Each year EA update their sports roster, and whilst this year’s FIFA was a resounding success, the slow, evolutionary approach to the Tiger series isn’t quite in the same league. Whilst the developers have added a decent amount of new features, which we’ll come to, the game is the same as it always was, and under the surface of better customisation and deeper online options, it’s a somewhat tired formula and one that may well have become saturated for all but the most avid golf fan.
The four major improvements this year are as follows; and we’ll discuss each in turn: Putt Preview, Shot confidence, GamerNet and Photo Face. The putting in Tiger Woods has always been something of an anomaly for gamers – it manages to use the same controls as the rest of the game, but completely change the mechanics and the way you judge distances. Rather than forcing the player to count the grids as per previous years, Putt Preview now draws a thin white line, once per shot, that shows exactly where the ball should go taking into account the slope of the green. It’s a useful feature, but is often too short or too long depending on the direction of the slope, so you may still need to adjust the power level accordingly to sink the ball.
Shot Confidence is a cool new addition, though. It’s an automatic, background feature that continuously monitors everything you do out on the course, from hitting a hole in one to getting stuck in a bunker. Perform well on a hole and your Shot Confidence will take a major boost there for future visits, but come in 5 over par and you’ll play worse the next time you’re there. It’s actually far better than it sounds – equally skilled players will find their game ebbing and flowing through an 18 hole battle as they each take advantage of their associated attribute boosts, and it makes sole play-throughs less of a chore knowing that certain holes will be easier this time around, or, of course, that you’ll need to work that extra bit harder instead.
The third addition is GamerNet. Naturally Tiger 08 offers same-screen multiplayer for when your mates come around and the online options are numerous, but with GamerNet EA have taken the online game a step further – essentially an online ‘create a challenge’ mode, with GamerNet you can set up whatever conditions you want to and see if anyone can beat you, but GamerNet also lets you upload any replay (be that one shot, one hole or one round) so bragging rights finally extend out of the range of your living room. All this is integrated nicely into the brand new menu system, which although slightly too complicated for it’s own good, is definitely one step closer to the kind of thing Sony are aiming at with Home – everything around you in 3D space.
However, Photo Face trumps the other features by being completely brilliant in execution – whilst EA’s Game Face facilities have become more and more flexible throughout the last few iterations, your creations have never quite managed to perfectly recreate your own beautiful visage. This is now a thing of the past – connect up a USB camera (hello, PlayStation Eye), take a shot from the front and from the side, and match up a few dots on your profile before leaving the PS3 to go away and model your own face perfectly, to the millimeter. Sure, it takes a while (our test took 15 minutes) but the results are astounding and really help to personalise your game time. And besides, some of the on-screen messages the game delivers whilst studying your chiseled looks are the funniest EA has ever been. Similar results can be got via a PC, too, because EA offer the same feature via a combination of any JPG, their own website and a link up between that and your PSN ID, so there’s no excuse.
Outside of these new toys, though, Tiger 08 is much the same as it was last year, and that’s our singular problem that manages to span the visuals, audio and controls: they’re all just too similar. Sure – there’s new courses, but we’re still short on the last-gen versions, and the eight new pro golfers don’t manage to push to the roster to become an all-encompassing range of the best the sport has to offer. And whilst EA has added some depth of field to the graphics, outside of the main man everything else looks generic and flat – the spectators are robotic, the frame-rate still isn’t nearly as smooth as it was on the original Xbox 3 years ago and there’s just not the physical solidarity and consistency that Everybody’s Golf 5 manages to offer. In addition, Photo Face might capture every spot and wrinkle but why is my voice American, and why do the commentators seem so bored?
Even with the option to use the Clap Hanz three-tap method to swing the club, EA just seems happy to continue to build on top of the existing foundations each year rather than pull the whole thing down and start again. Don’t get us wrong – Tiger is a fine game, and we’re not limiting such criticisms to EA – but this could be so much better: the career mode might be engaging but it’s repetitive and unrewarding, and whilst the multiplayer is solid we’re the kind of gamers that would rather be racing around a MinGol lobby than staring at Tiger’s dull online HUD. If this is your first next-gen Tiger game you’ll be in Heaven, however, which is why a game like this is so difficult to actually score. So, let’s see…