The Basics: There's no denying that Tiger Woods dominates the videogame golf market, at least in terms of sales (and, occasionally, quality). However, just as in the real world of big-time links competition, occasionally someone other than the best player of this generation will show up and win a major championship now and again. Eagle Eye Golf, published by Aksys Games and developed by Telenet Japan, looks to step up to the tee and show what it's got in the bag.
Featuring a whimsical, thoroughly Japanese approach to its style, design, and feel, Eagle Eye promises to be very easy for anyone to pick up and play. It sports a simple, grip-and-rip kind of an approach that invites players of all levels and skill to join in without a steep learning curve. Don't mistake that friendly exterior for lack of depth, though, as the difference between a birdie and a bogey will likely be in the subtle nuances of your swing's power and precision - not to mention a a dash of luck.
As we got our hands on the preview, we were duly impressed by the sheer amount of things to do and places to go. An in-depth character creator awaits, allowing players to create all sorts of Japanimation-influenced duffers. There are single player and multiplayer game modes abounding, including the standard championship tours, skins games, and match play. In addition, some not-so-regular challenges await, such as Mission and Survival.
Mission challenges you to meet certain criteria within a finite amount of shots. The payoff for these is filling your golf cart up with all kinds of nifty unlockable clubs and other assorted goodies that will likely come in very handy as you move up the ladder from amateur to professional competition. Survival pits you against different golfers on different holes until one of them finally beats you. There's also a nice mix of multiplayer game modes, such as the obligatory Stroke and Match, and some others like Best Ball, Sudden Death, and Two-Ball Foursome (although there's no online component).
Once we headed out onto the course, it was immediately evident that everything from the music to the animation to the commentary is distinctly flavored by Japanese influences, including leveling your players up as successful shots and accomplishments are made. The swinging mechanic is controlled with the right analog stick - no button timing exercises here. It's a fairly intuitive, if sensitive, method that will require a bit of practice to master. However, it's not so complicated or intimidating that non-sportos will get scared off.
Assuming the final version is comparable to our preview build, it's a nice mix of simplicity and skill that will ultimately have you summoning your inner Arnold Palmer. Putting, however, proved to be kind of difficult, and we lost more than our share of strokes by oh-so-slightly overshooting on the greens. It's not so much that it can't be overcome with time and repetition, but there does seem to be some variance between drives, irons, and putters.
Another promising aspect of Eagle Eye Golf is the ability for virtual Jack Nicklauses to build their own links heaven. Tinkering around with the early course contruction tools show a surprising amount of depth and robustness that could allow for some extra replayability. There's all sorts of earth-moving/raising/leveling abilities, as well as creating water and sand traps to your heart's content. In addition, there seems to be no limit on setting the score requirements on each hole, so creating a nearly-impossible hole with a par value of, say, 25 isn't out of the question.
What we think: If the final game ends up as good as the preview hints, then Eagle Eye Golf will give PS2 golfers a run for Tiger's money this October when it ships. It's a nice departure from the norm, and should be more accessable to non-hardcore sports gamers than others. This is the first game from Aksys, and there's no denying that we're looking forward to getting our hands on the final version this fall.