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


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.