I don’t get to golf very much, if at all, any more. There was a time when I’d get to go out two or three times a month, but that hasn’t happened in a very long time. To satisfy the craving I get when I feel the need for greens, I’ve had to rely on Tiger Woods PGA Tour. As great as the PS3 and 360 versions are, they don’t really replicate the feel of being on the course nearly as well as the Wii version does. Last year’s effort was pretty impressive, thanks in large part to the addition of Wii Motion Plus. I didn’t think there was very much to improve on from strictly a game mechanics standpoint, but I’m happy to say I was wrong. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 not only provides you with a more true-to-life swing experience, but it also makes a strong case for being the best golf video game ever created.
The biggest change to this year’s game comes in the form of two new swing difficulties, and a new camera angle, which puts the action in first person. While the three swing options from last year still remain, and are more than adequate, Advanced Plus and Tour Pro swing difficulties add depth and challenge I wasn’t even sure the console was capable of simulating. Advanced Plus takes last year’s addition of Motion Plus to the next level, and incorporates draws and fades much more realistically. The plane of your swing is tracked better than it was last year as well, and as highly as I sung the praises of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10, these new simulation-styled control schemes make last year’s game look like an arcade title. Tour Pro takes Advanced Plus one step further, incorporating the ability to shank your shots horribly, and you can even miss the ball if you don’t keep your form on your downswing. The location of your impact on the ball is tracked, meaning even if you hit a ball with 100% power, if you don’t hit the ball cleanly, you won’t get the full distance the club is capable of. I certainly don’t have the greatest form, and being largely self-taught, I’ve had no way to know just what I was doing wrong on the course. Tiger 11 is by no means an effective replacement for a real teacher, but at least I’m able to get instant feedback about what I did wrong, or right, on any given swing.
When playing with the Tour Pro difficulty, you will have to play the game with the True View, which puts the game completely in first-person. Depending on what difficulty you’re playing on, you’ll also have to rely solely on yardage markers on the course to effectively figure out the distance between you and the hole. As you address the ball, instead of the camera staying just behind you on the tee box, the camera will pan down to look at the ball. After you swing, the camera looks up to follow the ball’s flight path, but stays positioned where you were standing. You’ll have to rely on the announcers’ and crowd’s responses to tell if you hit a good shot. At first, this camera angle was a little jarring. When playing Tiger, I typically would stand perpendicular to my television, and swing away as if I was standing like the computer version of myself on screen. I found it difficult to line up my shot properly as it was hard to swing while looking at the television from that angle. Once I switched my stance to be parallel with the television so that what I was looking at on screen appeared to be between my feet, my shot totals dropped tremendously, and my form improved almost instantly. Now I’m not saying that I was suddenly hitting birdies on a regular basis, but instead of taking ten or twelve shots to reach the green, I was more in my range of five to eight shots. Typically, I shoot around a 110 on a given course. I can shoot a little better in Tiger 11, if only because I’m able to rip somewhat unrealistic 280-yard drives, but I found after a few rounds that the results I was getting in the game were consistent with what I would do in real life.
Fortunately, you’ll be able to cater the game’s difficulty to suit your style, and even if you pick one of the more advanced swing options, you can still have the basic putting (Classic), or play the game on an easier difficulty setting. Unfortunately, putting is still incredibly difficult, despite the slight improvements to the green reading mechanics. The Precision Putting settings gave me some trouble last year, but I figured with the improvements in other areas of the game, the putting might improve as well. It’s still very hard to read which way the green is running, and even more confusing to try and hit putts with any consistency power-wise. It’s extremely frustrating when you can get to the green in regulation, then end up four-putting for a double bogey. While I’d be quick to take the blame for poor performance myself, it’s not a learning curve issue. This is one aspect of the game that doesn’t benefit from Wii Motion Plus as it actually makes putting way too sensitive. It’s a shame that the rest of the game has improved so much, and putting has suffered, but hopefully it won’t be an issue again next year.
In addition to the standard career mode, which has seen some small adjustments to make it more accessible (like better experience distribution), the Ryder Cup has been added as a new game type. Like the real Ryder Cup, you’ll pick your team (US or Europe) of eight players, along with four alternates, and take on the opposite team in a series of two-person and single matches in an effort to win the Ryder Cup. For better or worse, the entire game roster is available when putting your team together, so the US team could have European golfers on it, even though that wouldn’t happen in real life. Though you pick your partner at the start of the Cup, you can switch out to any other team after any hole if it appears that your team’s victory is in jeopardy. I never had the need to swap myself out for another person, partially because the team I put together consisted of only the top rated golfers in the game, but also because I teamed myself with Tiger Woods. Even if I managed to blow a few shots, he was right there to back me up in the co-operative events. That’s not to say that we were invincible, though. The computer, on either side of the ball, will make mistakes, just as real golfers are prone to do, but it’s up to you to capitalize on them. Failing to do so will likely end up with the match halved, and leave you with less of an advantage later in the Cup. There’s also a momentum meter, which you can fill by hitting great shots, that will influence how well the rest of your team plays. Sadly, only your performance has an effect on the meter, no matter how well the rest of your teammates are playing. The Ryder Cup provides a nice change of pace to the standard golf season, and if you find that you’re unable to progress very far in the weekly tournaments, you may find yourself having a better time in the Cup as you can’t be eliminated early. The Ryder Cup can also be played by you and three other friends offline.
Disc golf returns as well, albeit with a bit more difficulty. There are no more “gimme” shots when close to the basket, which provides more of a challenge, but can also be incredibly frustrating. There’s nothing worse than getting up in two, and then having to take three or four tosses to get the Frisbee into the basket because it keeps bouncing off the chains. EA has added Mini Golf to this year’s title, and with four different 9-hole courses, there’s plenty of variety. I’m just glad to see that EA’s looking for ways to make the game more interesting for a wider range of audiences after the success of disc golf in Tiger 10. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed playing disc golf with my friends, but I love playing mini golf, and now I never have to worry about the weather or whether or not I have a group of friends to go with. I can just play in my living room at any time. Golf Party is back once again; only this time you can also play any of the mini-games individually instead of having to go through all of the events.
Perhaps the largest disappointment comes once again from the presentation department. Character models do look better than they did last year, but courses and clothing, as well as the crowds, look flat. All of this is in spite of supposed improvements to the graphical engine. I know that the Wii isn’t quite as powerful as other systems, but I’ve seen plenty of games on the console with graphics embarrass those in Tiger 11. The commentary from Scott Van Pelt and Kelly Tilghman is actually slightly better, though it should be noted that like any sports title, many of the same phrases will be repeated over and over again. The ambient crowd noises are solid, if unspectacular. They do however work well with the True View camera, and you do get a sense of how great or poor a shot was depending on their reactions. Despite the graphical shortcomings, and the standard audio track, the game is still a great deal of fun to play, and as long as you’re having a good time on the links, these issues shouldn’t deter from your experience one bit.
Online modes have been beefed up slightly from last year. Disc golf is now playable by you and up to three other friends, and you still take part in daily tournaments and challenges. None of these modes were available prior to review, but you should hopefully expect virtually the same online experience as last year.
Though I thought Tiger Woods PGA Tour would never be better than it was last year, I was proven wrong once I spent some time with this year’s version. The new swing types more than make the game worth the purchase, and all the game modes will provide hours upon hours of playtime. Motion Plus has been a blessing for the series, and I hope that both the Xbox and Sony development teams take note of what’s working in the Wii version when the Natal and Move versions of Tiger Woods PGA Tour eventually begin development. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 is a shining example of what a sports video game should be, and the developers should be extremely proud of the steps the game has taken from its inception to get where it is today.