Tiger Woods plays Tiger Woods. It’s like some nervous crack in the space/time continuum that would only be bettered if Rooney played FIFA, too. There’s a hint of sarcasm there, readers, but it’s not without merit: EA have got most major sports totally sewn up, and if they can convince Joe Public that his favourite sporting stars play EA games, well, then he should too, and if Tiger 09 is anywhere near as brilliant as FIFA 09 then Joe’s in for a happy 12 months indeed.
Sadly, being British, mid 30s and working class means that golf is as alien a concept as caviar and VIP lists. Sure, we’ve all played Pitch and Putt at Blackpool, but we don’t think Tiger Woods has, otherwise Tiger 09 would be based around fantasy castles, rotating windwills and the faint smell of donkey shit wafting up from the beach. As it stands, Tiger 09 is based around the world’s most famous (proper) golf courses, with new additions including South Africa and China, and features professional golfers rather than your uncle Tony.
This isn’t a negative, though, because clearly you’re interested in golf enough to have read so far, and thus presumably you’re also the proud owner of at least one earlier iteration in the series. They’re easy to find, last years was Tiger 08 and the one before that? Tiger 07. So what’s new this year? Well, apart from the aforementioned bolstered course line-up, it’s been a tough 12 months at Gameplay College for EA, and they’ve passed with flying colours; numerous tweaks to the way the game is played have resulted in a far smoother ride for newbies, and a greater level of mastery for seasoned players.
Firstly, there’s now a swing marker which shows your back and forward swing in a cool little line in the corner. If you were constantly hooking or slicing the ball and blaming in on the poor analog stick you’re excuses have just run out – now you’ll be able to see exactly where you’re messing up, and from that you use the new Club Tuner to iron out any inadequacies. There’s still the slightly unrealistic spin mechanic, which sees you bashing the hell out of L1 whilst the ball is in the air, but it works well enough and assuming the camera behaves is actually quite useful.
More reasonable is the way the right analog stick is utilised, which acts as the Loft Stick. With this, you can determine where the ball will be struck which is great for changing the angle of the shot, although oddly options for different shot types (punch, flop etc) can still be selected before you swing – we’d have prefered a slightly stronger Loft Stick and thus negating the need for the different shot types, although we’re aware this is probably a transitional thing.
The other major addition this year is Dynamic Skill. This is involves some American called Hank Haney, who provides cutting and quite rude feedback after each round of golf (assuming you’re rubbish, of course) but then helpfully supplies you with some training practises to improve the areas you’re least capable in. It’s a welcome little diversion if you’re in this for the long haul because it tailors the skills to your individual game, but for casual players it’s a little bit too involved to be of any use on a post-pub Friday night gaming session.
If you are thinking of tackling the massive Career mode, then you’ll be happy to know that Tiger 09 supports the full Game Face feature, meaning if your machine is camera-equipped you can happily spend 3 whole days trying to get the character to vaguely resemble your real visage. It’s a cool trick, but we’re not nearly attractive enough to make this worthwhile. If you’re happy enough making freaks, the randomise button is good for a few laughs and since you’ll be staring at the golfer’s arse for most of the time, might as well make it green and massive, right?
Visually it’s a mixed bag (of clubs). The players themselves look fine, although slightly Uncanny Valley at times and almost entirely devoid of emotion, but the courses are dull and flat. Naturally we’re not expecting fantasy castles and rotating windmills, as these are modelled on the real-life courses, but we prefer the slightly exagerated elevation and busier feel of the fairways in Everybody’s Golf 5. If you’re a stickler for realism though, you’ll find plenty to like in Tiger 09.
Essentially, then, as we’re sure you’re feeling, this is another case of same-but-better for EA. Tiger 08 was a solid game, but 09 just feels slicker and easier to play. There’s a huge amount of single player and local console multiplayer to get through, and the online options are as extensive as ever (with simultaneous shots now available too) and for golf fans we’re confident it’s an absolutely brilliant game and no doubt offers great value for money. Us? We’d rather play with Uncle Tony, but we’re just common people.