Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09: All-Play
Name: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09
Genre: Sports Simulation - Golf
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PS2 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Every year at this time, like clockwork, EA Sports releases its holy trinity of sports titles; Madden, NHL and Tiger Woods. We’ve already seen what this year’s Madden has to offer (a lot), and after last year’s stellar performance, we can be fairly certain that the NHL franchise will bring us more of the same excellence this year. But what about Tiger? Last year’s offering was a bit of a mixed bag; most gamers agreed that the gameplay was as tight as ever, but many people felt the game wasn’t different enough from 07’s offering, and that the changes that were there didn’t help the game in any noticeable way. While this year’s model is unquestionably built on what has come before, the few new tweaks that are included largely help to streamline the experience.
From a gameplay standpoint, there’s not much new here to report on. Your club swing is still controlled by the left thumbstick by default, though the alternate three-click system instituted last year returns as an option. The Swing Meter makes its debut this year, and is a welcome addition that seems about five years late in coming. No longer will you have to wait and see how straight your shot was; the swing meter shows you in real time exactly how woefully off-center your backswing and downswing are. Your power boosts, club selection, fade/draw and aiming are exactly the same as they were last year. In fact, pretty much everything that happens between the tee and the green is exactly how you remember it if you’ve played the series since 2005. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; the swing mechanics, thanks to the benefit of years of fine-tuning, are just about perfect, and the ball physics never act in a way that’s unexpected or suspect. It’s the same solid engine that the game has run on for some time now, but in all fairness, why fix what’s not broken?
All the traditional modes you’ve come to expect make a return here. You’ll still be able to compete against a friend or the computer in match play, stroke play, Stableford rules, Bingo-Bango-Bongo, and a handful of other modes, as well as the usual selection of mini-games. For solo play, the meat of the game is to be found in Career mode, where you build your custom golfer and compete in PGA Tour events as well as Tiger Challenges. On the links, there’s really nothing new to the Tour. The only innovation is the new skill system. Instead of spreading earned progress points across a dozen categories, your golfer’s abilities are divided into four categories; Power, Accuracy, Short Game and Putting. When you first begin your career, Tiger Woods’ real-life coach, Hank Haney, will put you through your paces and give you a starting core for each category. As you progress through your career, your stats will increase with exceptional play and decrease if your game falls off. Between rounds, you’ll be able to take part in practice games that help boost your stats further. The system does scale back some of the earlier incarnations’ almost RPG-like customization elements, but in the process, it makes the game more accessible to those who haven’t been playing the franchise for the last decade.
Once you’ve got your golfer hitting shots like a pro, you’ll probably want to bring your duffer online to challenge the rest of the world. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 introduces the most exciting and efficient way to do this with its Simultaneous Online play. Instead of watching online opponents hit their shots before taking your own, Simultaneous Co-op allows all four golfers to hit their shots at once. Each golfer’s ball leaves a brightly colored trail as it flies so you can see exactly how everyone else on the hole is performing. It cuts game time by 75% without losing any of the content, and makes the whole experience more frantic, exciting and addictive. It makes one wonder why they didn't implement this as an option for single player games as well. There’s also the GamerNet Instant Challenges which present you with driving, approach and putting challenges against the online community at large. These challenges are always on, even in single player (as long as you’re hooked up to Xbox Live), and are a fun new way to measure your game against others without having to go through a series of online menus. All of the mini-games are available online as well, making for the most robust online experience you’ll find in a golf game.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 doesn’t look much different from 08 or even 07. There have been some slight graphical upgrades, most noticeable in water textures, and there seem to be entirely new swing animations for all golfers, but overall, the visual presentation doesn’t differ much from that of its predecessors. Create-A-Character mode is back, and it hasn’t seen much of an upgrade. You can still upload your photos and map them to your custom golfer’s face, then tweak the features to make a near-perfect replica of yourself, and if you’re familiar with previous versions’ editor, you shouldn’t have any trouble here. From the audio standpoint, everything sounds the way it should n the course, with lots of subtle ambient sounds making the most of surround sound systems. A new team of commentators joins the cast this year, and while some may miss the soothing voice of Gary McCord, the new guys are unobtrusive and perfectly capable. I have witnessed occasions where the commentators drop out for several holes at a time, but even then you’ll barely notice their absence.
As a longtime follower of the Tiger Woods franchise, I can safely say that 09 is the best Tiger Woods game in the series so far. That being said, it’s not a perfect game by any means; it’s a bit on the easy side, seemingly perfect shots will occasionally go nowhere near their aim indicator, and the coaching mini-games are tedious and seem overvalued. The minor innovations and improvements aren’t flashy or particularly sexy, but they definitely enhance the experience and are all welcome additions to the series. The golf mechanics are as tight as ever and should provide a satisfying golf experience to almost anyone willing to put a little time into the game. Sadly, there’s still no trace of the coveted course creator, but hey, there’s always next year, right?