Tiger Woods 99 is the most recent incarnation of EA Sports' long-standing PGA Tour line of golf sims. For a couple years, in between Links 386 and Links LS, PGA Tour was the only serious golf game out there. It had decent ball dynamics, an important license that allowed you to play against real tour pros, and some excellent graphic and camera features. That's why last year's PGA Tour Pro was such a disappointment. You can read my review , but suffice to say it had problems in both control and graphical elements.
Some of these problems have been carried forth into Tiger Woods 99, some have been resolved, and new ones have cropped up. There's no question, however, that it's an improvement over PGA Tour Pro in many areas. The big noise here, of course, is the superexpensive Tiger Woods license, which means Tiger is everywhere they can possible squeeze him. They've done everything but put his face on the ball. The other news is the support for hardware acceleration, which is currently unique to Tiger Woods 99.
Just what does it mean to be the "first and only game with real-time 3D acceleration," as EA claims? Visually, this appears to be little more than PGA Tour Pro with your hardware card managing the textures, and not doing a terribly good job at it either. No machine can run it at the highest detail and 16-bit color without serious, serious chop. With levels set about medium and at 8-bit, the action is a bit smoother, enabling the game to really show its strength at managing diverse camera angles. The camera can be zoomed just about anywhere over the course, giving us some of the first decent "real-time" movement through a golf course. During shots, TV-like cutting gives the action a dynamic feel. The announcements are even largely appropriate, such as "This putt cuts a little to the right." So far so good.
However, some egregious problems have remained from the last PGA Tour game. Objects are appallingly flat and poorly integrated. Trees look like cardboard cutouts. The water has the same improperly matched colors between the still, distant water and the moving, close water. It looks awful. The hardware support smoothes textures but doesn't properly handle blurring on distant textures, resulting in sudden patchwork shifts from clear grass to blurred grass. The video of the pros is generally decent, but like the objects, not always properly integrated into the terrain.
Ball dynamics and gameplay remain strong. The plain-vanilla power-ball control interface of PGA Tour Pro has been spiced up a little with some extra and welcome functionality, such as trajectory arrows and an auto-shot setup that creates low- or high-risk shots. The weird club mismanagement and resetting nuisances have also been fixed. The only real issue with the gameplay itself is that the penalty for power-hitting shots seems substantially less. Is this because Tiger fans will expect to clobber the ball every time? There's even a ridiculous graphics effect for when Tiger really nails one: Lighting strikes Tiger and electrifies him, while a booming voice of God shouts "TIIIIIGERRRRRRR SHOOOOOTTTTT!!!" Yoiks!
The rest of the standard EA Sports features are in place and effective. Online play is some of the strongest on the market, with player matching and tournaments with an actual cash purse. Three courses (Pebble Beach, Sawgrass, Summerlin) are included, and plenty of others are available as add-ons from previous PGA Tour games. An extra CD contains five older courses that can be manually copied, and some information on the PGA Tour. Seven other pros (Love, Kite, Stadler, Janzen, O'Meara, Faxon, and Jacobsin) are included along with Tiger, and you can play as or with all of them. The music is loud and annoying, and the video a little too in-your-face. Certain shots trigger a "Tiger Tips" button that allows you to get in-game tips from Tiger. The video on this isn't very sharp, and the voice sync is a bit off. More to the point, while Tiger is a fine player with a unique game, as a teacher he's the pits. All the Tiger Tips are rather pointless, each going something like this: "Blah blah blah, and hit it as hard as you can." Uh, right, Tiger.
EA Sports knows how to make a good golf game. It's almost back on top with Tiger Woods 99, but those lingering and amateurish graphic flaws keep it down.