Every year a new Tiger Woods game comes out that attempts to build upon its predecessors success, as well as ironing out any lingering issues. This is the gist of all sports game franchises, and in general, Tiger Woods PGA Tour does a decent job of improving year-after-year. That is, of course, considering there is virtually no competition in the golf-sim market. The Tiger Woods games provide a fairly decent mix of realism and good old-fashioned fun. However, it’s the realism that has always needed a drastic kick in the butt, we’re pleased to announce that and this year’s installment has helped push the franchise in the right direction.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, developed by EA Tiburon, is the latest game in the EA Sports golf catalog. This year marks some key differences compared to previous efforts, and it starts with the cover. For the first time in the series history, Tiger Woods is not alone on the cover; rather, he is joined by the young Rory McIlroy from Northern Ireland. Outside of his personal life and his on-again and off-again relationship with golf, the addition of another talented young player to the cover makes sense as the game has a heavy emphasis on this year’s Ryder Cup.
The fact Tiger shares the cover with McIlroy is likely the smallest of changes you’ll notice while playing the actual game, that is, aside from the few untouched mechanics. Sure, the basics of classic Tiger golf is there: build up your own character on the Tour, use a stylized approach to one of the most difficult sports through fun and relatively easy-to-play mechanics, and face-off against the PGA’s best. Still, while there are only a few additions that actually change things up, these tweaks are a welcome addition for anyone looking for a more authentic game of golf.
The most noticeable change to those who are familiar with the games is the new Shot Focus feature, which acts to spark power-ups. This probably doesn’t sound like “authentic” golf, but bear with us. Your golfer has a full bar of focus at the start of each round. Performing Power Boosts, spin, increased accuracy, and Putt Preview all decreases your golfer’s focus. Shot Focus requires you to make decisions about how you will play the course, instead of older versions where you could use spin and power boost as much as you wanted. This actually worked quite well. In our case, we are pretty lousy putters, so we always opted to expend our focus on Putt Previews rather than increased accuracy. As you use these abilities, your focus is drained preventing you from using the more advanced maneuvers. After a while, your focus returns, but it doesn’t come back quickly, so you must pay attention to your shots.
As much as we liked the addition of Focus, we felt there were a few things missing. For starters, our fresh-faced golfer had plenty of Focus to get him through a round at TPC Scottsdale, one of five new courses in this year’s game. But when we played as Tiger Woods or Adam Scott, we found we had just as much Focus as our rookie avatar. We feel Focus should have been an attribute you can spend XP into to improve, instead of having a level playing field for all golfers.
You probably noticed we said XP above. That’s right; this year’s game features an XP system for leveling your character. Gone are the cash prizes and dollars spent for improvements, replaced with an XP system that works pretty much like money from previous installments. You’ll earn XP throughout the game – during all events, even online – by doing little things like hitting a fairway in regulation, sinking a birdie putt, or winning Trophy balls. This XP is then used to enhance attributes, including swing speed, power boost, swing plane, draw, fade, touch, putting swing plane, feel, and tempo. The new Swing Tuner allows you to custom build and tweak your character’s abilities, using the integrated practice mode to visualize the changes.
The XP feature is a nice addition, but we must feel greedy, because we miss earning money. One of our favorite parts of Tiger games was taking home million dollar jackpots from the Tour’s biggest events. We liked pimping ourselves out in outrageous gear (which is still available by spending XP), and buying ourselves some lessons to improve our abilities. The XP works pretty much like money, but we definitely miss getting bagging the big bucks after a nice four-day outing.
Above all, what makes PGA Tour 11 so authentic, or more authentic than previous versions, is the addition of the True-Aim mode. This all-new feature allows you to turn off all the bells and whistles that make Tiger games feel like an arcade game. No more aiming circles, or numbers showing where your ball will land. Instead True-Aim makes players use in-game markers, similar to yardage markers on real courses, to determine how far to hit the ball. The camera will still zoom out onto the fairway or ahead to the green, but it’s not showing you where your ball will end up. You’ll have to figure that out by looking at the yardage markers on the course, and how far the club you’ve selected will carry. On the fairway this creates little problems, but an approach shot, as in real golf, is a lot trickier. You may be out some 100 yards from the pin, but your club will carry 150 yards. The camera will zoom to the 150 marker, and it’s up to you to figure out how little you should swing that club to land it close to the pin.
After you swing, the camera stays on your character watching the ball, not the ball in midflight. You’ll have to listen to the crowd and commentators to hear how your shot turned out. There’s sort of a rush we got when driving down a narrow fairway, and watching our ball fly down the right side, only to hear the crowd cheer and the announcers say, “he found the short grass on that shot.”
As far as gameplay modes, the biggest addition is the Ryder Cup which pins a 12-person European and American team against one another. You pick your side, choose your teammates, and lead them through long process of varying golf modes. Instead of choosing one player to control, you can swap yourself in the role of a fellow teammate if you notice one pairing is not doing so well. Overall, the Ryder Cup offers plenty of golf action for the big golf fan, but for the average fan it can feel a bit long and dull. You can take the competition online with up to 24 players – 12 on each team. You’ll choose a team, and choose whom you’ll play with and against.
The standard skills challenges have returned, along with the same tired commentators. It may seem like a petty complaint, but the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series needs a drastic kick in the commentator butt. Too many times the pair overlapped one another, cutting the other off as they commentated on how our ball was tracking to the hole, oh wait, now it’s a birdie. Other sports games have pretty decent commentators who talk stats and give your rookie a personal feel, and this is an area where Tiger Woods is distinctly lacking in. We hope this changes eventually, though it’s not a deal breaker by any means.
Visually, the game pretty much looks like last year’s outing. There are some small texture improvements, but overall the graphics are passable. Playing with someone (not locally – either AI or online) else is a bit off-putting in the visual department. Sometimes the camera catches an odd angle and gets stuck in the lawn, which unfortunately shows off the poor grass texture. Spectators also speckle the landscape, but they never give that true PGA event feel. These are, again, small problems, but the game would be noticeably better if they were improved.
It should also be noted that the game will support the PlayStation Move when it is released. This seems like a great addition to the game, but we won’t be able to judge if it improves or hinders the experience until we try it in action.
Overall, as much as this game has helped advance the series, there is still ample room for improvement. We have a long wish list of new features for next year, but we are happy to see EA has made a noticeable step into realism. If it continues next year, we could be in for a really great game.