So, you makes your swing, you smacks your ball, and off it goes. In the old days, the camera view stayed right behind the golfer and you watched the flight of the ball pretty much like you would if you were actually on the course. Links 2004, on the other hand, has Matrixified golf. After you hit the ball, the camera will follow the ball through various locations until it lands. The ball is very easy to see as it is now trailing some sort of comet tail, and every now and then you will even be treated to a bullet-time view, replete with concentric shock rings as the ball flies past your viewpoint. I have to confess that I really hate this, and was very disappointed to find that while I had hundreds of options as to how to dress my golfer, the ONLY item under the Graphics Options was Brightness. Along that vein, I also noticed that the entire game is far less configurable than the early versions. Another example of this is Automatic Club Selection. This is a feature that will avoid the abject embarrassment of you stepping up to your ball, 30 yards to the pin, and slapping it about 250 yards past the hole because you forgot to change clubs and tried to chip with a driver. In early versions, you could turn this feature on or off. In Links 2004, you can disable this feature for the current hole only. I get the strong feeling that part of the re-write to the Xbox platform involved dumbing the game down a bit. Personally, I miss the level of customization that was available in the early days. It feels like a step backwards to have had so much more control then than now.
The improved feel for the ball brought about by the real-time swing control carries over to putting as well. There are a number of aids to help you read the break in the green, and with a little practice you should be able to sink any putt in no more than three strokes, and most in no more than two. The graphics of the ball rolling towards the hole, and sometimes lipping it, are top notch. Just as in real life, putting will make or break your game, and in the case of Links 2004 they definitely hit the mark. The tension when faced with a 10 ft. tester to win the hole is just about right – you know you can make the putt just as well as you know you can miss it. Whether you choke or not comes down to your ability to set the pressure aside and execute the putt – just like the real thing, and isn’t that what sport simulations are all about?
With a few notable exceptions I found Links 2004 to be a fantastic golf game. In addition to the minor disappointments with the lack of configuration options, I also question some of the AI golfers strategic decisions. For example, I was 6 feet from the hole, lying 2, on a Par 5 during a Skins game with an AI player. I was closely watching him as he lined up for his 2nd shot, knowing that he had to ruthlessly attack the pin to have any hope of even halving the hole. He laid up!! It was a total Tin Cup moment, and frankly quite disappointing. Golf is not a purely tactical endeavor; there are times when a player needs to understand the situation he is in and manage his strategy accordingly. I have yet to see anything other than mindless golf from the AI players. Maybe this is another attempt to encourage players to seek out human opponents on Xbox Live, or it may just be a sloppy implementation. Either way, kinda sad.
Still, the Links title has a respectable history going back more than a decade. Links 2004 is really a first (and excellent) effort for the Xbox platform, and having seen how far the franchise went in the PC realm, I have every confidence that any weaknesses in this version will be corrected in subsequent versions. It is a very accessible and enjoyable game in its current form, and will likely get even better in the future. Tee it up, and golf ‘til you drop!
More On:Links 2004
Weâ€™ve been playing Links in one form or another for more than a decade. For their own console, Microsoft has gone back to the first tee and let rip with a brand new version. While not a hole-in-one, itâ€™s pretty darn good!
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