sound in a golf game, but Tiger 2003 does it well.  Commentary is simpler than most EA games, but then again, golf is a simple game. 


Difficulty: Medium

There are some options to adjust to make the game more difficult, such as caddy advice.  Once players get the hang of the controls, they’ll be getting more birdies than a kid with a beebee gun.   


Concept: 9

EA has done an excellent job incorporating some creativity with simulation in the game.  The created characters are colorful and the created courses are treacherous.  Skillzone and Speed Golf are excellent modes which keep the game fresh.


Multiplayer: 8.5

There’s nothing to do on-line with Tiger 2003 for the GameCube except compare tournament results.  The head-to-head modes in speed golf and Skillzone are incredibly entertaining, while the alternating 4-player match play, stroke play, and skins modes are a hoot and make for great drinking games (John Daly would be proud).


Overall: 9

Just like the real thing, except you can be good at Tiger Woods 2003.  Great graphics, great presentation, and excellent controls make this a must for anyone who tangles with 18 holes regularly.   


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