- PS3 Review
EA's sports games are often criticized for the lack of new features in titles they release each year. While such criticism is occasionally justified, Tiger Woods 12 has no such problem. Using the Masters as the focal point the career mode has been redesigned, a few entirely new game modes have been added and, in another first for the franchise, caddies are there to assist you with every shot you take. The commentary has been overhauled, with veteran commentator Jim Nantz now partnering David Feherty. Oh, and did we mention the improved Move support? Well it's there too. Not to mention the President's Cup returns, as well as robust online options.
As mentioned above the career mode, now named ‘Road to the Masters', has undergone some significant changes. When you first begin your career, as either a male or female player, you start on the amateur circuit before moving your way up to the Nationwide Tour and then the PGA Tour. Once you make it to the Nationwide Tour you're given some criteria to progress to the PGA Tour, and while the criteria doesn't quite match real life it's pretty close, requiring you to win or place in the top-5 in a couple of events.
On the PGA Tour each tournament has qualifying criteria. Initially you'll be eligible for only the least prestigious events, but as your ranking improves and you meet other criteria you'll be able to play the more prestigious tournaments. During tournament weeks there are three events you can participate in; a challenge from a PGA Tour colleague, a sponsor challenge and the tournament itself. Your PGA Tour brethren rarely go easy on you and until you improve your skills they are extremely tough to defeat. Sponsor challenges take place on the same course as the upcoming tournament and are a little easier, often requiring you to meet score targets and/or other objectives such as hitting a certain number of fairways or greens. Tournaments span between one to four rounds depending on your choice made at the start each year on the PGA Tour.
Although the Road to the Masters has changed the appearance of the career mode, much of the infrastructure remains unchanged. You earn experience for everything from hitting fairways off the tee, for every birdie and eagle you score, your final position in tournaments as well as winning challenges against other PGA pros and completing sponsor challenges. The experience you earn is used to improve your skills in a number of areas; power, accuracy, control and putting. Just like years gone by you can head to the driving range and tune your clubs to suit your play-style, increasing power at the cost of accuracy or vice-versa. The sponsors in Tiger Woods 12 are real life companies like Calloway, Cleveland Golf and Ping, and they provide performance-enhancing gear once you secure them as sponsors. Each sponsor provides their own specific criteria for unlocking their best gear, and if you're able to meet the criteria for all sponsors in the game you'll unlock the Hammerhead Prototype clubs, which are the best in the game.
Next up we have a mode called ‘Tiger at the Masters' where you play as Tiger during some of his epic Masters wins. There are six tournaments altogether and you play all four of Tiger's rounds in each tournament, having to match (or better) the score he shot in real life. One cool touch is that the leaderboards are historically accurate and it's fun to compete against the likes of Jon Huston, Paul Azinger and Colin Montgomerie when vying for the title. Before each of the tournaments there is an interview with Tiger himself where he explains how he felt heading into and during the tournament. While I didn't find the interviews particularly interesting many people will, so they're a great addition.
The last of the new modes is ‘Inside Augusta National' which gives you a closer look at each of the holes comprising the home of the Masters. There is an image of each hole along with the in-game description from the commentators. If looking and listening isn't your cup of tea you can play a round at Augusta National with Tiger himself explaining his real-life strategy on each hole which is pretty neat.
The online community is extremely competitive – in one tournament I played I shot an seemingly impressive 21-under for my round and placed around 350th. Yikes! In Gamernet you go up against the best the community can offer in the form of a single-shot, a long-drive as well as 1, 9 and 18-hole showdowns. Each game has its own criteria for winning; you may have to have a longer birdie streak, make more birdies overall and beat the overall score in order to win. If you have a cracking shot or round of your own you can upload it to the EA servers and let others challenge you too. It's entertaining and it should give you plenty of reason to come back and play.
On the course the most significant change is the addition of caddies. In years gone past the player would line up each of their own shots, but now they have caddies to do that for them. Before taking any shot your caddy will offer up two suggestions, a safe option, and a riskier one. For each of the suggestions you're shown the club to use as well as the percentage you need to hit at. The flight path of the shot is also shown, which gives you a clear idea of where the ball will land and how it will roll when on the green. If you're not a fan of them, caddies can be turned off, or you can simply disregard their suggestions and choose a shot of your own making.
Tiger Woods 12 once again features Move support and, for the most part, it works well. Swinging the Move controller as if it were a real club will send the ball flying down the fairways and onto greens. The good news is that you don't have to swing for the fences in order to get 100% power, something that was an issue last year. It can be quite tricky to hit the right power when you're going for something less than 100%, and the game isn't particularly forgiving, but with practice you'll definitely improve. The game can be played in first-person perspective, and while this adds nothing to the gameplay it's a neat feature that looks great.
With the addition of the Masters, many new game modes and caddies, you certainly can't criticise this year's game for a lack new features. That said the game does have a few issues. Firstly, and most disappointingly, there are no playoffs when a tournament finishes tied. If you're lucky enough to nab a share of the lead when the tournament ends you're declared the winner. This is a significant step back for the series as playoffs have been a part of the games before. During my very first US Open I managed to make a heck of a par-saving putt to finish the tournament in a tie for the lead and was eagerly awaiting the tension-filled playoff. Instead I was treated to a few generic lines of commentary from Nantz and Feherty, and that was that. Very disappointing.
As far as the on-course action goes, there were two below par areas. Firstly, recovery shots are far too easy. Any time you land in a bunker your ball is magically moved to the centre of the bunker, making some shots far simpler than they should be. Shots from the rough and bunkers in general are far too easy in my opinion – it's pretty hard to miss by more than a few feet, something that in no way mirrors real life. The other below-par aspect is short-putts. Before each putt your caddy will tell you where to aim, unless you're so close that you can just tap the ball in without worrying about the line. Strangely these shots sometimes miss, leaving you to feel cheated. Speaking of putting, one addition I'd like to see is the ability to set ‘gimme' putts, particularly in match-play. In real-life matchplay events gimmes are frequently given and adding them to the game would save time as well as add extra realism.
Graphically Tiger Woods 12 is excellent. The courses look authentic, right down to the types of trees and flowers that line the fairways. Everything is bright and colourful, well, as much as it can be when recreating real-life golf courses. The fairway is always clearly defined, while the rough, bunkers and water are obvious enough that you can (attempt to) avoid them. The character models are very good, and instantly recognisable. It looked to me like all players have the same swing animation which isn't ideal, but to be honest few people will notice. The crowd isn't too bad, but their behaviour is a bit too generic, with almost everyone performing the same motion at the same time, but this is hardly going to impact the game.
Often their comments to introduce a hole are seemingly incomplete and rarely offer any insight. Take for example these two pearls of wisdom; ‘The tee-shot travels over water' and ‘Scoring on this par-3 is often determined by the tee-shot'... Lame. They also get names wrong quite often in The President's Cup – Adam Scott was called Molinari and Watson in one round I played. The music is exactly what you'd expect from TV coverage of a golf event, and while it's entirely appropriate it also gets old fast. I had the music turned off after about three rounds, and I dare say many other will do the same.
Overall Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters provides another polished golf experience, incorporating the Masters for the very first time. The addition of caddies and improved Move controls as well as some new Masters-related game modes that add longevity to an already deep game make this a step up on its predecessor. Despite the lack of playoffs to decide tournaments, weak commentary and excessive EA advertising, Tiger Woods 12 is a fantastic game of golf. If you haven't played a Tiger Woods game for a while then this is a great time to get back onboard, while if you enjoy golf Tiger Woods 12 is a must-have game.
Review By: Mike Allison