There's no question that Tiger Woods has irrecoverably changed the way we look at golf. Previously ruled by stuffy old bluebloods, Tiger Woods infused the sport with a youthful energy that has attracted a much more diverse audience to the game of golf. Last year's installment in the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series reflected golf's new attitude by including colorful fictional golfers, a hip soundtrack, and a slick new visual style. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 further refines this presentation, along with virtually every other facet of the game. The end result is a near-flawless game of golf that somehow manages to appeal to every breed of golfer.
The game starts off with a helpful tutorial, explaining the game's now-standard analog swing system, along with many of the other core skills you'll need to succeed in PGA Tour 2003, including draw shots, fade shots, and putting. EA Sports seems to have tinkered with the analog swing mechanics just a little bit, making it more forgiving, and making it easier to swing a straight shot. PGA Tour 2003 also includes all of the gameplay assisting mechanics introduced in 2002. You can boost the power of your swing by tapping a button while your golfer pulls back his or her club, and tapping the another button and holding a direction on the analog stick while the ball is in flight will affect the spin of the ball. These mechanics, along with the putting line, caddy tips, tap-ins and more can be disabled from the options menu, giving players the ability to adjust the level of realism in the game to their liking. The amount of customization allowed in PGA Tour 2003 makes the game significantly more accessible and enjoyable for hacks and pros alike.
As previously mentioned, the scope of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 has been expanded, and this manifests in a vastly increased number of playable golfers and courses. There are now over 25 different golfers to choose from, and it's about evenly split between real-world golf pros and colorful fictional characters. The courses, however, are all faithfully rendered after 12 different world-famous greens, though, again, it'll be up to you to unlock many of them. The sheer volume of players and courses available in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 gives the game even more long-term appeal than its predecessor, and this is further accentuated by the game's increased gameplay options.
Though the game wears the endorsement of the PGA Tour on its sleeve, the ability to participate in this championship golf competition represents only a portion of what Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 has to offer. The Tiger Challenge pits the player against a series of fictional and real-world golf pros on courses modeled after real-world courses for cash prizes, which can be used to buy skill points for your golfer. Besting your opponents in the Tiger Challenge will also let you play as that character, and unlock courses. The technical difficulty of the courses you'll play on, as well as the competence of the computer AI increase very gradually in the Tiger Challenge, keeping any initial frustration a beginner might experience to a minimum. The scenario mode lets you choose from 49 different predetermined situations, such as making up for lost strokes on the back nine, dealing with exceptionally bad weather conditions, or sinking a series of birdie shots. By putting you into some of the most difficult positions you might encounter in a standard 18 holes, the scenario mode provides a good level of challenge, and can help improve specific aspects of your game.
The newest addition to the game modes in PGA Tour 2003 is the skillzone mode, which is similar to the minicamp mode introduced in EA's Madden NFL 2003. The skillzone is a collection of minigames, which, under a variety of constraints, charge you with placing a shot from the tee as close to the hole as you can. The appeal of the skillzone mode is limited, as you basically perform the same task under different circumstances, and it would've been nice to see a greater variety of play here. Introduced in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2002, the speed golf mode, which forces golfers to run from shot to shot and scores based on overall time, returns unchanged in 2003. While EA Sports has been bringing many of its sports titles online this year, PGA Tour 2003 still lacks a true online mode, though it does include a quasi-online tournament mode, much like Hot Shots Golf 3, which lets you compete against other players using a passcode system on the Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 web site. The success of the online tournament mode will depend greatly on the number of players participating, but even at its best, it is a lackluster substitute for true online play. Along with the gameplay modes unique to the Tiger Woods series, the game also features the stroke, match, and skins games that have become standard to the genre.
Last year's PGA Tour marked a huge departure in visual style for the series, introducing a new 3D graphics engine and a ton of dramatic visual style. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 shows incremental improvements on the groundwork laid in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2002. The golfer models have been refined, with a greater number of polygons, more detailed textures, and better animation. The graphical quality of the courses remains largely unchanged from PGA Tour 2002, and while the geometry is all very sharp, some of the textures are a little questionable, especially those found on the outlying greenery. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 makes much more liberal use of the dramatic camera effects introduced in PGA Tour 2002, though the game keeps these shots from getting stale by including a greater variety of them. One of the more impressive angles will cut to a widescreen close-up of your golfer's eyes as he or she squints and tracks a mid-air shot. These effects are just as effective at heightening the emotion of the game as they were last year, though the game will occasionally linger on an angle, such as the close-up on your golfer's eyes, making it more difficult to effectively make use of the spin control. Though all three versions of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 look basically identical, the PlayStation 2 version is a little sharper than the other two but suffers from the most visible aliasing.
The previous installment in the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series had a soundtrack consisting largely of dance and hip-hop tracks. Apparently this year rock is in, as guitar-based music dominates the soundtrack in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003, but the songs included feel randomly selected, and fail to create a cohesive soundscape for the game. Rap-metal maestros Saliva have three songs featured on the soundtrack, and are accompanied by the angsty sound of Boy Sets Fire, the alt-rock stylings of Silverchair, and oddly, the electronic sound of popular house DJ Paul Oakenfold. If you turn down the soundtrack, you'll be treated to some really immersive ambient sound effects, which sound sharp, and vary depending on the weather conditions and the course you're playing. The commentary is basically the same as last year's, giving you a detailed breakdown of a hole before you play it and some decent situational commentary, but just like last year, the amount of voice is limited, and you'll hear many of the same comments over and over again.
Golf games like Microsoft's Links or Sony's Hot Shots Golf series' limit themselves by catering to fans of hardcore simulations and arcade-style gameplay, respectively. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 splits the difference, and the result is a well-rounded game of golf that should prove to be completely playable by both factions of golf gamers, as well as those without any interest in the sport. He took the golf world by storm in 1996 with incredible skill, redefining what it means to be a champion. And now Tiger Woods, along with more than a little help from EA Sports, has raised the bar for excellence in the field of golf video games.