Shocking though it may sound, our favourite sports series of recent memory is Tiger Woods PGA Tour from EA Sports. Gamers generally don't recognise a good walk, let alone spoiling it with clubs, balls, bogeys and handicaps, but when we first got to grips with the 2002 edition, it quickly became apparent that it was no mere golf game, and that it fell like a Teflon-coated round peg into the round hole of "easy to learn, difficult to master". When the 2003 edition came along, it was hard not to sit up and take £40 from your wallet.
And as we learnt today, despite a couple of proclamations to the contrary the 2004 edition of the game is going online with Sony's PS2.
Eye of the Tiger
What we played today was a four-hole demo version of Tiger Woods 2004, seamlessly linked, peer-to-peer, to one of a number of EA golfers located at the publisher's Redwood offices. It wasn't clear how they were networked (whether by DSL, etc) or even if they actually were in Redwood and not simply lurking in a booth at the back of the stand, but the voice communication aspect - activated by clicking in the left thumb stick and using the headset from SOCOM - gave us a crystal clear chatline direct to our opponent. Upstanding fellows that they are, nobody at EA told us that we sucked or that they were in any way involved with our "mommas". Then again that's probably because we were beating them.
In terms of the game itself, it's difficult to see any particular changes to the engine. The HUD has once again changed style to a certain extent, but it's nothing that exciting. Otherwise the game remains the same. You can view a flyby of the hole by pressing select, you switch between shot types with square and clubs with R1 and R2, zoom to the spot you're aiming for with circle and adjust it with the D-pad, giving you the opportunity to see not only where you're aiming but what percentage of maximum strength you'll need to apply with the analogue backswing. Also returning are the speed-enhancing L1 and L2 buttons - rapidly tapping the former during the backswing increases strength, and doing the same with the latter during flight, whilst holding a direction, will send the ball spinning wherever you like. And like Tigers of previous years, wind speed, ground conditions and height differences all come into play. It is, as they say, a deceptively simple game. And a wonderfully addictive one.
The four new holes don't give us much of an idea of what to expect from the full game, mixing basic straights and doglegs with lots of bunkers, water hazards and foliage as ever, and the level of detail was apparently unchanged. On the whole though (ha!) it was hardly poor to begin with, and we spied a new character or two, and no doubt EA has bigger surprises in store than that - it took us a while to find the improved depth in Tiger 2003, and we expect the same from 2004.
But even if EA just shoved Tiger 2003 in a box with online support we'd be tempted to buy it [don't give them ideas -Ed]. The game is so much more fun in multiplayer, even though it is incredibly alluring for the lone putter, and PS2 online delivers all but the physical presence of the opponent. Aside from not being able to grin after saying something heinously insulting, it's everything we could want. When EA Sports goes online - hopefully before the end of the year - we'll be paying Tiger a call quicker than a 100-yard par three dogleg to the right. Next!