GOONL!NE Review: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11

Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Console Played On: Xbox 360
Also on: Playstation 3
Release Date: Friday 2nd July 2010
Age Rating: ESRB: E for Everyone
Reviewed by: David Pitchforth

Tiger Woods has been in the news a lot more than usual for the past 6 months or so, and not for the kind of reasons he’d like. Car crashes, extra-marital affairs, lost endorsement deals, divorce proceedings and some of the worst performances of his golf career have all made the headlines, and the once perfect-looking life of Tiger has been turned on its head due to recent events. He still remains hugely popular though, despite all of his troubles, and EA stuck by him in continuing to name their golf game after him. Fans of the long-running series will be pleased to hear that it remains as strong as ever, with a smattering of small improvements that help to make this one of the best console golf simulations there’s ever been.

Over the years the Tiger Woods series has been more about refinements and minor additions rather than huge overhauls, and this year’s entry to the series is no different in that respect. In Tiger Woods 11 we’re introduced to two new gameplay elements in True-Aim and Focus, see the career mode get a little tweaking here and there, and finally get to see the long awaited debut of the Ryder Cup.

One of the main changes to the Tiger Woods game this year is the addition of the True-Aim system. This mode takes away a lot of the aids that we’ve become accustomed to over the years. Gone is the ability to zoom into the course and pick a nice landing spot for our drives and approach shots. Also gone is the ball tracking after you’ve hit your shot. Instead you have to aim your shots by sight only, using the overhead view of the hole to try to gauge distances effectively to try and select the correct club. It’s much more like playing real golf, relying on perception of distance instead of using the accuracy circle to perfectly line up a shot. As someone who plays golf it’s definitely a more realistic way of playing the game, though some people will no doubt find it infuriating when they misjudge distances and end up leaving the ball in the rough or a bunker.

To make the game even more of a challenge, EA have introduced the Focus system. Focus is used whenever you want to do something out of the ordinary with your shot. Want to crank up the power and gain some extra yards? That’ll cost you some Focus. Realise the ball is going to roll off the back of the green and want to add some backspin to get it closer to the hole? That’ll take off a nice chunk as well. Even using the Putt Preview, a staple of the series and a feature most players rely on, will cost you a large chunk of Focus. You’ll regain some Focus every time you hit a shot that doesn’t require any extras, though only in small amounts, which brings in a lovely new layer of strategy to the game. You now can’t rely on the Putt Preview every hole, or utilizing tons of spin and power on every shot. If you do, you’ll find yourself quickly running out of Focus, usually when you’re 50 foot away from the hole on a sloping green and could really use it. You need to budget your Focus and get by as much as you can without it, adding a kind of course management dynamic to the game, forcing you to use your own skills without assists as much as possible. It’s a great addition to the series.

If you combine the two features of True-Aim and Focus together, you’ll find that Tiger Woods 11 now offers a new challenge for many players. For a lot of people, the Tour Pro difficulty is just a little bit too challenging, but they may find the lower difficulties a bit too easy. If you switch to the True-Aim system you’ll find it’s become more of a challenge than in recent years, without the sometimes harsh punishments found in Tour Pro.

The addition of the Ryder Cup is something that many golf fans have been waiting for. The biennial tournament pits the best golfers from America against the best from Europe in a team event played over 3 days. This 28 match tournament sees 12 golfers from the United States and 12 from Europe battle individually and in teams of 2 to try and reach the winning score of 14 ½ points, with a full point given for every match won, and half a point given to both teams for matches that are drawn. In the event you’ll play on your own and with a teammate, doing your best to win the points for your team and secure the famous trophy. If there’s one problem with this mode, is that when you’re playing as a team, you can’t skip any shots either from your teammate or your opponents. It’s not a huge issue, but some people like to skip these shots and just concentrate on their own game. I don’t mind it too much though, as it can put extra pressure on you when there’s only a few holes to go and you’ve just seen your opponent land an approach shot 6 feet from the hole, and in the Ryder Cup, that’s the kind of pressure you should be feeling. The Ryder Cup is a welcome addition to the series though, and can be played separately or accessed as part of the single player career.

One area that hasn’t seen much in the way of improvements is the career mode, which is still very much the same career and challenges that we’ve seen in the past, with various tournaments to play throughout the year, and various skill challenges against all the pros to try and beat to earn extra experience. One thing that is different however is the use of that XP, which is now used to both upgrade your skills, and purchase new equipment, so you’ll need to balance out how you spend it wisely. Importantly though, any points you spend on improving your skills can be redistributed at any point, so if you feel your long game is excellent but your putting is lacking, you can swap some points around to try to level your skills around to a level you’re happy with.

The online side of the game also hasn’t been touched much, except to add in the Ryder Cup as a 24 man team event. The same tournaments and challenges that were available in previous versions of Tiger are still here, as well as the GamerNet challenges that will appear as you play courses, challenging you to drive the ball a longer distance, or get it closer to the hole than other players. The online side of Tiger has always been very solid though, so there wasn’t any real need to tinker with this area too much.

Graphically Tiger Woods 11 has seen a few small improvements from last year. EA have added a nice clothing effect that sees your clothes blowing around slightly with the wind, and the greenery seems to have been given a small lick of paint to give it a little bit more realism. The character models are still pretty much the same as we’ve seen the last couple of years, and while they look pretty solid and they animate really well, they could really do with updating them a little, as the game doesn’t look that much better than it did a few years ago.

The same can also be said about the vocals in the game. Kelly Tillman and Scott Van pelt do a good, solid job on the commentary, giving advice about your shots and keeping you up to date with movements at the top the leaderboard. However, they can be pretty underwhelming at times, especially during the Ryder Cup, which is meant to be one of the biggest team competitions in any sport. Should you find yourself on the final hole, ready to sink the winning putt, don’t expect any special commentary to mark the momentous occasion, because it just won’t happen. It’s a real shame as well because many golf fans have been waiting to take part in the Ryder Cup for years, and while it’s a great event to play in, it would have been nice had some extra effort gone into making it feel even more special.

Final thoughts: The Tiger Woods series of games has been around for so long that I can appreciate how hard it must be to think of new modes and improvements that will take the game to the next level. With Playstation Move and Kinect around the corner, the next iteration of the Tiger series will surely take full advantage of the motion controls to produce something completely interactive. Until then, the improvements made to Tiger 11 see it arrive as the best console golf game around. While it does have some minor niggles, they’re infrequent and won’t spoil your fun while playing. If you have Tiger Woods 10 it may be hard to justify upgrading at full price for the small changes here, but if you’re new to the series, then this is definitely the version to get.

Gameplay – 9: It’s the same great Tiger Woods gameplay we’re used to, with the addition of True-Aim, the Focus system and the Ryder Cup. Lovely.

Graphics – 8: Some nice new effects such as clothes that ripple in the breeze, but the character models are virtually the same as previous years and could possibly do with an update.

Sound – 8: The two commentators do a good job of keeping you up to date with the action at the top of the leaderboard, though they could definitely do with some more vocals for the Ryder Cup.

Presentation – 8: It’s an EA Sports game, so you know the presentation is going to be great, though I wish they’d put more effort into making the Ryder Cup feel more special.

Overall – 8: The addition of the Ryder Cup will be pleasing to lots of fans, and players seeking an additional challenge will welcome True-Aim and Focus. There aren’t too many changes over Tiger Woods 10, but what is here is welcome, and it’s still the best golf game on the market today.