Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 14 – Masters Edition
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: 3/26/13
Typically when I play golf, it is the kind that involves windmills, pirate ships and dinosaurs. Still, when EA offered our website the opportunity to review the latest Tiger Woods release, I jumped at the opportunity to see what it was like to play a game that represented a sport that millions enjoy. If you’re looking for the opinion of a veteran of prior Tiger Woods video games, I will try my best to cover the known differences.
Popping in the game will give you a video promo of the differences between past Tiger Woods games to this one, which I’m sure will be of benefit to those players, but I was a little annoyed that I couldn’t skip this. The audio for this section is also terribly compressed and sounded crackly. Thankfully, this wasn’t an issue for the remainder of the game, though the menu music occasionally had some issues.
Once in the game there are a ton of options for getting your golf on. New to the series is a mode called Legend of the Majors, a challenge mode which allows you to play through most of the historical moments in golf, with the legendary golfers involved in those moments. This is a fantastic addition to the game whether you are a fan of the sport or, if you are like me, the most you know about golf you learned from the movie Happy Gilmore. This mode really helps explain the roots of the sport and provide context for who some of these legends are. The mode also does a great job presenting each area uniquely, from adding sepia tones and film grain to some of the oldest events to other filters and changing the replay graphic to match the time period. The clubs used are accurate as well, and there’s really a ton of detail to this mode that makes it feel like something more than just a challenge ladder. Of course, that’s a part of it too, with different challenges that have two different requirements to meet. Each challenge has a requirement to be met to just pass the stage, and an additional Legend requirement that is more difficult. This mode covers more than one hundred years of golf history, and the dedicated golf fan can easily sink in a lot of time into Legend of the Majors. Beating this mode also unlocks the legendary golfers to play with and lets you set up dream matches. Want to play as Tiger Woods taking on Bobby Jones? Bubba Watson versus Arnold Palmer? Now you can.
The game also comes with a career mode, where you can create your own golfer and advance through the amateur ranks to play in the PGA. The create a golfer system is well done, with the ability to manipulate a lot of the small details to create a reasonable facsimile of yourself or to replicate another golfer. In my case, I chose to create Bagger Vance, the character played by Will Smith in the 2000 movie Legend of Bagger Vance, in the hope that the mystical wisdom he provided in that movie might help my own golf game. I was able to create a fairly accurate Will Smith thanks to the number of sliders in the game, such as making his trademark goofy looking ears stick out the appropriate amount, though this is also the first time I’d ever used an ethnicity slider in a video game. Sadly, Bagger Vance’s trademark wisdom about life and golf failed to flow through to my created character. The first tournament I tried, I went +15. My long game was fine, but all of my years playing mini-golf and mini-golf video games did not translate well into the putting game. I chased that ball around the green like it owed me money or said something foul about my wife. Playing the career earns you experience points, however and you can earn those from practically doing anything right. You get a little from getting the ball on the fairway or green, for getting it in close, hitting it in the hole off of the green, hitting the flagpole, eagles, birdies, PAR, etc. Then, you can use those points to upgrade the stats of your golfer, and leveling up also unlocks different equipment and more clothes to wear. I’d say better clothes, but have you seen what golfers wear?
I ran into a problem pre-release that was frustrating to me. In the early levels of developing my character, I decided to put points into putting, since I was having more trouble than a blind man in an outhouse at finding the hole. Initially, I played offline, but then the game reminded me that I couldn’t earn coins and EA points by playing offline. So connected I went… only after connecting, the game would lock up any time I tried to add more experience points to my created golfer. I would have to go offline to do this. I’m not sure what the problem was, but it went away as I continued to play, and on Sunday I was able to do this while connected. If you do end up with this same issue, just disconnect and you should be fine. For a game that heavily suggests that you be online, and has a lot of support for being connected, it was odd to experience this issue.
Over time I was able to get a better handle on the putting game, and while I could already see some other golfers in my Country Club racking up scores in the negatives that I don’t think I’ll ever manage to reach, I stopped being a bogey-man, started to get PAR on most holes, and now feel better about Bagger’s chances of maybe someday playing alongside the great players of the game. Had I wanted to create a female golfer, the career mode also has the LGPA to play through. If I wanted to keep up my movie theme I could create Pat Pemberton and let fictional characters dominate my golf game.
If you’re looking to just play through a quick game, there are a number of different options provided. There are twenty courses to choose from in Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 14, with an extra five added if you are playing the Masters edition of the game. You can choose from that weeks featured event, or play through a Quick Tournament. With Quick Tournaments, you can jump to the final round of any of the tournaments in the game. Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 14 includes all four of the Majors: The Masters, The US Open Championship, The Open Championship and the PGA Championship. There’s also the PGA Tour, the LPGA Tour and the EA Sports Tour. From there, you can choose the number of players, set human/CPU control, and select from a variety of pre-crafted scenarios. You can also practice on each individual course, with a number of multiplayer game types like Stroke Play, Bingo Bango Bongo, Battle Golf and so on. If you are trying to improve just one aspect of your game, you can do so at the Augusta National Practice facility. That’s what I eventually had to do to try and figure out what I was doing wrong while putting.
Then there are connected online tournaments, where you can compete live against other players and even see their shot arcs while you are playing. These tournaments are broken down into different skill levels and sub categories as well, if you just want to play a quick five hole game. You can also Play The Pros, but there were no tournaments available to try out at the moment.
Country Clubs are back in this year’s game, and this time the limit on members is up from twenty five to one hundred. Country Clubs have their own leaderboards, tournaments and rankings. If you aren’t sure what Club to join, just do what I did and let the game automatically place you, or if you want to, create your own. Competing in Club events elevates your Country Club, and aside from those perks, you can also take on other Country Clubs in Head to Head battles. These tournaments are available from either the Country Club screen or the Connected Tournaments menu. There’s also a separate online mode, whether you want to play against other Club members or just want to play against anyone else. You can set up your own lobby to find players for specific game types, or you can search through a list of what’s available.
Finally there’s a whole menu of extras, which is where you can find the tutorial if you need it, a list of the rules of golf, individual legendary golfer biographies, pictures of Augusta National, and the ability to take a virtual tour of either modern day or 1934 versions of the Augusta National course. As you can see, The Masters edition of Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 14 comes packed in with a lot of content.
Graphically the game looks great. As mentioned, the game applies specific filters to different time periods, but this dedication to the presentation is shown in every aspect of the game. The golfers are very well detailed and the courses look nearly photo-realistic. Trees sway with the wind in the correct direction that is shown on the HUD. The TV style presentation is done extremely well, and both look and sound a lot like what you’d see on TV. There is limited audio in the game; aside from the announcers, there is some light background music in the menus and ambient noises for the courses. The bird sounds are realistic enough that my cats ran around in front of my TV for a minute looking for the birds. The announcers are spot on with their calls, and their little comments when you do poorly are surgical strikes to your nerve endings. The sound effects are accurate to the experience overall as well.
The game uses Total Swing Control to control your swings. This is surprisingly deep, as each golfer has differences between the types of shots that work better for them. There are Power golfers and Control golfers, and as you might expect from the names, the Power golfers can get more distance at the cost of sensitivity in the accuracy of the swing, while Control golfers may not get the distance but provide the accuracy that a player might need. Both are worth trying out to see what might work the best for you. There are also different levels of height that golfers swing the ball at, plus fade and draw shots and handiness to take into consideration.
When you are golfing there is an indicator that shows about where you can expect your shot to land with the club you’ve selected. You can change clubs with the R2 and L2 buttons and change the distance set with the D-pad, or move the cursor to adjust for wind and weather conditions. With the Left joystick you can zoom from your golfer to the landing area or zoom down to the ball, and with the right joystick you can set up the draw or fade amount. When you’ve set up how you want to make your shot, you hit the X button, and a power meter will swing into place in an arc around your golfer. On the Heads Up Display in the lower left hand corner will be a circle with a set of parallel lines down the middle (though this may change depending on how the draw/fade is set). You swing with the left joystick, while the power of the swing is measured by the head of the club and where it is on the highlighted power arc. Then you push the stick forward to complete the shot. How straight you pulled back and pushed the left joystick in will show in the circle in the corner, and if you deviate from the straight path, then it will affect the shot you just made. The speed with which you moved the stick and if you over swung or under swung on the power arc will also affect the swing, and therefore how you hit the ball.
That seems like a lot to remember, however, the visual aids make this very easy to understand and manage not to feel cluttered or unnatural on the screen. When you get on the green, there will be a grid with pips that run along the grid that will show the direction of the way the green lies. Putting has a different meter, and for the longest time until I started checking the upslope/downslope level on the green I’d consistently over or under shoot the ball. On some of the lower difficulty levels you can hit the L1 button to show a guide to where the ball is estimated to roll, which you can only use once per hole, but is extremely useful.
The controls are easy to get used to, but there is a depth to the system that took a bit for a newcomer like myself to understand. There are multiple difficulty levels for those new or experienced to the game, and some of what I described above will change depending on what you choose. Amateur difficulty, for example, will not only lower the computer AI, but will also turn on nearly every assist, like automatically centering the strike spot on the ball and making it easier to use the Total Swing Control. On the harder difficulties, these assists will be turned off, and on the newest difficulty, called Simulation, the game turns off the visible power arc for swinging, the MPH the wind is blowing, the grid and the pips for putting, and so on. If you are the kind of player that routinely scores -26 on a round, then that might be the kind of challenge you are looking for. As a new player, I found the Pro difficulty to be perfectly fine.
The game can also be controlled with a Move controller on the PS3. I played this with a friend on local multiplayer, and I cannot recommend playing this way at all. There is a lack of visual aids found normally when playing with a controller that are gone with playing with the Move, and no matter how we tried different kinds of swings, we ended up with different results. Stroke Limit Exceeded was the notice we routinely saw. Maybe it was a matter of lighting or distance or something else, but playing with the Move controller had the potential for being a fun golfing experience but was not, at all.
I mentioned earlier that when connected online the game lets you earn coins. There’s a whole subsystem within the game that appears to have been added for microtransactions, that sort of reminded me of Mass Effect 3‘s multiplayer. You earn coins through playing, or can straight up buy coins with real money, though I’m not sure for how much, since that portion of the store was not available pre-release. With the coins, you can purchase packs, and the packs contain Boost Pins. You can use the Boost Pins in many portions of the game, up to three at a time, to boost different statistics, such as ball spin and so on. Personally, I don’t understand the need for these; if you suck at the game, the Boost Pins will not really help all that much, trust me. The game provides you with five for free, and I wasted most of them in Career and it didn’t keep me from putting horribly. Only practice helped that. The use of these pins can be turned off in multiplayer, and some difficulties don’t allow the use of them at all. You can also spend coins and purchase the next level for a created character instead of just playing, though again, the meager stat increase is nothing compared to just playing the game well. I don’t really understand the need for these things; they don’t really feel like they have a place in the game, but are there, I guess, if you really want them. While I’m glad these microtransactions never feel required or unbalance the skill of the game, I don’t get why they’re even there. At least they’re easy to ignore.
After playing Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 14 – Masters Edition, I’m not sure I’m going to give up playing golf with windmills and trade my putter in for a whole bag of golf clubs, but I now have a deeper appreciation for the sport. The sheer dedication of the development team to covering every aspect of the game, from the history of the sport, to the way you control swinging a club, to the TV style presentation, down to the virtual tour of a major golf course, all adds up to a game where you can feel their love of the sport in every corner. Aside from brief technical issues with the odd game lock up in Career previously described, some long loading screens, an unneeded microtrasaction system, and complete frustration with using the Move controller, everything else about this game is a golf fan’s dream, and I’m not certain how they’d be able to top this effort. If this is the last current generation Tiger Woods golf game, then they went out with a bang.
Shout Attention Span Summary:
If you’re a fan of golf, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 is for you. The game includes most of the major historical events, all of the major tournaments, the LGPA, and more. It captures nearly every aspect of the sport with a devotion that is admirable.