It may have been a tricky year for the world’s most famous golfer but EA Sports have stuck with him and kept him on as the titular figurehead for their incomparable golfing series. But does Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 hit a hole in one or does it crash its SUV into a fire hydrant and have to issue a humble apology?
The first load results in the now-almost-expected early-launch patch (on the PS3 version tested it was 275mb) and the mildly irritating attempts to cajole the player into signing in to their online account. After that we’re straight into creating our golfer.
Character customisation is as complete and polished as we’ve come to expect from EA Sports titles with everything from head height to foot width configurable via analogue sliders. EA’s Game Face system makes a welcome return and, while it is prone to making you look like you’ve got a terrible skin affliction if used via the PSEye, it works beautifully if you upload photographs (or use previously loaded ones) to the EA website.
Tutorials are gentle on those of us who have been away from the series for a few years and competently explain the various controls and systems required to get you started on your career to PGA superstardom. Each tutorial comes with a bonus lesson which explains a related aspect of the Focus system and awards you with Experience Points (XP) for successful completion.
From shot power through accuracy and ball spin to putting assistance, the Focus system is your friend. Essentially a meter which refills with every shot you take without using a particular aspect of focus, it provides you with some help when you need it for weaker areas of your game or if you get yourself into a tricky spot. When you use your Focus to assist you it depletes and must be rebuilt before it can be used again.
The awarded XP is used to upgrade your golfer’s attributes via a series of gauges relating to the various skills required to become the next Tiger Woods. You earn XP for completing rounds of golf while making certain shots and hitting various common targets or by competing in the mini games (of which there are many). You also use your spare XP points to buy items from the Pro Shop to alter the appearance and abilities of your golfer. There might be a shirt which makes you slightly more focussed or a club shaft that makes you more powerful.
If the targeting system is a little too unrealistic for you, or for an extra challenge, you can set your system to the new True-Aim. Rather than the default of being able to see where your ball will end up and move the target circle around the fairway you will only see the view from behind your golfer. This means you have to choose a direction (you do have a GPS mini-view of the hole to avail of) and use your judgement to get the power, movement and spin right.
When PlayStation Move finally hits retail it will be fully compatible and, if the accuracy claims are to be believed, the True-Aim mode coupled with the motion controller should make for a very realistic simulation of the game.
While we wait for the newfangled control systems to be released we’re stuck with the standard controllers. Left stick controls your swing, with timing, precision and rhythm important to an accurate and powerful stroke. Tapping a face button during back swing allows you to add power and tapping the same button during the ball’s flight (in conjunction with the left-stick) adds spin. Other face buttons allow you to select a shot type (punch, chip, full etc.) and see your targeting circle. Shoulder buttons are reserved for adding draw and fade to your shots to give you left and right movement in the air. Everything feels tight and responsive and the controls, although customisable, are natural just the way they are (for right-handers, at least).
EA Sports are hugely experienced and the presentation is as slick and accomplished as we’ve come to expect from them. Menus are plentiful and intuitive with none of the lag that has plagued recent iterations of FIFA. Load times are reasonable between holes with the scorecard popping up before every tee to make sure you don’t lose count of your round.
The animations and character models are smooth and well-rounded with each virtual golfer bearing a reasonable likeness to their real-life namesake. Likewise, the courses look gorgeous with little repeated texturing and some decent attempts at making grass look interesting. The rain-effect is slightly poor but that’s a very minor niggle offset by a wealth of praise elsewhere.
There are a wealth of game modes to play around what feels like a decent selection of courses (although the game does take the opportunity to direct you online to buy more). There are seventeen courses, each with the full complement of eighteen holes, so you should be able to spend a while with the game before your knowledge of it all is complete. Add to that the mini-games including target golf and the game’s version of HORSE (imaginatively titled TIGER) and you shouldn’t get bored of the possibilities on offer.
Before teeing off on each hole you are treated to a flyover of the hole and a commentator tells you of the most sensible options for your approach as well as the lie of the green. This is extremely helpful and well worth listening to, at least the first few times around, as it give you hints for strategies which make the holes much easier to get around.
As long as you’re connected to the network you will also get various optional (and subtly signposted) Daily Challenges, which are accomplishments by other players around the world on that particular hole which you can try to better.
The online mode, accessed via EA’s Online Pass, gives a great number of options for setting up your game over the network. You can select a game based on difficulty, skill levels or region. Games can be ranked and match-made or simply between you and a friend from your friends list. The GamerNet section gives you access to certain challenges set by other users so there should always be plenty of fresh material to keep you interested.
Another interesting aspect to the online side of things is the Live Tournament section. This allows you to test your game against real-life scores on the same (or similar substitute) course by professionals competing in live real-life tournaments.
Finally, the twelve-versus-twelve Team Play pits Team Tiger against Team Rory (McIlroy, the latest hot property on the global golf scene) and allows a large-scale team game.
- Looks lovely.
- Controls are intuitive.
- Plenty to do for the enthusiast.
- Slow pace might not be ideal for everyone.
- Adverts for new course purchase can make it feel incomplete.
There really is no other option for the golf fan. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 is the only realistic emulation of the sport for home consoles. With its myriad of options and game modes there should be plenty to keep you occupied and, as long as you’re prepared for the almost lethargic pacing, it is a joy to play.