Last year, PC owners were treated to Links 2003, arguably one of the finest titles in its genre (and without the presence of EA Sports’ Tiger Woods franchise, it would be competing alone). This year? Microsoft, in its wisdom, has decided to make the game XBox exclusive, making Tiger Woods 2004 the sole contender on the PC, and leaving us assessing Links 2004 with a joypad in our hands as opposed to a mouse.
Which is perhaps a good place to start. Golf games, like first person shooters, lend themselves to a PC set up when using the ‘swing’ method of control. On the PC, this was straightforward. You dragged your mouse back to control the backswing, then moved it forward at a speedy and steady pace – in a straight line, mind – to control the shot itself.
On a gamepad it works, just not quite as well, with less room to move the control stick back and worth. So, by way of compensation to the console audience, Microsoft has injected something new. As you pull back, the controller starts to vibrate. At this point, your club head turns red, and you need to pause for a second or two, and then play your forward swing.
Do it right, and you pull off a powerful shot. Screw it up, and it’s best to have your wellies handy to retrieve your ball. The other concession to consoles is when you do manage to pull off a top notch shot, the game replays it, Matrix-style, in effected slow motion. It looks good, but it’ll irritate you in time.
After that, it’s ultimately the same fine PC game of last year, albeit with some spit and polish. Fully compatible with XBox Live, Links 2004 offers a plethora of ways to play, from a simple one-off game to the challenging full career mode.
There’s also a genuinely staggered difficulty level system, which affects the amount of help you’re given with controlling your shots. In short, if you get into the game, it’s set to last you a good deal long than your average console product.
On the multimedia side, the graphics are excellent, with several golf courses lovingly recreated. Each hole kicks off with a fly-by tour, and then you get the option to either create a character yourself or pick one of the recognizable real-life golfers that are included.
The gameplay itself is challenging, and yet very addictive. Perhaps it’s a little too serious for those brought up on a strict diet of console, rather than PC golfing games. Yet it’s undeniably a class act, and ultimately a tremendous game. We do still feel it’s more suited to a PC, though, and hope that, come the 2005 edition, the Xbox exclusivity will be redressed.