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Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 Review

29 March 2011

The Tiger Woods PGA Tour series is the champion of its genre, mostly due to a lack of competition, but also because of its mix of easy-to-learn gameplay and its authentic approach to the sport. But over the past several years, the series has remained stagnant, with EA adding only minimal changes to each installment. Last year Focus and True-Aim added an extra layer of authenticity, but nonetheless PGA Tour 11 lacked the sweeping changes that fans of the series really desired. Well, prop the tee high, pull out your biggest driver, and start focusing on your short game because Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters scores an eagle in just about every area.

If you consider yourself a golfer, then you have probably dreamed of two things: having your very own caddie, and playing the iconic Augusta National course. PGA Tour 12 gives players both a caddie and the ability to play in the Masters, the former offering the biggest change to the gameplay approach and the latter giving true golf fans a chance for their very own virtual Green Jacket. The focus is all on your created golfer's Road to the Masters, essentially PGA Tour 12's new career mode. 

Arguably the most difficult and one of the most well-known courses in golf, Augusta is an absolute beast. I can only imagine that even professionals have nightmares of the course’s iconic laser-fast greens and ankle-high rough. EA Tiburon did an incredible job of recreating Augusta like no other course in the series’ history. The course looks sharper and is far more detailed than any other course in PGA Tour 12 (not to say that the others look shabby). Fans of the series who have asked for Augusta will not be let down: both Augusta National and its little brother Augusta Par 3 are available. For hardcore golfers, the addition of the course is reason enough to pick up this game. A majority of the game plays homage to this classic course, especially with Inside Augusta, a section that gives you hole-to-hole details of the course. If you are up for a challenge and a walk through history, you can play through Masters Moments, a mode that allows you to trace the steps of historic moments from the Masters. Outside a few easy sections, like landing an approach shot within 15 yards of the pin, there are challenges that truly test your skills — including a round of seven under par. The difficulty of some Master Moments challenges are both exciting and frustrating.

Difficulty — or, more accurately, the lack thereof — is actually a common criticism of the Tiger Woods series. While I don’t feel the game is any harder than previous years, nearly every aspect of the Masters portion of the game, from the challenges to participating in the actual event, is substantially harder than the rest of the game. There’s a huge gap in difficulty between Augusta and other courses in PGA Tour 12. Even on the game’s harder settings, it’s still pretty easy to consistently outscore the best golfers in the world on all but Augusta.

The Road to the Masters campaign starts your rookie golfer in amateur leagues, where you’ll have to compete well enough to enter Q School (which isn’t a school, simply a ranking system to enter the Tour). When you finally pass Q School, which took me a round or two, you’ll be ready for the actual PGA Tour. It’s a refreshing career progression system, but it’s all a bit too easy. As in past years, you’ll gain experience points to develop your golfer’s abilities, like power, putting, or touch. Because the bulk of the game is so easy, by the time I was at the Masters, my golfer’s abilities were technically weak, making Augusta extremely tough. In a way, it was refreshing to play a course that presented a real challenge. When I finally did get my Green Jacket, I was quite proud of my young golfer. The win got me excited to actually play the real life game — an important trait in any sports game.

Regardless of how well you know how to play golf in real life, PGA Tour 12 offers some authentic assistance through your very own caddie. Your caddie takes everything (pre-shot) into consideration. If you have an uphill 150 yard shot to the green with a 5 mph wind coming in from the east, your caddie will suggest different shots of varying difficulties. The difficulty of your proposed shots are color-coded — red is the hardest and presents the greatest risk, yellow is medium, and green has virtually no risk. So your caddie may suggest two different approaches for that 150 yard shot to the green — one difficult shot aimed right at the pin, with an easier option landing the ball on the putting surface, but not all that close to the pin. 

The caddie system works pretty well, but at first I was concerned it would make the game even easier. You can, of course, ignore your caddie’s advice and pick your own shot. Your caddie’s ability to prepare your shots is based on your "team's" Course Mastery. I say “team” because that’s how you are referred to in the game by commentators Jim Nantz and David Feherty (a welcome return, I might add). As your team completes various objectives for each course, like sinking a long putt or recording a bogey-free round, your Course Mastery increases, allowing your caddie to call better shots. This helps your caddie feel like part of your team and not just a device used to help novices. The system isn’t perfect, I should point out, as sometimes your caddie will suggest a ridiculous shot when you can easily find an easier and better approach.

Your caddie continues to give advice even on the green. The putting system has always needed a complete overhaul, in my opinion, and PGA Tour 12 makes a slight attempt, but it ultimately falls short. A little circle shows where your caddie suggests you place your putt, but the system is so sensitive I found myself pulling back a few inches from where he suggested. The new Pressure Moments only makes putting more frantic, but in a good way. If you are attempting a long eagle putt or at the tee box for your last hole of a match, your heart will beat and the HUD fades. These clutch shots are tough, but you can reduce some (if not all) of the tension through Focus, that is, if you have any left.

There are so many updates to PGA Tour 12 that it’s clear this was EA Tiburon’s definitive golf game. There’s an all new sponsors system that offers equipment rewards, pin awards, world rankings, and improved, almost logical AI. Seven new golfers, two fantasy golfers, six new courses (not including DLC), and little tweaks like 3D grass makes this the pinnacle of the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series. Online is still a bit limited with Live Tournaments that allow for daily and weekly rounds, Play the Pros, and PS Move-only events. I’d like to see EA put a bit more time into the online department next round, but it’s still solid. In addition, I am still not a fan of using the PlayStation Move with this game. There are so many reasons it doesn’t work, including shot strength, positioning, and speed. This is disappointing, but since Move isn’t required to play, I can’t say it takes anything away from the game; it’s just something I’d like to see addressed in the future.

PGA Tour 12 is the ultimate experience for golf fans, but there isn’t a great deal here for casual enthusiasts. Obviously you should probably care a bit about the sport before picking this game up, but it truly speaks to the inner wanna-be golf pro in me, but not so much to the side of me who can barely break a round of 90 on a good day. Whether you want to experience Augusta and try your hand at earning a Green Jacket, or you want to see what it’s like to have your very own caddie, PGA Tour 12 has just about everything you could want in a golf game. If you care about the series or the sport in the least, this will be the game to replace any previous installments. Seriously, I cannot wait to play another round at Augusta and finally put Tiger and Phil in their place.

-The Final Word-

Coming up with the best golf game took a while, but EA Tiburon's Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 is undoubtedly the pinnacle of the series. With a new caddie system, a revamped career mode, and the superb Augusta course, 'The Masters' is masterful on many levels.
  • The challenge and beauty of Augusta and the Masters
  • Caddie system and course progression is a game changer
  • Career mode is refreshing
  • Progressing through career is too easy
  • Unrealistic difficulty gap between Augusta and all other courses
  • Online needs an update
9.0
Platforms reviewed : PlayStation 3
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