Off the course Tiger may still be hacking his way out of lifeâ€™s deep rough, but for now he is still the face of one of EAâ€™s premier sporting sims. And this year the franchise returns as polished and professional as ever.
On the cover of the latest Tiger Woods PGA Tour, Tiger is joined by British upstart Rory McIlroy, no doubt to promote this yearâ€™s addition of the Ryder Cup to the gameâ€™s long list of playable tournaments. But, not only can you take part in the Ryder Cup, you also get to captain the team. Although the management element this brings in is very light (simply choosing team members or swapping them during the matches) it does add some interesting tactical choices.
To begin with you donâ€™t have to stick to just Europeans for the European team, or Americans for team USA. So if you take charge of the Europeans you can choose the very strange looking Michael Campbell or Danny Lee to lead off your team against Tiger Woods. Also, you are able to switch between matches. So if Danny Lee is three up on Tiger going into the back nine you can switch out of that match to help Michael Campbell make up a deficit against Boo Weekley, to hopefully sweep the pairs by the end of the first day. This switching between matches freshens up the familiar tournament play thatâ€™s been a mainstay of the games for years.
While the Ryder Cup spices up the familiar, the True-Aim option changes everything completely and lasted about five minutes before I switched it off for good. Itâ€™s like when all the EA Sports games changed to the analog stick control, only trickier. With True-Aim you get an ultra realistic view of playing a round of golf. Standing at the tee you donâ€™t get an aerial zoom into an aiming circle. You still get the aerial view but all it shows is the same key distances that your caddy would have for you were you playing for real. A fairway bunker at 220 yards, an overhanging tree at 90 yards and the front of the green 430yards yards away. After you play your shot the camera doesnâ€™t follow the ball through the air to let you add in-flight spin. You simply watch the ball fly off into the distance. After all the years of controlling the ball in flight it feels strange to have to wait till it lands to find out just how well you hit it.
While True-Aim might be of interest for those wanting the authentic golfing experience, most will be sticking the more tried and true perspective. In this regard Tiger Woods 11 adds the element of focus to the gameplay. In the past you have been able to add spin, power, draw and use putt preview as much as you like throughout a round. With focus this all changes. At the beginning of a round you get a fully charged focus bar. Every time you add power to your swing, add spin in-flight, or check the line of a putt, you use focus. If you were to play the way you have in previous games all your focus would be gone after a couple of holes. Luckily, good play (i.e. hitting the fairway) increases your focus slightly. So every round is an exercise in the conservation of focus. Ensuring that focus isnâ€™t wasted on 300 plus drives so there is enough left to line up that tricky par saving putt. Itâ€™s a wonderful little addition that adds greatly to the gameplay.
The skills challenges return, but this year they have greater importance because the experience points that you gain by competing against the professional golfers are a quick way to increase your created playerâ€™s skills. Getting 1000 XP in a challenge, by beating Tigerâ€™s three under on the back nine at Bethpage Black, is a far better way of building up your golferâ€™s driving and putting skills than getting 15 XP for hitting a green in regulation during a normal round. And building those skills up is essential to help you win tournaments or if youâ€™re going to take the plunge into the gameâ€™s excellent online content.
Although the Ryder Cup is again the focus of Tiger Woodâ€™s PGA Tour 11â€™s online components, there are plenty of other great features, tournaments and gameplay elements to spend your broadband cap on. Photo gameface is back so your created golfer can once more be a true mini-you. Finding someone to play a quick match against is virtually instantaneous, although finding someone to take an 18 hole beating is a bit more difficult, with most dropping out soon after they fall five of six shots down.
The Ryder Cup provides the setting for simultaneous 24 player competitions, with everyoneâ€™s shots showing on screen as they are played. There are also single round 24 hour tournaments and four round weekly tournaments for you to try to make it onto the online leader boards. Live weather matches course conditions to real time local weather reports and the brilliant Play the Pros option in Live Tournament lets you match up against the real time scores of players during actual events. So, although I shot a disappointing two under at the AT&T national in Philadelphia early Sunday morning I was able to turn on TV and watch Justin Rose finish his third round at ten under interspersed with highlights of Tiger struggling around in three over.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 does not struggle. Itâ€™s a great game with just the one perennial problem. If you bought last yearâ€™s version, or any from the last three or four years, you donâ€™t need this. There are new courses, as well as some old courses available to buy online, and some new golfers. There are new tactical tweaks and new tournaments for you to enjoy, and the True-Aim option which, if you're like me, youâ€™ll avoid like the plague. The crowds donâ€™t look as two dimensional as they used to and the music and ambient sounds add nicely to the peaceful nature of the game. Add to this weather that totally changes the way courses play, gorgeous lighting effects and a bucketful of gameplay options, itâ€™s obvious that Tiger Woods 11 is still a winner, even considering a billion dollar divorce settlement and a Michael Campbell who still looks very weird.