The Tiger Woods series has, in some form, been around for a very long time. Way back in 1990 the PGA Tour series of games began and ever since there has been an almost constant stream of annual updates all trying to improve on the previous titles. This year’s version screams its biggest addition at you before you even open the box, and by adding the Masters to its box of tricks, EA may just have got the hole in one they’ve been striving for.
The core gameplay for this year’s title hasn’t really changed. Shots are played in the same way and you can add spin and power exactly as you could before. Recent Tiger Woods titles have always looked the part too, so don’t expect any miracles in that department, but everything looks very nice nevertheless. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is just another annual update with nothing really new. I’ve already mentioned the Masters, but look deeper into the game and you’ll find a lot more has changed.
The most obvious in-game addition is the caddie feature. Before each shot you make your caddie will give you advice on the possible shots to take, with suggestions ranging from the safe options (coloured green) through to risky shots (in red) which can give you a positional advantage but might end up in trees, bunkers or some conveniently positioned water. Having pre-defined shots ready to choose from sounds like it takes a lot of skill out of the game, but you’ll find it helps you to learn which shots to take in various situations. Just like the similar system used in the excellent Madden 11, you’ll soon realise that the most direct shot isn’t always the best option and, as a result, your game and subsequent scores will begin to improve. And don’t think that you’re the only one learning; as you hit certain objectives around each course your caddie will improve his knowledge too, meaning the more you play a course the better your recommendations become. Impressive stuff. If, however, you fancy going it alone and making decisions by yourself then you can easily turn him off, so if you’re a Tiger Woods veteran there’s no need to worry about being patronised.
Other notable features are the Fast Golf option, which lets you hit the triangle button after taking a shot to skip straight to your next shot, shortening the time taken for a round significantly. You won’t get to see how the ball got to where it ended up, but if you’re after a faster game it’s ideal. You can also save your game mid-tournament, which is very handy if you haven’t got 3 hours spare to play through several rounds at once.
But the game’s crowning glory is the Road to the Masters. Starting off as a lowly amateur, you create your own golfer using the bewilderingly in-depth creator which seems set up to be able to recreate pretty much any real person you could think of quite convincingly. By playing amateur events and winning tournaments you will earn the right to play in slightly higher matches until you win a place on the main PGA Tour. From here you get a full calendar of events, some of which you have to skip until you have completed the relevant objectives on other courses. When you sign up to an event you get sponsorship challenges, one-on-one games and the tournament itself, which mixes things up and gives you a chance to play a few different game modes while still heading on your way to the top. But this section of the game had one massive problem: many courses in the calendar aren’t accessible. They seem to be in the game, but you can’t play them until you pay for them via one of the DLC packs. This is a huge bugbear of mine, and a shameless way to get players to part with more cash if they want to experience the entire game. I won’t rant too much about that here, but it really irritated me.
The tour itself, even without DLC, is quite substantial, and you’ll be battling through tournaments for quite some time before you get a shot at the Masters. And rightly so, it’s not a tournament for just anyone and letting an amateur golfer into such a contest would ruin the feeling of realism built up by previous events. Besides, you’ll need all the practice you can get; each time you play you’ll earn XP for various achievements, so sinking a long putt, hitting the fairway and so on all earn you points to spend on improving your abilities. There are plenty of ways to improve, but given my putting is beyond terrible that’s where my focus tended to stay. If you want to be competitive at the higher levels, every last addition to your game will count.
In amongst all this you’ve got Masters Moments, which gives you nine scenarios from history to recreate. Completing each moment will give you a short history lesson about the course or the moment itself, which will be great if you’re a golf fan wanting to learn more. There are also the obligatory options to play a single one-off round on a course of your choice, with the option of tweaking the difficulty, length of the rough, weather and so on. Alternatively, take your golfer online and play against friends or other players in a range of matches and competitions which add a more competitive edge to your game. You don’t need to wait for others to play either, as you’ll see a ghostly arc showing other shots that are taking place at that time.
The caddie feature, coupled with the Road to the Masters makes this year’s Tiger Woods title a very tempting proposition if you’ve not dabbled in a golf sim for a while. Despite my frustrations and being so bad at putting it’s a very relaxing game to play, and the nature of the sport means you’ll get a huge amount of playing time out of it whether you stick to the single player or take yourself online. If EA had included all of the courses from the start then there’d be very little to complain about, but it’s done in such a blatant way that’s it’s hard to ignore. It’s a huge shame, but you shouldn’t let it put you off if you’re in the market for a golfing game because this is a very polished, fun and long-lasting game.