Review: Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’11 (Sony Playstation 3)

Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’11
Developer: Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Genre: Realistic Sports Simulation
Release Date: 6/19/2010

I’ve been pretty critical of the Tiger Woods series of games in the past. This wasn’t always the case; it was actually one of my favourite games on the PS2, with ’06 being a personal favourite that I still break out from time to time. However, the move to the next generation hasn’t been kind to the series, at least in my eyes. All it’s done is allow EA to charge real world money (RWM) for things that either should be in the game in the first place (courses) or used to be easier to unlock (stat-ups and clubs) and let people play online, where everyone learned that you had to shoot in the 50s – yes, the 50s – to be competitive because the gameplay was still broken. I was ambivalent about Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’09 when I reviewed it a couple of years back, and it’s time to take another run at the series – this time on EA’s dime, thankfully – to see if this is the first game that I decide is worth retiring a five year old PS2 game for good.

Lo and behold, the two biggest changes – the True Aim mechanic and the Focus meter – threaten to turn Tiger into something resembling real, actual golf. Unfortunately, some extremely poor design choices doom the entire package – a $60 package just to start with, mind – to mediocrity.

I’ll start with the good: the actual game of golf featured within Tiger ’11 is as good as it’s ever been. The biggest change towards that front is the addition of the focus meter. In previous editions of Tiger, players had the ability to add power to their drives, spin the ball mid-flight, and even see previews of their putts. In ’11, all of those things are possible, though they come at a focus price; every bit of spin or power takes some focus away, and putt previews take a lot of focus. Not using focus during shots lets it regenerate. I like this new addition, as it balances out the game. Remember when I said it took scores in the 50s to be competitive online in previous editions? I wasn’t kidding, because players were bombing 400 yard drives and sinking 60 foot putts with the aid of the tools found within the game. Now, all those shots are going to cost players. This helps Tiger ’11 actually resemble a game of golf. I do have two critiques about the system: one, I think focus regenerates too easily. It’s still possible to abuse the system, so long as people don’t put a lot of power or spin behind their shots. I was able to do fine for the most part using focus only for putt previews and driving on par 5s, which was enough to get me through 18 holes with something to enough to spare. Secondly, there’s no difference between golfers when it comes to focus; a created golfer just starting out has just as much focus, and uses it just as efficiently, as Tiger Woods himself, a living legend when it comes to his ability to zone in and focus. I think this needs to be made a variable.

The other big on-course change is the True-Aim play style. This simulates real golf more accurately by taking away the visual aids. Normally, there’s a circle – smaller or bigger depending on accuracy – that shows where the ball will land, assuming the shot’s accurate and nothing else goes wrong, such as hitting an obstacle. True Aim instead shows a preview as a GPS; it shows the distance, but you don’t know what will happen otherwise. Furthermore, when you hit the ball, you have to watch the ball from where you are, as if you were golfing. This leads to some interesting camera angles on high shots – I’ve had times in bunkers where the camera was focusing very hard on a grain of rough grass – but works well if you can keep it in the short stuff. It simulates real golf fairly well, though EA doesn’t give nearly enough incentive to use it in single player mode. You CAN use True Aim, but you won’t get any more experience points for it, and since you will very likely shoot a lower score, it actively hurts your player’s development if you’re using your created golfer. There’s no bonus for using True Aim except to get used to it for online tournaments that force the mode. Therefore, not many people are going to use it, except as either a challenge or with golfers that can’t get any better.

Putting has a new feature with the precision putting meter, which gives a sweet spot as to where you want to stop the meter for optimal accuracy. It’s more realistic, but it’s also extremely annoying to use with a golfer that’s not very good; don’t even think about it if you’re building your golfer up. For one, the optimal power doesn’t take into effect the putting green, and the putting grid can be hard to read, especially for newer golfers. Therefore, liberal use of the putt preview is going to be necessary to gauge power, especially when it’s raining. Even then, the meter is schizophrenic. It doesn’t take much to knock putts offline, and even when you’re certain that you were accurate with your analogue stick, a golfer with a low putting rating can sometimes just shank his putt. Putting is extremely inconsistent when starting out, and while it gets easier when stats go up – like real golf – it’s a bit too common to three putt when starting out when using the precision meter. I went back to the classic putting that has been with the series for years, and I had a much easier, more consistent experience, even if it rendered a lot of my putting ratings irrelevant.

All other aspects of golf are very well simulated. The analogue shot stick is very well done, taking every single motion of the stick into effect, which can knock a lot of shots off with less accurate clubs. Draw and fade are simulated with the right analogue stick, also well done in that you can see the effect it has on the meter at the bottom, even when you’re using True Aim. The game tends to pick the correct shot for your situation most of the time, though it doesn’t adjust for height, wind or green lie; that’s the player’s job. Playing the short game is much easier than it was in years past, because it’s a lot easier to apply less power to your shot if you need it. In short, this is the best game of golf I’ve played on the links, though it’s hurt big-time by a random bug I’ve noticed: sometimes, especially early in my player’s career, my power just randomly gets zapped by about 50 yards. I went out one time with my max drive power at 197 yards. Even I can drive farther than that, and I don’t play golf!

It’s off the links that problems arise.

The Ryder Cup is the biggest advertised new feature in this year’s game. For serious golf fans, this is a major addition; the best way I can describe it is if golf had a World Series, it was international, and the same two teams played every year. It’s a big deal, but the way it’s integrated causes problems. The format is well done, and you have the choice of using the game’s default golfers, or adding your created avatar to whatever country you choose, but the problem comes when you’re playing team matches. There are no options to skip other shots, either your computer opponents or your teammates. You can skip ahead once they’ve hit the ball, but you have to wait through them lining their shots up; it gets annoying after awhile, especially in foursomes. This brings me to another issue, which is especially prevalent in these foursome and fourball matches: while you can save after different rounds of the Ryder Cup, you cannot save during a round. This is a massive oversight, as this option was in previous editions of the game. Now, when I play Tiger, I know I *must* devote a fair chunk of time to my game or I will not get anything out of it. This isn’t so bad in a regular 18 hole round, but when I’m playing in the Ryder Cup and can’t skip the shots of three other people, that problem becomes a large one.

EA made a big deal out of a new system to make golfers better, using experience points. How this is different from any sports game of the past few generations is beyond me, but there’s a subtle difference in that spent XP can be redistributed after the fact. This is good if you notice a serious flaw in your own game. For example, you notice that you can’t putt for crap, so you can take some points out of control (if you’re like me, you don’t draw or fade a lot) and put them into your putting to help out there. Furthermore, the Swingtuner and Clubtuner that were in previous games incorporate the XP system as well; you can take your golfer into the tuners, experiment with both clubs and stats, and see the results before hitting the links. This is the good news.

The bad news is that XP replaces money for buying equipment – which is used to boost stats – as well. This knocks the balance of the game into space, Team Rocket style. You already start with a horrible golfer – 10s all the way across – who is impossible to score well with because you’re constantly doing little things such as using a 3 wood on par 3s, and needing three shots to reach even short par 5s. You don’t gain a lot of XP unless you game the system – lowering the difficulty, taking True Aim off – to your advantage. Now, you have to spend your precious XP on both stats AND equipment, which means it takes hours upon hours to get your golfer to even a competent level. It doesn’t help that you can’t even buy all of the equipment up front; you have to achieve a golfer level to unlock it, which is reached when you hit certain XP milestones. Of course, this is where I should mention that all equipment is buyable with RWM via the Playstation Store, no matter what level you are; you can also buy stat-boosting items as well. Of course! Just what I want with my $60 game; the option to spend another $20 to make my golfer not suck. To make your golfer good – the legitimate, non-greedy way – takes so much time that the game has to become an obsession, and for most people, by the time they either spend the money or do the work, Tiger Woods ’12 will be out and you’ll have the privilege of spending another $60, potentially another $20 on DLC, and if you bought it used, $10 on the online pass (this is the first EA Sports game to require a code to do anything online. Of course, since Tiger is so integrated with EA’s servers, it’s almost impossible to go anywhere without the online pass, though kudos to EA giving seven day trials for the Gamefly crowd). Knowing this, why would someone who isn’t a *humongous* golf fan bother? Especially since there’s not even a money prize for doing well on the actual PGA Tour, just an ambiguous XP bonus.

Speaking of DLC, there are also courses available online. There are seventeen courses available at start-up, which sounds like a lot, but is only two more than were available in Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’06, and is actually four fewer than was available in Tiger ’07. The courses – including fantasy courses that were available in previous games such as Emerald Dragon – are available for $10 each. There are fifteen DLC courses, so that amounts to ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS if someone wants to play every course available in the game, in addition to the $60 entrance fee. This is disgusting, it’s shameful, and makes me feel like I received half a game.

I’ve talked about how it’s possible to build your golfer up, though it’s slow. The question is, why would you want to, when the vast majority of the online tournaments allow the use of the PGA Tour pros, meaning you can use Tiger at will? Online mode didn’t get a whole lot of changes from previous years. There are still a lot of tournaments with different tiers, including tournaments that require Tour Pro difficulty (taking away the focus meter and its advantages) and those that require True Aim. These tournaments are the only indication of true skill, because even with EA’s efforts to restore some semblance of balance to the game, it didn’t work. I’m looking at the online leaderboard of a tournament as I speak, and the leader of the tournament shot an embarrassing -23 under par at St. Andrews. That’s a 49! That’s a good mini golf score, much less a card on the most famous golf course in the world. Unless you’re supremely skilled – and judging from the names, only a few people are really skilled, since it’s the same names on top of almost all of the leaderboards – you don’t gain much by going online. EA did add a team game, which essentially simulates the Ryder Cup format with up to 24 players. Other than that, not much was done to online mode, but to be fair, not much really had to be done.

It’s also sad that for a PS3 golf game, Tiger doesn’t really look or sound as good as it could. The game runs in 720p, which makes me wonder why they couldn’t make it run in 1080p; if any sports game requires 1080p to look its best, it’s a golf game. Unfortunately, there are jaggies in the player models, and when zooming tightly into courses, graphical tearing rears its ugly head. I thought we got past this years ago! There’s also the option to add your actual face to your golfer, just like past editions of Tiger and FIFA. The good news is that the result is at least more realistic than it has been in the past, and the fact that you can do it straight from the EA Sports website means users on Macs or Linux – like me – can use the feature. The problem is that all of the other editor options – especially hair – are seriously lacking, and I couldn’t get my golfer to look anything like I do in real life because of it, despite the fact that I had my own face mapped in. I hate to say it – again – but my golfer from ’06 looked closer to what I actually am. In terms of sound, the sounds of the course are well done – I especially like that I know if I’ve shanked a shot by the “THUNK” my club makes when hitting the ball – but the commentary team of ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt and the Golf Channel’s Kelly Tilghman, while informative, is also dry as a bone. I don’t expect golf commentators to be Scott Taylor-like clowns, but at no point did either of them say anything remotely interesting, and the repeated lines were plentiful. The whole thing felt phoned in, especially from Van Pelt, who does radio and should be better. The Trax soundtrack sound jazzy, but disappointingly, it predominantly comes from only two artists, and everything sounds the same after awhile. I don’t know if “boring” is really supposed to be synonymous with golf, but that’s how the presentation of this game felt: boring.

The Scores
Modes: Decent
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Below Average
Control and Gameplay: Very Good
Replayability: Classic
Balance: Bad
Originality: Awful
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Worthless
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME


Short Attention Span Summary

For fans of the PGA Tour and golf that isn’t heavily slanted towards arcade gameplay such as Hot Shots Golf, you have two choices: either purchase Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’11, or go forth and multiply. I really wish the choices weren’t so limited. As it is, anyone who purchases this game is getting a serious time drain and the ability to play online, and surprisingly little else. I would recommend this game only to fans of the Ryder Cup. Otherwise, the gameplay changes are nice, but not enough to justify a premium $60, and since this is a Project Ten Dollar game, I can’t even say to get it used instead.

This is a classic case of a game that’s only for serious fans of the series. Everyone else, grab one of the later PS2 versions for less than $10; not only do you save $50, you get more content and a more full-figured package as well.

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