The tiger hits an eagle.
If you don't like football, you won't play Madden. If you could care less about Allen Iverson's crossover, forget buying NBA Live. It goes without saying that if you don't like a sport, you probably won't give a damn about playing it as a video game.
The one exception is golf. Even if you've never endured a full day of frustration on the links, you probably could sit down and have a good time with a golf game. It's just a relaxing genre, the mellow gamer's ultimate hangover cure.
But sadly, there just don't seem to be many of them left. Aside from arcadey games like Hot Shots and Outlaw Golf, there has been exactly one golf simulation game for console drunks over the past few years: Tiger Woods PGA Tour. Much like the man-child whose steely-eyed gaze adorns the cover of the boxes, the series has no peers, which creates a bit of a problem. How do you make a great game better? Madden 2004 managed to do it by virtue of a fantastic new single-player mode. Can Tiger match the fat man stroke for stroke?
It turns out he can, hardly breaking a sweat in the process. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 for the PS2, Xbox and Gamecube is as thorough a golf game as you'll find anywhere, sticking to all its past successes while still adding a couple more clubs to the bag.
For the most part, Tiger Woods 2004 is just like the other ones. You use the analog sticks to hit, which still works great. Putting is solid thanks to a smart system that emphasizes aim and control rather than awkward touch and feel, and helpful Caddy tips can get you out of a jam. You can still add power by slamming on the L1 button during a backswing or correct swing mistakes by tapping L2 while the ball is in the air to add spin. Vets of the series will hop on and whack balls without skipping a beat.
There are a few big additions, not the least of which is the astoundingly robust Game Face player creator. You can tweak every part of your player, from basics like hair style and eye color to the size of your cheeks, the slope of your nose, even the whiteness of your teeth. I managed to make a guy that looked so much like me, it was almost hard to play without laughing every time I was onscreen. Big props to EA for a great job here.
That's just the beginning, though. Tiger Woods 2004 features a mind-blowing assortment of things to buy and unlock as you earn cash. Clubs, shafts, grips, clothing, accessories like hats, watches and jewelry " we're talking about the kind of variety you'd expect to find in an RPG. Most items have an impact on your skills, too, so that you're not just buying a new watch because it looks cool, you're buying it because it adds and extra "Luck' skill modifier point. You can even purchase new animations for your golfer. My guy should be arrested for excessive pop-locking on the green.
You'll certainly see a lot of yourself, because Tiger Woods 2004 has more single-player goodness than you'd believe. Most modes make a return, including Traditional matches like Stroke, Match or Skins games, Scenario mode for earning extra cash while hitting tough shots and a gang of fun multiplayer types. One new addition here is Battle Golf, in which you and a friend play for clubs. If you win a hole, you remove a club from your buddy's bag. Tough.
Most of your time will be spent fleshing out your created player's Career. Like before, you can play through the PGA Tour by entering four-round events. You can also try out the World Tour, which pits you up against some of the players included in the game (there are almost 30, including about a dozen real PGA Tour vets). A cool new mode called Real-time Events lets you actually play events that synch up with your console's internal clock. You'll only be able to access certain events on certain days (special holidays are covered, as are days dear to the EA staff, like the boss' birthday), so every time you turn on the game you wind up checking to see if it happens to be an event day. It's a great way to keep you playing over time.
Seven new courses have been added, upping the total to a whopping nineteen. Ten of these are actual real-world courses like Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill or new ones like Kapalua and Beth Page. You won't get bored quickly.
But if by some odd chance you do, you can always hop online'maybe. Continuing EA's bizarre boycott of Xbox Live, Tiger Woods 2004 is only playable online in the PS2 version. That's great news for PS2 owners; as a golf game, the pacing is fairly slow, so lag isn't an issue. It's just custom made for online play and extends the life of the product.
So what about Xbox and GC owners? Well, Xbox people can customize their own soundtrack, which is a very good thing because the soundtrack that comes with the game is marginal at best. Gamecube fans will have to settle for link possibilities with the GBA version to unlock some extra goodies.
Regardless of the system, the game looks good. The player animations are excellent, the load times are negligible and the courses adequately resemble their real-life counterparts. Things get a little jagged in the PS2 version, but otherwise all three versions feature similar graphics.
The commentary is mildly helpful but usually spot-on, even humorous at times. The ambient sounds are fine and do a nice job setting the mood.
More than anything, Tiger Woods is an addictive game. The immense single-player experience will have you staring at the set for hours, just trying to win more money, unlock more gear and establish yourself as a legend.
However, I have one or two niggling issues. I'm still miffed that you can't manually set hit location on the ball itself, which would come in handy when trying to get extra air on a shot. You can choose to punch the ball to keep it low, but you can't really do anything if you need to pop it over a tree. Likewise, the game will sometimes lock you into certain clubs when you're around the green for chipping or flopping, limiting your creativity with weird shots.
But again, these are hardly significant. There's simply not much wrong with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004, and while the PS2 version gets the nod for its online play, the other two are just as worthy of a spot in your collection thanks to the outrageous amount of single-player fun. Looks like Tiger wins again.