For the best players in the world, golf is a game built on subtlety. Make the slightest change to your swing and you could struggle with the game like Tiger Woods did a few years ago. Tweak things again in the tinniest ways and you could start to win like Tiger Woods over the past year or so. And so is the case for golf videogames. Since EA Sports' Tiger Woods PGA Tour series has dominated the market year after year, there is very little to judge against the longstanding champion of the links. Fans of the game--both golf and its Tiger Woods videogame counterpart--know why it continues to dominate: Tiger Woods PGA Tour balances easy-to-learn and fun gameplay with a real-to-life presentation that feels like you're watching a Sunday final round.
The same question comes up every year we get an annual sports game. Is it worth buying the latest game and upgrading from my previous year's copy? The answer for Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 really depends on the kind of player. For fans of Tiger Woods videogames, it's probably not worth the upgrade as the changes to gameplay are again quite subtle. For fans of golf, especially those who love the history behind the game, you should at least consider the upgrade. That's because the time traveling, game-defining element in PGA Tour 14, the Legends of the Majors, hits many of the right shots, but too often it fails to make par.
The mode serves as a set of historic challenges, where you travel through the significant eras of golf and relive important moments. This is not the first time you could play with legendary golfers in a Tiger Woods game, but this is the first time we've seen EA Sports put so much attention on how presentation and actual golf mechanics have changed throughout history. You aren't playing as Tiger Woods of today up against big Ben Hogan of his era, using their appropriate clubs and physical prowess. You could actually set-up that scenario if you want--but those historic players, especially the ones using actual wood in their clubs, stand little chance against stronger players of today using lighter metals.
The focus on the Legends of the Majors mode is on reliving historic events. There are nine legendary golfers, including the aforementioned Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods, Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Seve Ballesteros, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, and of course Jack Nicklaus. The development team did a remarkable job of recreating these players in their era, and it's quite entertaining to play in sepia and flickered film in the very old stages, then work up to technicolor in the middle years followed by the crisp HD presentation of modern and upcoming legends. Each legend has their real-to-life swing style, ratings, and clubs--the latter makes all the difference.
The challenges themselves, split throughout the eras (note that you can hop around eras at will), are frequently simple and not overly difficult. However, there are moments when not everything in the challenge mode is exactly historically accurate. That is a bummer since this is a historic mode that screams for authenticity. Even more irritating is that some challenges--like The Shot Heard Round the World--are repeats from previous years.
Beyond the shortcomings in the challenges, it's a bit perplexing that more attention wasn't put on the legends' personalities. That may sound odd, but these golfers (most of them, anyway) had big personalities on the course and that's simply not represented anywhere in the game. Where are the huge fist pumps, the fingers-pointed-like-a-gun celebration, the sly smile from Jack? This is something that Tiger Woods PGA Tour has missed in previous years and has missed yet again. Simply put: Tiger Woods PGA Tour, in all its historic grandeur, fails to have any real personality outside of the era-appropriate clothing, clubs, and camera filters.
Yet, despite these complaints, Legends of the Majors is some of the most fun you'll have in any recent golfing game. The challenges are to-the-point enjoyable, the eras look and feel exquisite, and afterwards you can create something of a dream matchup using the Legends playing in different eras. Heck, those dream matchups are reason enough for diehard golf fans to pick up this game.
Elsewhere in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14, the game has received numerous subtle upgrades and changes. You'll discover the most notable when you create a new golfer, and that's the new Swing Style. All golfers, even those Legends, have unique Swing Styles. When you create a golfer, you can pick your focus between power and accuracy, how your player shapes the ball (fade of draw), the trajectory of your shots, and your dominate hand.
Swing Style works extremely well and really puts players in unique situations. As you take your created golfer through his or her career, you'll really notice the impact of an accuracy focused player over a power-centered player on tight fairways. This all helps make your created player feel unique and special and someone you can grow with throughout your long career, both offline and online. Have a player focused on fade? They'll have a much easier time fading their shots around a dogleg than a player focused draws. The fade player's sweet spot is much larger and they'll even get more distance out of these shots.
Other subtle changes include a more realistic swing meter and ball impact. If your ball is lying against a steep hill, your swing meter will reflect that need for your player to have kind of a crooked swing. Similarly, you'll need to position where your club impacts the ball on most shots.
This all has to do with a new level of difficulty found in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14. Longstanding fans of the series know that default settings are far too simple. Those little tweaks mentioned before add a layer of realism to the game, but they also make it potentially more difficult. Want an even greater challenge? Try the hardest settings to essentially remove any assistance in your swing and putting grid. Yup, it's appropriately difficult and well worth a try for veteran players.
The online modes have been reworked a bit, as well. You can now play online with 24 players simultaneously. It's a blast to watch the trails left of virtual balls flying around the course as you play in a twentyfoursome--a term EA must have coined. In addition, Country Clubs have been expanded to allow for up to 100 players and you are also automatically placed into a club so you can join up with complete strangers without having to do too much.
There is a landmark change to PGA Tour this year that this review hasn't discussed all that much, and there is good reason. This year EA Sports has included the LPGA Tour, signifying the first inclusion of a professional female sport to a game. In the past you could create female golfers, but this year there is the actual LPGA Tour, complete with a career just like what men do on the PGA Tour side. And that's the problem. The two tours are mirror images in many ways. There isn't anything unique about playing on the LPGA Tour instead of the PGA Tour--outside of the ladies' major. It's still worth noting you can play in the LPGA Tour, but just be aware it has no unique flavor whatsoever.
It is also worth noting that the disc comes loaded with 20 courses--more if you get the Historic Masters Edition. This is a fair amount of courses but you only get five new ones: Royal Troon, TPC Louisiana, Oak Hill Country Club, Missions Hills, and Muirfield Village. Since this is really what videogame golfers want each year, these new courses are welcome additions, but it's hard not to feel greedy and want even more. The good news is many courses from previous editions are available to download but the bad news is not all tour mode events are on disc--that means you'll have to buy extra courses to finish your tour. The inclusion of all majors playable for the first time on disc is definitely a welcomed addition and hopefully a tradition EA can secure the rights to in the coming years.
Presentation and commentary are once again top-notch, though commentary in Tiger Woods is never really a strong point. The same is true once again this year, but the gameday-style presentation is simply awesome. All the courses are wonderfully recreated with tons of little details only the most devoted real-life golfer will notice.
Long load screens crop up just about everywhere, though. This hasn't been improved in many years and while it's not a huge deal, playing through quick challenges in the Legends of the Majors mode takes a while simply for the loading screens.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 follows its tradition of making subtle changes to an already strong series. Once again there is a lot to do for the casual and hardcore golf fan and even the slight changes to gameplay are worthwhile and certainly noticeable the more you play. The inclusion of the Legends of the Majors breathes new life into the game and the development team did a great job of recreating the historic events. It's a shame the game as a whole lacks personality because it's by far the most complete Tiger Woods title ever. Casual players can likely skip this year but golf fans need to pick up Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 if only to force Tiger Woods to play with actual wooden clubs in the early 1900s.
-The Final Word-
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 puts the legends of golf in the forefront by allowing players to travel through time and compete against the sport's biggest names. Subtle changes to gameplay and the inclusion of the LPGA tour are welcome additions, but it may not go far enough to draw casual fans back for another year.