Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2002 Preview

We take a look at EA's upcoming PS2 golf game.

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The speed golf mode easily seems to be the game's most accessible.
The speed golf mode easily seems to be the game's most accessible.

EA Sports' PGA Tour series, which for the last few years has been headlined by the world's best golfer, Tiger Woods, made its first foray on to the PlayStation 2 to mixed reviews. In the series' second incarnation on the console, EA hopes to iron out some of the problems and give fans of the series more of what they're familiar with. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2002 adds several new gameplay modes, uses a new graphics engine to improve the game in terms of visuals, and features an enhanced interface and control system. We recently took an alpha version of the game through its paces to bring you our updated impressions on the game.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2002 features eight primary modes of play. Naturally, the game includes stroke, match, skins, and tournament play modes. On top of those basic modes, the returning Tiger challenge and scenario modes are joined by two new gameplay modes, speed golf and practice mode. All the modes will let you play on one of the seven different courses available in the game--the four real-world courses are Pebble Beach, TPC at Sawgrass, Royal Birkdale, and Princeville, while the fictional courses are volcano, the canyon course, and Tiger's dream 18. The meat of the gameplay is in the Tiger challenge mode, which essentially serves as the game's career mode. Here you'll begin your career by playing against both male and female amateur players. Earning money and points will let you upgrade your player's skill in a variety of categories, including power, accuracy, and ball control. The objective is to advance through a variety of matches until Tiger Woods is unlocked. Once he is available, you can take on Woods through 18 holes on Tiger's dream course.

The speed golf mode is probably the most interesting of the play modes. In this split-screen mode, you can take on a computer-controlled or human opponent in a game of speed golf. Players compete against one another in stroke play format, with the catch being that both of the players are on a timer. In the game, you must use a cursor to follow the ball after each shot and place the cursor over the ball's landing spot to hit the next shot. All the gameplay modes in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2002 are individually designed to highlight different aspects of the game of golf, and judging from our early gameplay time with the game, EA Sports is well on its way to achieving that variety.

Here we see the legendary Pebble Beach course.
Here we see the legendary Pebble Beach course.

Still, all the gameplay modes in the world wouldn't amount to much without an intuitive control system. The game's unique total control swing system attempts to deliver on that front as well. Success in real-world golf depends on achieving a consistent swing, and with the new total control swing system, EA Sports hopes to more closely replicate that repetition aspect of the game. As with last year's game, the backswing is initiated by pulling back on one of the analog sticks on the PlayStation 2 Dual Shock controller. You can follow through and finish your swing by pushing forward on the analog stick. Pushing left or right on both the backswing and the follow-through results in slices and hooks. So, for example, if you pull back and to the left on the analog stick, the player will take an open and flatter backswing, resulting in a slice. You'll eventually find your sweet spot, in terms of analog position on both the backswing and follow-through, and it must be replicated for consistent performance.

The putting game has changed a bit, and now it works in essentially the same manner as the full swing--the analog stick is used to swing the putter. Naturally, reading breaks is an essential aspect of putting successfully, and in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2002, you'll need to pay close attention to the caddy's recommendations. Although you can survey the green using a free-roaming camera, it's simply easier to heed the caddy's directions and line up the putt accordingly.

One of the more interesting fantasy golfers.
One of the more interesting fantasy golfers.

Rounding out the gameplay package is a sleek interface. Once Tiger gets his practice swings out of the way and addresses the ball, the game's in-game icons show off the yardage, wind direction, lie quality, terrain height, and club selection. In this view, the aiming cursor can be adjusted using the directional pad, and the type of swing--including flop, punch, approach, and full--can be selected. Additionally, you can zoom the camera to the landing spot, adjust the camera angle, and switch clubs.

While the swing system is certainly unique and there are a variety of gameplay modes available in the game, where Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2002 truly shines is in its visuals. Even at this unfinished stage, the golfers are intricately detailed, with fully animated faces and signature swings--Vijay Singh has a deliberate backswing, while Tiger Woods rips shots with his picture-perfect swing motion. Additionally, a variety of new animation sequences have been added to the game, including players celebrating after successful shots and surveying the green prior to setting up for a putt. The golfers, both male and female, also sport a variety of accessories including hats, shirts in different colors and designs, visors, and gloves for added realism. The PGA Tour pros featured in game include Justin Leonard, Brad Faxon, Notah Begay, Vijay Singh, Colin Montgomerie, Lee Janzen, Jim Furyk, and, of course, Tiger Woods.

The real-world courses in the game are designed to the exact specifications of their real-life counterparts. The small island green on the 17th at Sawgrass is just as imposing as it should be, and the dogleg 18th at Pebble Beach is bordered by the waters of the Pacific. Although the fairways and greens could use some more detail in terms of grass textures, the game's courses are still cluttered with plenty of geometry, including trees, water hazards, cart paths, and the occasional building structure. Unfortunately, Electronic Arts continues to exclude a fan gallery from its virtual courses, which detracts from the otherwise realistic look of the game.

The game's audio is similar to that of last year's version. The game includes the usual gallery cheer, birds chirping, and the swoosh of the golfer's swing, but it also features an announcing team in specific events and comments from your caddie and playing partner. Tiger Woods has recorded several new voice samples for the game.

The man himself.
The man himself.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2002 has taken the formula set forth by last year's version, improved the graphics, tweaked the control system, and added a handful of new gameplay modes. At this stage, the game is essentially feature-complete. There are some graphical glitches, such as twitchy animation and camera issues. However, with the game set for release in late February, all those minor bugs should be ironed out before it hits the market. Fans of the series should find a lot to like in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2002, and we'll keep you up to date on the game's progress in the coming weeks.

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kinda impressive

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