For years now, realistic golf games have been outnumbered by cartoonish fantasy golf games on the console market--and by a pretty steep margin. The only series that has managed to maintain its presence from year to year has been the Tiger Woods PGA Tour games from EA Sports, which seems to be taking its dominant position for granted. Last year's game made the jump to fully 3D graphics, but the game itself felt undercooked and didn't make any significant changes to a formula that could have used improvement. But having introduced the slew of enhancements to Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2002, EA Sports has finally created a true 3D golf game that matches the quality of its bigger sports game series.
The cast of Tiger Woods 2002 consists of several real-life PGA pros, as well as a group of edgier and more colorful fictional golfers who are more akin to the motley crew of EA's SSX snowboarding games than any real-life golfers. The game has six 18-hole courses--that's twice as many courses as last year's game--closely modeled after actual PGA tour courses, including Pebble Beach, Copperhead Canyon, and TPC at Sawgrass.
Tiger Woods 2002 provides all the gameplay modes you would expect from a golf game--and then some. The standard stroke, match, skins, and tournament modes return from last year's installment, as does the "play now" feature, which throws you into a randomly generated scenario. There's the Tiger challenge mode, which pits you against a series of 17 golfers for cash prizes. The frantic speed-golf mode is new to the series--here, your golfer has to run to the ball after every swing, and your score is based on the number of swings and the amount of time you take to finish a hole. The sheer number and variety of gameplay modes available in Tiger Woods 2002 all but guarantees there's something for everybody.
Much like last year's game, Tiger Woods 2002 opts for analog control for all of the club action, over the oft-used three-click mechanic. Unlike in Tiger Woods 2001, you're no longer given a power meter to gauge the strength of your swing, making it necessary to play close attention to the movement of your golfer during the swing. If you push forward on the analog stick before your golfer can get to the top of his or her swing, or if you wait too long to push forward, your drive will come up short. Also, any movement to the left or right on the analog stick during your swing will cause your drive to slice or fade accordingly. You can add more power to your drive by rapidly tapping L1 during the backswing, and you can affect the spin of the ball while it's in the air by rapidly tapping L2 and holding in any direction on the left analog stick. Once you're on the green, a short, dotted white line will give you an idea of where your ball would go if you were to shoot straight for the hole, and it's up to you to adjust your shot accordingly. Your caddy will tell you how many feet you need to adjust your shot to make it in the cup, but without any sort of a grid on the green or other point of reference, it's hard to put this information to good use, forcing you to do a lot of guesswork. All of these new analog controls can take a lot of getting used to, but thankfully the game has a mandatory but useful tutorial that you'll have to play through before any of the gameplay modes open up. The controls in Tiger Woods 2002 are challenging to learn--but they put a greater emphasis on timing and precision than previous installments and ultimately make the game more enjoyable and more realistic to play.
The Tiger Woods series has received a major graphical overhaul in 2002, sporting a brand-new 3D engine complete with plenty of special effects. The golfer models and animations look more realistic than ever, to the point that the golfers exhibit their individual personalities. Each golfer has a catalog of animations appropriate for everything, from an eagle shot to a triple bogey, adding a level of emotion that simply hasn't been seen in a golf game before. Meanwhile, the courses are detailed and even stylized, though unfortunately there's a noticeable amount of texture tearing throughout. The textures themselves are all remarkably clean, though somewhat lacking in detail. The game makes handy use of slick camera movement and special effects to instill a greater level of drama during certain shots. If you pull off a really strong drive, the camera will spin around your golfer in a blurry Matrix-style fashion--and then you'll watch your ball rocketing off with a trail of smoke. When an eagle opportunity arises, the game goes into "gamebreaker" mode, where the environmental sound is muffled and overpowered by your golfer's heartbeat and everything around your golfer is blurry and faded. Finally, when making a long, slow shot for the cup, the view shifts to a letterbox perspective as your ball approaches the hole. These special effects do a fine job of making an excellent shot that much more rewarding and a missed shot that much more heartbreaking. While traditional golf purists might find these effects annoying or distasteful, most players will probably appreciate the extra panache.
Sound in golf games is generally limited to a light and breezy soundtrack, some sparse environmental sounds, and the occasional exclamation from the golfer. Tiger Woods 2002 breaks the mold with a soundtrack made up of hip-hop and dance music, and the golfers themselves are mute, supplanted by a TV-style commentary team. This addition lends a greater TV broadcast feel to the experience, but the commentators' dialogue is somewhat limited. It's not quite up to par with the commentary found in some of EA Sports' other games, but it's a massive improvement upon the canned golfer exclamations found in Tiger Woods 2001.
Due to a lack of any alternatives, the Tiger Woods PGA Tour games have traditionally been the choice for players looking for a realistic golf game on consoles. Now it's not just a default choice. The host of graphical and gameplay improvements featured in the 2002 edition make this year's Tiger Woods far superior to previous entries in the series. Tiger Woods 2002 may have a few shortcomings, but in spite of those, it's still the best golf simulation currently on the console market--and one of the best console golf games to date.