EA’s Tiger Woods franchise is a remarkable game in that it has no significant competitors in the genre. Apart from maybe Hot Shots Golf (Everybody’s Golf), there are really no other ‘mainstream’ golf games to knock it off its pedestal.
You would think that this means they could pretty much pump out any crappy old code every year and people would buy it because there’s nothing else in the category (and sure, this stood true for Tiger Woods ’08 ) – but surprisingly, recent forays into the series have been quite impressively revamped, year-on-year.
Despite Tiger’s recent negative publicity (which I promise not to touch on in this review), the series is back again – and the latest game in the series, aptly named Tiger Woods ’11, has plenty of fresh ideas.
With the exception of a typical menu and graphical overhaul, it’s pretty much business as usual regarding game modes and events this year.
The PGA Tour season is back, albeit with a slightly different layout, but with the core structure identical to previous years.
Creating your personal golfer has the usual face-mapping feature, GameFace, or a whole host of anatomical creation tools, to get your golfer looking as much like (or as far from) you as possible.
Using your new golfer has all the difficulties associated with ‘noob’ characters as usual too. Start into a PGA Tour round and you can easily expect to shoot a 4-8 over, with your drives off the tee lucky to make it over the rough before the fairway.
You can try your hand at the Skills Challenges in order to gain some quick XP and upgrade your stats however, with this new XP system forming the basis of every advance in Tiger ’11. Upgrading stats costs XP earned on the links (coming from everything from close approach shots, to eagles etc..) so it’s not difficult to acquire. It’s just difficult to acquire in large quantities. That said, within two short evenings of game time, I had a golfer who could shoot a 7 under PGA round.
Club selection and purchasing is slightly different, so when you want to acquire a new club to help you with some distance or knocking out the back window of an SUV, you have to purchase it now using this ‘XP’. You would have imagined that your Tour Earnings and various other monies not paid out in divorce settlements would be used for this, but some genius has decided that XP earned has to be used to both upgrade your skills (logical) and buy equipment and apparel (silly).
So you have to choose between upgrading your ability to swing the club – or the actual club itself. All your Tour earnings seem to just vanish into child support leaving you with nothing but a few hundred XP after each round. It’s remarkably unrewarding. Especially when later clubs and apparel cost in the region of 10,000XP a piece. It just slows the whole process of carving a leading character.
All this aside, you now have a new option of playing your game. Called ‘True Aim’, it basically offers a more realistic and far more challenging way of playing a round, in a much less frustrating comparison to the old ‘Tour Pro’ difficulty setting. You view the ball and the course from the golfer’s eye perspective, only a “GPS view” giving you an aerial view down the hole. Gone is the aiming reticle and any indication of club distance. All you have are a few GPS ‘waypoints’ giving you random distances and topography of the pictured area. Similarly, when you hit the ball, you have no way of knowing exactly where the ball is dropping (the camera just watches from your standing point), aside from the crowd’s reaction and commentary. Its much more realistic.
In addition, they’ve upped the realism element slightly, with the ‘Focus’ game play mechanic. Where in prior years you’ve grown accustomed to relying on the shot power-up, ball over-spin and putt preview arcade abilities, these now ‘cost’ Focus. A red bar keeps track of how much Focus you have available over 18 holes and it does deteriorate – quickly – if you abuse it and play like you did before. These arcade mechanics now have to be managed, because you might find yourself on a tough blind green, with no putt preview available, or unable to make the full distance on a drive.
Additionally, there’s the Ryder Cup this year. You now have the option of partnering up as the USA and playing Europe for the exciting series, with anywhere up to 12 vs 12 players. Frustratingly though, is having to watch every swing from your AI team mates. You can tap X to skip the shot once it’s made contact with the ball, but it still slows down the round a lot when you just want to get on with your game.
True Aim in conjunction with the new Focus game play mechanic definitely set this one apart from its predecessors. I’ve found myself playing recent rounds with True Aim on, just because it feels so raw and interesting in comparison to previous years (or playing with it off). If it wasn’t for these new elements, it would feel almost identical to last year’s model.
Online is much the same as last year as well – all your same challenges, lobby and online matches have returned. I don’t know if it’s just early days, or if the earlier US-acquired golfers have already bailed from the title (AU release was three weeks later), but online is quite dead. The last few nights I’ve jumped on to find less than 30 people playing maximum.
Graphics & Sound
The graphic engine has had a minor overhaul this year, with slightly more colour and more blades of grass. Wind now affects clothing and hair. Pants and wacky hairstyles ruffle in the breeze, or whip around in gale force winds. Apart from that though, it really requires going down to the nitty-gritty to tell this one apart from ’10.
There seems to be more frame-rate stutter in this iteration as well. On numerous occasions, I’ve gone to chip, previewed my shot length in the GPS view, only to get this terrible stuttery movement as I direct my shot around. More noticeable in a couple of the new courses.
Gone are the ‘big hit’ sounds from Tiger ’10. They’ve gone for a more realistic ‘tick’ noise when you hit the ball now, rather than the explosive machine gun barrage from last year’s version.
Scott van Pelt and Kelly Tillman return as your commentators. And as far as I could tell, it’s just last years phoned-in dialogue. After having played the grass off Tiger ’10, I could word-for-word most of the commentary. Van Pelt’s trademark “Tiger’s on the prowl for Birdie” having a whole new meaning this year though. Indeed he is.
A slight improvement on the graphical side, a few new courses (and typically, a bunch more already available on the store to buy – at exorbitant cost), wind effect and the Ryder Cup just manage to set this one apart from its predecessor. The ‘True Aim’ and ‘Focus’ game play mechanic really set it apart though. Pushing for a more realistic golf feel has been priority here.
Worth a look for the true golf fan, but its probably financially beneficial to pick up Tiger ’10 cheap and enjoy a much more populated online environment.