It must be a nightmare for Electronic Arts each year to take a game such as Tiger Woods 08, which is the best they can produce at the time, and improve on it only 12 months down the track. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the developer meetings when they decide what to change, add and leave out.
The latest incarnation of what is the quintessential golfing simulation on the market takes everything that has made it a success in the past and adds a few tasty little features, which genuinely make the experience more enjoyable. Apart from one.
As you begin playing the game, Tiger’s coach Hank Haney takes you through some basic skill tests, much the same as the Madden Test in Madden 09, but you can’t skip it. He’s obviously a knowledgeable man... but also a downright pain in the backside. In Career Mode he analyses your game and makes you practice the shots that need some work. Yeah, thanks Hank, but I’m well aware my chipping sucks – that’s why I try to get on every green in regulation, buddy.
I guess it’s a touch of realism for the train-spotters, but personally I’d like an option to ram my 9-iron where the sun don’t shine on poor old Hank.
As usual, EA has treated us with their industry-leading character creation system as well as the EA Gameface where you can map your own mugshot (or anybody for that matter) onto your character. It takes about 15 minutes all up to do this and initially the results are average, but you can then go in and tweak every feature of your face and get a pretty good likeness. Someone asked me whether it’d be possible to take a picture of your arse and map it onto a character’s face – making a bumface golfer. Well I was intrigued by this idea and never being one to back down from a challenge I put it to the test. Sadly it didn’t work due to my arse not having some obvious defining features. So I compromised by choosing Colin Montgomerie instead.
Basic gameplay is exactly the same as previous years, using the left thumbstick for the backswing and follow through. Keep it straight and the ball will fly straight. Only need 75% of a full club distance? Then only take the backswing back 3/4 of the way.
You have full control over your swing and the tempo needed to hit the ball properly is very realistic (and having been a single-figure golfer, I know such things).
If you find yourself regularly duffing shots, one nice addition is the real-time feedback meter which will tell you exactly where you’re going wrong – a bit like a telemetry read-out in a race car. It helps to have some elementary understanding of swing dynamics to make head or tail of it though. As you progress in your career, your skills automatically adjust as you get better at driving or worse at your short irons, for example.
If you’re even more keen to go tinkering then another new feature is the club tuner. Here you can tweak the weight, heel/toe balance, shaft flex and spin capabilities of your clubs, but this does have an effect on the sweet-spot of your club, and a smaller sweet-spot means it’s harder to hit a great shot. But not to worry, good old Hank will stick his two cents in if he thinks you’ve made a hash of it.
There’s a whopping 18 real-life courses to choose from in Tiger Woods 09, covering the full range of conditions. From seaside links and desert courses with patches of green, to tight tree-lined fairways and open disorienting courses.
Each one is stunningly recreated with amazing water visuals and vegetation. Some of the rock textures leave a little to be desired – but really – who cares?
Taking the game online in EA’s GamerNet sees another nice feature in the four-player simultaneous play. This means that everybody plays at once, rather than waiting for the furthest from the hole to play first. So a round only takes as long as it would take to play solo. You get a nice coloured flight-path to map out the other players' shots too. This is only available in Strokeplay, as one of the nuances of Matchplay is that you can gain a huge psychological advantage by dropping your ball next to the pin from 200 yards out and putting the pressure on the next person to play. There are a range of other game modes to play online, even single hole challenges which extends the life of the game long past the Career Mode.
The back of the case indicates that the game utilizes the SIXAXIS motion sensitivity of the PS3 controller, but for the life of me I can’t figure out where, as the game itself hasn’t mentioned it once. But realistically, you wouldn’t need it. I’ve played the Wii version of this game, which fully utilises motion sensitivity - and it’s awful, just awful. Full shots weren’t too bad, but the putting was an absolute shambles.
One minor annoyance in Tiger Woods 09, which only a golfer would notice, is that if you are on the light fringe of the green, you cannot change to your putter, which is quite a common thing to do especially if the pin is relatively near by. You are forced to chip it. Ideally you should have full access to every club in your bag at any time in the round.
At the end of the day, we’re presented with some new courses, some new golfers (did I mention Natalie Gulbis?) and some neat little features but cutting it back to a gameplay level, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 is much the same thing as the last two releases. Which is by no means a bad thing.
I’ll be playing this for many months to come.