Links 2004

I just hope I don’t have to do “virtual walking” from hole to hole.

Ok, to be fair, I feel I should list my extensive golf experience, my golf “résumé”, if you will. In high school I went and played a few rounds of miniature golf with my friends and had an extraordinary amount of trouble getting past the mini windmill. I flunked out of Hot Shots University and now live a few blocks from a golf course. As you can see, Tiger Woods has reason to fear me (he has yet to return my phone calls and respond to my challenge). Fortunately if I ever do get that phone call returned I should be ready; provided I have Links 2004. However the possibility of playing Tiger Woods in a round of golf doesn’t seem to be as outlandish as it did in the pre-Xbox Live days. The beauty of Xbox Live and the XSN is that you could potentially face off against Tiger and never even know it, unless he goes by something extremely obvious like TiGeRwOoDs69 or something. Like all other sports titles on the XSN, Links will support features like customizable golf tours with a few friends, international tournaments, stat tracking, single elimination, stroke play, match play and a deep career mode to be explored offline. It’s so packed with different modes and ways to play you’ll need a caddy to lug them around.

Though the game will not boast Tiger’s moniker it will feature players such as Sergio Garcia (the 23 year old Spanish cover boy) and Mike Weir (NOT a 23 year old Spanish cover boy). The game’s real draw, however, is the simulation style gameplay and the pledge of the real golf experience. I could tell as soon as I grabbed that controller that I would not be facing overgrown cartoon lizards with funny golf shoes or dodging angry cannonballs with teeth in a sand trap. No, sir, this is a serious golf game.

I didn’t know I’d actually have to play real golf to handle these clubs.

Even though the original Xbox controller might weigh about the same as a golf club, and is easily just as formidable a weapon in a pinch, the game’s control proved to be just as awkward. In retrospect I have a hard time figuring out just how I managed to screw up those long shots and sink those putts. The game doesn’t control like your usual golf game in which your club is perfectly aligned with the ball, and well timed button presses alone will not get you that championship jacket. If you want to compete with the big boys (and girls) you will need to master your club control with the left joystick. As is with any other golf game, club selection is a breeze (using the trigger buttons) and you will really have to try extra hard to mess even that up with all the in-game help. Admittedly, I had a hard time adjusting to the controls and making crucial shots count (ok, ok, making ANY shots count), but then again, like I said before, I’m not used to golf games. With that in mind, it’s easy to note that the control scheme and serious simulation tone of the game will appeal mostly to serious golf gamers.

I never though a golf game would make me say “whoa”.

This one did; twice. Since I haven’t been to or seen any of the real courses we played on, I have no idea how to close they are to the real thing, I can, on the other hand, tell you that the scenery reminded me of Emerson’s account of Nature (for non-English majors: that’s a good thing). I didn’t realize it but when I first saw the edge of trees I gasped. Each course sports 3-D scenery. Trees blow in the wind, shadows change with the time of day, aural sound effects abound and best of all; the animations are as smooth as a perfect golf swing. At one point, the Xbox rep looks at me and said, “Handsome guy, huh?” I immediately thought, “Geez, they really want us to like this game. He just called me handsome.” Noticing the perplexed look on my face he then pointed out the character model I was using. It was him; a perfect virtual rendition of him. I, of course, once again let a “whoa” slip. The character models were detailed and very impressive.

In order to really appreciate all these graphical nuances you’re going to have to practice your shots. Once you master the club, the camera will reward you with great views of the course and of your nicely placed shots. A good look at the scenery alone would make practicing your swing worthwhile.

All of the fun and none of the weird clothing.

Despite my difficulties with golf in general, I managed to squeeze out a few rounds of fun. I can only assume that true golf lovers and online sports gamers will really get lots out of this title. If the amount of attention paid to graphics (whose beauty was on the verge of Romantic literary standards) is paid to the rest of the game, then this title will prove to be one of the most surprising XSN games around. Believe it or not, I actually won the game; I scored higher than anyone else there! Wait…that’s not good? Damn!

Fernando Bueno

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