Links has had good success with their golf game franchise on the PC platform, and has made its way on the console, coming out for Xbox. I must say, this game is one of the best from XSN this year. The game preserves its seriousness and impressive graphics. The terrains are real eye candy. I had the chance to try out the latest Tiger Woods game, and unfortunately, Links has far less customization options, but the game remains a very good one and kept me playing for hours.
The game controls work with simple analog power meters, and a good job was done here. Hitting the ball consists of pulling back on the left analog stick for power and quickly pushing forward on the stick to hit. The swing meter has a red zone where extra power on the ball can be exerted. A curve can be applied to the ball before hitting with the left analog stick, and the aiming marker is moved with the directional pad. The controls are kept simple and are fast and easy to learn. Special types of shots can be used depending on the terrain where your ball lies. Punch shots are good to keep the ball low when you need to keep your ball under a tree or rolling on the ground to avoid strong winds. A blast shot would be ideal when you find yourself in the sand. These special shots can be selected by pressing B before the shot and selecting it from a rotary dial with the left analog stick. Putting on the other hand, did not go as smoothly as everything else. When putting you have an aiming line that helps you direct the ball and a grid to allow you to see the different ground levels. What is not so great about putting, is that when swinging, extreme precision and tempo is a must or your shot will be a miss. A line on the power meter indicates the ideal power needed to be applied to get the ball in. Missing this line by very little, makes a very big difference in the end. Swinging a bit before or even just a little bit after the line will cause the ball to not have enough power at all or to roll way too fast and off the tea hole. I would sometimes get really mad to see the ball tip off the hole or even just stop at the hole, even if it seemed I had nailed it on the power meter.
The replay value of Links is pretty good with a career mode that offers five tours and four skill events. Challenges of all sorts are present and unlock certain goodies, such as golf balls and golf courses. Before starting in career, you are offered the choice to select a pro golfer or creating your own. This is where Tiger takes the cup. Player customization is far less than what can be found in Tiger Woods as far as what the player looks like. A good number of player models can be selected, and from there, clothing, skin type and hair cuts can be used to style your player. Nothing impressive. Four attributes are used to brush up your player's skills. Power, to hit further. Control, to use the spin option more precisely. Putting skill points makes the aiming line longer and Recovery points are used to improve your special shots. These attributes can be bought with the money won from tournaments and skill events. Certain equipment can be unlocked during the game that will add certain skill points to your game. Golf clubs of different composites will each give different advantages. Golf balls can also be used to gain extra spin or distance for example.
The game play is easy and fast. Going through a hole can be very quick, especially with the option of fast forwarding your shots and getting to where the ball lands fast. This keeps you hitting more often and less of that staring at a golf ball going through the sky. The terrains also load really quickly and the game engine runs as smooth as a train on its tracks. The low difficulty settings might have you running through the game too fast and easily, but on the harder skill levels, the power meters no longer indicate the ideal shot and use of the terrain grid, and wind factors quickly become very important factors.
The game graphics are slick. The terrains look realistic, and that is something that has always been expected from the Links franchise for a good number of years now. The trees, water, sand and mountains are all well detailed, even the sky looks good. The player models look good but little detail was brought to the faces or clothing. They move well, but the celebrations or mad expressions are lame. They quickly become repetitive since you always get to see the same ones every hole. Other than that, the game has a great look and kept Links on their feet against the current competition.
The sound, unfortunately had nothing good to offer. Sound effects are very fade and do not really make any impact on the game what so ever, and the sound track is not any better. The commentary team consists of Rod Zundel and Ken Venturi. They quickly become repetitive, as you hear the same sentences over and over during your nine or eighteen holes. Something that quickly becomes annoying is the nickname you choose for your player - the commentary constantly spits it out and shortly after I found myself tired of hearing it blabber out the speakers. It sounds all like cut and paste bits and cuts of words and phrases stuck altogether and sounds weird at times.
This is where Links 2004 differs the most from its competitors: the option to play against anyone in the world with Live! As in all XSN games, leagues, tournaments and stats are offered. Friend lists can be built to quickly find players to play with. Stats display your track rank, record, and general stats of you and all other Live! gamers. Something interesting that I liked very much is the ''Fast play'' option that allows all the players to golf through a course simultaneously, with markers indicating where the other players are at. This allows for a hole to be played much faster than having to watch other players hit as you wait for your turn. Microsoft promises future courses for download. This is good to hear, since Links only contains nine different courses.
Some will say Tiger Woods PGA Tour surpasses Links 2004 without a doubt, I found that both games were great and both had their advantages and disadvantages. Although Links does not have all the official tournaments or cups, and lacks the most popular golfers in their rooster, the game remains addictive and a real joy to any fan of the genre. If you're a Live! Gamer, then Links 2004 is definitely the way to go. If you could care less about on-line play, then I would suggest to rent both before making a decision on which to buy.