Ziegfried and Roy couldn't contain him. Can you?
I saw Tiger Woods once. It was on the 18th at Sahalee during the PGA Championship. There I was, a game geek amidst golf geeks, all of us vying for position to see the man-boy himself sink a birdie. The guy had already blasted a 300 yard rocket off the tee and followed up with a soaring approach that dropped about 12 feet from the hole. The crowd grew to fire-hazard sized proportions as Tiger stalked the green with solemn focus. He studied the patch of grass for nearly 2 minutes before finally stepping up to the ball. He eyed the hole. He eyed the ball. He eyed the grass. You could hear the breeze growing quiet as Tiger slowly drew back his putter and struck the ball . . . and proceeded to miss so badly that I swear he must have been aiming at Mt. Rushmore.
Yeah, I saw Tiger Woods once. No, I wasn't impressed.
What the prodigy lacked that day, however, has been made up for with his latest computer game, the aptly titled Tiger Woods '99. While not as complete as other some computer golf titles (read: Links '99), this game will appeal to both the average Joe and the serious golf fan.
For starters, Tiger Woods '99 has secured that elusive PGA license. This means you'll see real PGA pros and real PGA courses, and gameplay sticks to the PGA rulebook. Oddly, only a handful of players are in the game - Tiger, Janzen, O'Meara, Faxon, Jacobsen, Stadler, Kite, and LoveIII are playable and animated, but that's it. If you want to compete against Nike Faldo, you'll have to wait for his butt to get licensed. You'd expect more from EA Sports, who have licenses for everyone from Muhammad Ali to Mitch Richmond.
The graphics are very good, particularly the video-quality animations of the golfers. You'd swear that a miniature Tiger was in your monitor (like that cowboy kid from Willy Wonka). While it is optimized to use D3D or 3Dfx, the graphics look pretty good without any acceleration. Of course, those of us with good video cards will find beautiful courses modeled after their real-life counterparts. The textures are sharp and the contours are well-defined. With multiple cameras in movable mini-windows, you'll get plenty of real-time views of the action.
The game comes with 3 PGA courses: TPC at Sawgrass, TPC at Summerlin, and the infamous Pebble Beach. Plenty of bang for the buck, though you can always buy add-ons if you're jonesing. Gameplay is basically the same as in any golf game you've seen in the past year or two. You can play in a variety of modes: including Stroke, Match, Skins, and Tournament play. You can also practice any hole, warm up at the driving range, practice chipping and putting, or try Shoot-Out mode (a sort of 'cutthroat' for golf). But most of these choices are pretty standard these days.
The control is also pretty basic. You can either use the tri-click or the 'Analog Sweet Stroke, ' where you use the mouse as the club. All new golf games utilize a mouse-swing, and the one in Tiger Woods '99 is a bit behind the competition. It just doesn't feel very accurate and is difficult to get used to. If you're looking for a good mouse swing, then check out Links 99's Powerstroke.
One of the coolest features in Tiger Woods '99 is the concept of the 30 minute game. With super-fast loading times (even on lower-end machines), you'll find that playing through 18 holes is not the time-consuming affair that it is normally. With accurate physics, club distances, and shot types, you'll find a sim-oriented game without wading through tons of pre-stroke menus and selection screens. This is really what sets the game apart - its ease of use.
However, this simplicity isn't necessarily a good thing. In the world of PC golf, the more complex games tend to just work better. This feels more like a console game ported to the PC, and hardcore golf fans will want more depth.
It's no secret that EA has plenty of dough, and if you think you're up to it, you can play online in EA sponsored tournaments worth real money. The multi-player is pretty solid and quick - just a few clicks and your slicing through the Internet.
I do have a few other gripes, most of which center around the putting. Putting is the most important part of the game, but the putting system in Tiger Woods '99 is a real pain. Rather than having one fixed gauge for putters, there are different strength meters for different putting distances. In other words, a 20 yard putt might require you to hit at half-power, while a 5 foot putt might require you to hit at full power. Apparently this is to give you a better feel, but it's confusing and unintuitive; an unfortunate flaw in such a simple game. On top of that, trying to putt with the analog swing is next to impossible. Tiger himself must have overseen the putting mechanism, because more than once I found myself aiming for Mt. Rushmore just like the Kid.
Despite this, Tiger Woods '99 is a solid game. Hardcore computer golfers will find it a bit too shallow, but the licensing and quick loading times carry it through.. Better than par, but hardly a birdie.