After about the sixth hole in the relatively excellent tutorial mode, it became obvious that the female avatar I'd created would be right up Tiger's alley.
The generously endowed Wisteria Lane facsimile slinked with effortless grace across the links; the backdrop of a perfectly manicured fairway a shade inappropriate given the no-holds-barred cut of her golfing skirt. At all stages, a faceless caddie provides sound advice, perhaps under instruction from the master himself – the banter seldom straying far from the firm-but-fair tone adopted when she misses a two-foot putt for the third time. Tiger really has had a little too much creative freedom this time around. Silicone or not, I'd be at the nineteenth already.
Yet without such eminent name association, the Tiger Woods series would hardly have the exposure it does – although it's surely only a matter of time before EA Sports has to shop around for a new patron. If this is the last game associated with the philandering legend, then it's a fitting conclusion. Blend a refined golfing sim with the accuracy of the PlayStation Move controller and the hectic pace of the Augusta National Golf Club, and you've got one hell of a recipe. Add a touch of The Masters, and even Tiger could be forgiven for choking under pressure.
Tiger's recreational pursuits aside, PGA Tour 12: The Masters offers a host of new features designed to further push authenticity. The career mode has been revamped, requiring you to move from amateur status to the Nationwide Tour, Q School, the PGA tour and finally the hallowed grass of Augusta. You can unlock new equipment by completing challenges along the way, which removes some of the financial pain associated with levelling in previous titles, and The Masters acts as a fine incentive to tune your game. Suspiciously fine, actually. Almost as if the player is encouraged to focus on The Masters rather than the Tiger, for some reason.
Nevertheless, there's a lot to like about the integrated motion control – golf, after all, is that rare thing: a game which actually seems totally appropriate for the Move hardware. It might not seem much fun from the outset – the reason I'm sporting a female avatar is that the Move controller doesn't do menu options with the utmost fidelity. This is the same reason why she's known as "dfgwwtg" in-game. But once past the fiddly customisation options the Move wand adds another level of control that alternates between astonishing accuracy and downright frustration.
Teeing off represents Move at its best. It's actually necessary to adopt a two-handed grip on the controller to accurately swing it through the correct arc, just like a real club. Twisting the controller clockwise or anti-clockwise during the stroke will either slice or hook the ball respectively, and coupled with a quick wind speed calculation you can almost always land it where you intend. It can be difficult to judge the right amount of swing speed required to max out the force meter, but with a bit of practice and a sturdy wrist strap, this can be achieved more often than not.
Unfortunately, any strength rating below 100% isn't quite as easy to nail down, which is the bane of all golfing games.
Tied into your approach to the hole is the aforementioned caddy, who will offer you suggestions as to which club, direction and force you should adopt. These are generally rated somewhere between risky and reliable, and can vary according to the lie of the ball, course hazards, and a number of other factors. The recommendations are usually fairly accurate, and your caddie will actually learn the course and provide better information the further you go in the game, even if on occasion he'll let you fend for yourself.
To actually hit a shot close to the power suggested by the caddie though, assuming it's somewhere south of 100%, requires a great deal of studied concentration. In many cases, achieving 75% power on a swing is done by accident rather than intent, and typically when you're aiming for 100%.
This is even more evident when putting. The short game features the same green detail found in previous titles, and yet the process is made that much harder by the inconsistent velocity applied to the ball. Given a downhill slope to the green, it seems to matter little that you're a good twenty metres from the hole; the slightest tap and the ball rockets clear across and back to the fairway.
Compare this with the traditional controller, and the difference is profound. For the medium to short game, the old-school approach is far superior, as the ability to fine-tune the force meter allows much more accurate pitching. Perhaps given a solid time investment the Move unit may make ground on the controller, but for any casual player this barrier is likely to be off-putting. It's probably best to consider Move as an additional difficulty level to be conquered when the conventional control system becomes less of a challenge.
In addition to the 16 included courses such as Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, and Celtic Manor, there's a raft of downloadable courses for those willing to shell out. Actually there's 20, meaning there's more downloadable courses than there are courses included on the retail disc, which is a worrying trend. Perhaps it's down to storage limitations for Xbox 360 users, or it's simply set up this way because nobody complained loud enough, it's hard to say for certain. If you don't have a particular course during the PGA round you can either download it or skip it, which is irritating at best, and more than a little insulting for those who have already fronted up with the initial investment.
The welcome Masters Moments features a series of nine challenges designed to transport you to times of golfing greatness. By allowing the reproduction of some of the most impressive moments in golfing history, you can hone your skills in preparation for the big leagues. They are, by and large, extremely difficult, but then that's the point. Arnold Palmer's eagle in 1958 wouldn't be called a Masters Moment if he'd achieved it at Paraparaumu Putt-Putt.
The general appearance, honed as it is towards the Masters, is graphically subtle yet extremely detailed. EA Sports claims it has "laser-scanned" every hole at Augusta, whatever that means. There's an astonishing level of accuracy in the appearance of each course, something EA Sports has continued to refine over the years. The game also sees the commentary début of Jim Nantz along with the return of David Feherty, who both inject the audio cues with reliable banter that is a definite step up for the series, even if it's occasionally not quite as extensive as the game deserves.
If the singleplayer content fails to enthral, you can also play rounds with up to four friends locally or online, as well as using the online functionality to battle through tournaments. Little has changed in this respect from PGA 11.
PGA 12 features the same kind of gradual evolution found in all EA Sports titles. The big-name improvements, such as Move support and the Masters content are welcome, and will no doubt inspire many to part company with the funds required to participate.
And really, if you're after a first-class golf sim on the PlayStation 3, what other options are there?