Sometimes, I find myself unable to sleep at night. I lay there and wonder to myself how a game thatís so boring to play, and so boring to watch, somehow makes for a really great video game. Iíve never liked golf. Not just because Iím horrible at it, but also . . . well, mostly because Iím horrible at it.
Ever since I first played Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 2003 on the GameCube (yes, the GameCube), Iíve been hooked on golf games, though. Naturally, I purchased Tiger Woods 2004 as soon as it came out, and life was good. I was playing the best golf game ever, and the world was at peace. Then, someone recommended that I try this Links 2004 game that had just come out for the Xbox. I was, of course, skeptical. Iíd heard about the Links games, of course, but hasnít ever played them since I wasnít much into PC gaming at the time. I didnít see the point of trying it, though, since I already owned the aforementioned best golf game ever. After much internal dialogue, I decided that I might as well just pick it up. If it was terrible, I could always sell it on eBay as Grand Theft Auto 4.
Good news, it wasnít - and I dare say that Links 2004 is the best game of golf around. Where Tiger Woods seems to center more around blaring popular music and dressing your golfer, Links is a real round of golf: no fluff and very little music. Just like every golf game should, you start with an analog swing. The further back you pull the control stick, the harder you hit the ball, assuming you donít screw up the rhythm of your swing. There are, of course, different types of shots that you can execute, like punch shots and flop shots that give you more control.
The ever-important putting game is perfectly done. The path that your ball will take is represented by a line. You move your stance left and right until that line meets up with the hole at the other end. Simple. Well, simple at first anyway. As you move away from beginner and into the more difficult Intermediate and Advanced settings, the line becomes shorter and wider, leaving you to figure out the rest. In addition to the tougher putting, thereís a gauge that shows you how hard youíre swinging your club with a line that shows you how hard you should be hitting it, and both disappear as you venture into the new difficulties.
Now youíre wondering just how much the Power of X can bring your favorite golf courses to life. Iím pleased to tell you that Links 2004 is by far the best-looking golf game out there. Every course is there to the last detail, and it makes every console golf game before it look like an Atari 2600 game. The models for the golfers arenít too bad, either. I wish I had that kind of praise for the sound though. Microsoft needs to write out a big blank check and sign David Feherty and Gary McCord away from EA, as the announcing situation in Links 2004 is horrible. The announcers arenít just boring, but whoever the sound guy was on this game should be slapped. The announcing in the game is about as choppy as in an early Madden game, with small sentences like "He hit a birdie" coming out like "He hit [in a completely different tone] a birdie." However, the sound effects themselves are functional and decent and you can use your own music within the game, so itís not all bad.
Online play is God in this day and age, and when I heard that Tiger Woods 2004 would be online on the PS2 for only two people at a time, I was distraught. How could EA suck that much? Thankfully, Microsoftís love picks up where EAís leaves off. The online Links experience is fantastic. There are enough game modes to keep you busy for a long time. Choose from skins games, stroke matches, or team up with a friend and play against two others. Yes, more than one player can play at a time, so it isnít a technical impossibility. You can also do all of the tournaments and that sort of thing as well. My only real complaint regarding online play is that the game itself isnít "Live Aware" while youíre playing an exhibition match by yourself or enjoying career mode, so you have to stop playing between rounds of a tournament and go back to the main menu, then log into Live to see if anyoneís online. If Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time can do it, then surely a first party Microsoft game can as well.
Links 2004 is the easily the best investment that any Xbox-owning golf fan, or even sports fan in general, could make. With a long and involving career mode and great online play, you wonít be bored with this one for a while. And as far as Iím concerned thereís a new golf God in town. It might not have a ton of licensed music or a super-deep create-a-golfer mode or any big name pros, but itís got enough fun to make it worth your money.
· · · Derek Durham