Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09ESRB:
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: Electronic Arts
1-4 Players (Offline)
HDD Space: At least 10 MB
Dualshock 3 Compatible
PLAYSTATION Network Compatible
1-4 Players (Online)
Another year and another version of EA’s venerable Tiger Woods golf. I have been a fan of videogame golf since the days of the Sega Genesis, and it was EA’s original PGA Tour that really hooked me. Since that time I have seen EA evolve golf games into what they have become now (e.g. analog swing). Recently however it seems that Tiger Woods has become somewhat stale as each version released is similar to the next. I don’t know if it is complacency or not, but with EA owning the exclusive rights to the PGA Tour license there is no competition in town. I recently had the chance to play the 09 version of Tiger Woods on the PS3 as my review copy finally arrived. After some time with the game I have to say that although nothing really blows you away, there is definitely enough here that fans of the series should be relatively happy, and any newbies should be hooked right away.
The visuals in Tiger Woods are solid. In terms of the characters, you sure can tell that Tiger’s name is on the cover given that he looks pretty darn good. As for the rest of the golfers, they look ok but you can tell that Tiger’s likeness got the majority of work. Regardless each golfer is pretty recognizable and the fantasy golfers are just as solid as the real ones. If I had any complaint in the players it is that during their swings there seems to be some frames of animation missing, as if something happened. Maybe it is the computer AI plotting their shot, or changing the club, but it just doesn’t look fluid or smooth.
EA claims to have worked on the in-game environments such as improved oceans and streams, updated spectators, new skies on all courses and even sun haze. And to tell you the truth, some of this is quite noticeable. I found myself staring at the clouds when playing a round on St. Andrews, and I didn’t even know I was doing it. The same goes for the water, as I was staring at a stream on Wolf Creek during some online multiplayer with a fellow staffer and I commented to him how good it looked. There is definitely some upgrading as the game does look different. Textures are pretty solid and everything manages to have a somewhat realistic look to it. That being said, I think that EA needs to spend sometime updating the visuals as a whole though as this version looks only somewhat upgraded from 08 as there is not a monumental leap, and I think a leap is what the doctor ordered. Regardless the 16 available courses look pretty darn sweet and most will be happy with the work that went into this game.
As for the general sound effects, they are as strong as those in past versions of Tiger. From the sound of the club hitting the ball off the tee or out of a sand bunker, to the reactions of the crowd in response to a well placed or poorly placed shot, all of them seem bang on. Environmental sounds for each course are alive and kicking too. You will hear the surf hitting the shore at Pebble Beach, the gusty winds at St. Andrews and even roaring of tigers at Sheshan Golf and Country Club in China. Everything seems very well represented. And of course everything is in Dolby Digital 5.1 too, so if you have a good surround sound set-up you will actually hear all the sounds around you.
As for the music, for some strange reason I found myself enjoying the EA Trax selection in Tiger 09. Anyone who read my Madden 09 review for the Nintendo Wii knows that I was not a fan of that music, but this time around I didn’t find myself heading for the remote to turn down the music. Although I didn’t recognize a lot of the musical artists the tunes really seemed to fit the game for me. This was very evident when I was trying to make my Game Face and the EA Trax was playing while the machine did its thing. I actually found myself turning up the volume on my receiver and enjoying the musical sounds in front of me. That my friends is a true sign that I didn’t mind the music at all.
Although the sound effects themselves are solid, and the music isn’t that bad, I have a major beef with EA in terms of the audio, and it has to do with the commentating. Anyone who has played any versions of Tiger in the past have become accustomed to the mainstay commentating of Gary McCord and David Feherty, however this year they are no where to be found. EA, for some strange reason, has brought in the new duo of Kelly Tilghman and Sam Torrance, and unfortunately they just don’t do a good job. Now I know that commentating in golf is not the most exciting thing to listen too, but these two new commentators don’t do the game justice. Their comments are somewhat flat, boring and just don’t make it an engaging of an experience. At least Feherty and McCord made the commentating sound like good golf commentating, whereas the new duo just doesn’t cut it. Believe it or not it does affect the overall feeling somewhat when you are playing in your career and you have to listen to these two try to commentate. Because of this fact, it does affect the overall score in the sound area.
So as I sit here typing up this review I ponder how to start this section of my thoughts. I figure the best way is to start with what modes make their presence felt. There are quite a few game modes, ranging from traditional play to mini-games, which can and will take up one’s time. Of course veterans to the Tiger Woods series know what these are, but there are still people who have not played any of the previous versions in the past. For the uneducated, you have stroke play, match play, and skins, all which are well known modes of play in the real world of golf. There are also a lot of other traditional modes that newbies to the series may not know. Veterans of the series should skip the next few paragraphs as they go over a lot of what is already known from past games. Anyhow, for newbies to Tiger the other modes are as follows:
- Bingo Bango Bongo: Match play where each word of the title represents a point earned on a per hold basis. Bingo is first on the green, Bango is the closest to the pin, and Bongo is best score.
- Stableford: Points are based on the score of each hole (e.g. eagles, birdies or pars) and the final score is the sum of the points earned over the course of a round.
- Alternate Shot: 2 on 2 where players on the same team take turns hitting the ball.
- Best Ball: 2 vs. 2 where both players on each team play their own ball through the round and on each hole the low score of the group serves as the team win.
- Four-Ball: A 2 on 2 matchup where every golfer plays their own ball. The team wins a hole when either member posts the lowest score.
- Greensome: A 2 vs. 2 matchup where you and your teammate choose your team’s best drive, then alternate shots from that point on for the rest of the hole.
- Bloodsome: A 2 vs. 2 game where the opposing team chooses the tee shot your team has to play from. Then you and your teammate alternate shots for the res of the hole.
- Battle Golf: a 2-player Match Play event were the winner of each hole removes a club from his opponents bag or adds one back to his own.
- One-Ball: Here you play with up to four people and alternate shots with your opponents using the same ball until someone puts the ball in the cup. You must hit the ball within the “Circle of Trust” to preserve your spot in the rotation. If you land outside this circle then you must miss a turn. The player that puts the ball in the cup wins the most points. The player who sets up the winner’s shot gets zero points and the other players, if more then two, get small amount of points.
Of course there are also the briefly mentioned mini-games in Tiger Woods as well. Again, Veterans to Tiger can skip this but for the rookies to the series you can play the following mini-games:
- Target: See how much money you can earn with only 20 balls to hit.
- Target to Target: Rack up money when hitting the targets in a defined order.
- T.I.G.E.R.: Like the well known kids game H-O-R-S-E. You must make a shot and your friend has to make the same shot or he gets a letter.
- Capture the Flag: Take turns hitting at targets to capture them.
- Putting Contest: Putt closest to the pin in three attempts, closest ball wins.
- Approach Contest: Three chances to get closest to the pin on a chip shot.
- Closest to the Pin Contest: Get closest to the pin from the tee box. Again, three attempts to win.
Long Drive Contest: Outdrive your opponent to win. Again, three chances for the longest drive.
Customization also makes a return back to the 2009 version of Tiger. Here the Game Face feature allows you to make a player that looks just like you. You can either use the in-game models, or you can use an actual picture of yourself via a digital photo that you upload to the EA World servers and then download to your console. You can then alter a lot of character from hair, eyes, cheeks, jaws, nose and more. I took some time and surfed the EA Sports Tiger Wood’s site and it seems that a lot of people are having issues with this system working right. I also noted that many people said the picture does not look like them as much as they had hoped. Regardless, if you can get it right it can be rewarding to see a resemblance of your image on the screen. Of course there are also clothes and equipment for you to buy in the Pro Shop to further your on-screen persona.
All of these modes are well implemented, and for those new to the series, there is a heck of a lot to do. For veterans to the series, it will feel like home as you have seen these types of modes quite a few times before.
For those needing to know, there are a total of 16 courses to play on. Out of these 16 there are five new ones and they are: Gary Player Club in South Africa, Wentworth Country Club in England, Sheshan Golf Club in China, Wolf Creek in Nevada and Bay Hill Country Club in Florida. There are also many returning PGA and LGPA players, as well as some new international Tour regulars such as Se Ri Pak, Darren Clark, Nick Dougherty and Rory McIlroy to name a few. And along with the professionals come a few fantasy golfers including eight new ones which I will not be giving away here in this review. Trust me; they are fantasy golfers to say the least.
I have to say that although there is a lot of the same again; EA did make some notable additions to the 2009 version of Tiger. Something you’ll notice off the get go is your new performance coach Hank Haney, who just happens to be Tiger’s real life coach. His job is to guide you through your career right from the start of the game focusing on all the skills you will need to use as you play each round of golf. He will continually provide you with tips on how to increase your skills, something that you do need to do to be successful in this game. He will first grade you on four simple attributes (power, accuracy, short game and putting) and from there you will commence your career in Tiger Woods 09.
So I am sure you are wondering why Hank grades and comments on your skills. Well new to Tiger this year, and something that really impacts the game, is how your skills are more dynamic then ever before. In past games you trained and earned skill points that were automatically placed into specific areas (e.g. accuracy, putting, chipping, impact and luck to name a few) and you would eventually maximize each skill. Well gone are these days. This year your skills fluctuate up and down depending on your performance. So if you are putting well, or hitting your initial drives straight down the fairway, your attributes in these areas will rise, however if you start to tank in specific areas then of course your skill level will decline. I like this new system as it somewhat reflects real life. Should you remain consistent you are rewarded appropriately, and should you start to show weaknesses in specific areas, then of course you are penalized accordingly. That being said, you still can take skill tests in each area at random points through the game for performance boosts, and you can buy items to give your skills a further small boost, but in the end it is your consistency and skill that dictates how good your player is.
Should you still find yourself lacking in some skill areas there is another new feature that is quite helpful. Now you can tune your clubs to maximize your swing. Yep, you heard me right; you can tailor your clubs to help you compensate for a problematic swing. Just hit the driving range, take a few swings, press the R1 button and hear Hank’s take on the club. He will offer his advice on what you should do to increase the usefulness of the club you are working on. You will be able to tune the workability, spin, loft, draw and power tendencies of each club. However there is a cost for this, that being the more you tune your clubs to compensate for the misgivings in your swing, the smaller your ‘sweet spot’ becomes. So, if you are tuning to fix minor quirks, then it won’t be that bad, however if you attempt to fix a bunch of major flaws in your swing by tuning, then your sweet spot becomes very minute. This addition is a cool feature as it can really help your game, and it adds a bit of strategy in the sense that you can fix a little or a lot depending on what you are willing to sacrifice.
Another new addition that I want to talk about is a new real-time feedback meter that is implemented in Tiger 09. This is found in the bottom left hand corner of the screen. It becomes visible when you start to take your swing. What is really neat about this is that it visually shows you your backswing and follow-through in real time. So, if you are not straight in each of these parts of your swing you will see it right away. You will see what exactly you did during your swing. I found this a very useful tool as it showed me right away where my backswing went, and if I was WAY off I didn’t follow-through and I started my swing again. This may not seem like a huge addition, but I can honestly say that it is one of the most useful things you will rely on in the game and it really does stand as a big feature in the game.
The GamerNet experience is back with a vengeance this year and EA has made some improvements in this area too. There is the all new Instant Challenges where you can earn points in any game mode and climb the daily leaderboards. Challenges such as long drive, approach shots or putting will appear in every game mode in Tiger 09 allowing you to challenge the best from the world via the GamerNet feature. Of course you are still able to post clips of your amazing skills online like you did in 08 as well.
Control in Tiger 09 is still one of the strong points. You can choose to use the analog control or you can opt to use the old-school three button press method. Surprisingly enough some people still prefer to use the old school method as they find it more accurate then trying to actually gauge a swing as they can see the percentage in front of them on the meter. That being said I do not fall into this group as I think the analog swing is more realistic as it is just like golf in real life, you need to figure out where a certain percentage of any given swing lies, and not look at a meter to judge it. Of course you still have the ability to draw or fade your shots too, and it is just a matter of practice. Overall I found that I could be relatively successful in my game, however it was just a matter of both practice and building up my created characters skill level that really made this game become that more playable. Again, just like real golf.
This leads me to the multiplayer component of Tiger 09. Here there is one final addition that has to be mentioned. There is brand new, and much appreciated, online simultaneous play mode. Here you can now play with up to four players online at the same time. Gone are the days of having to wait for your opponent to take his shot. This is very reminiscent of Links on the original Xbox. You will now see colored ball trails from each player you are playing with. Should you finish the hole ahead of others you can then watch the other players finish up their hole. This by far is one of the most long overdue features in a Tiger Woods game. My limited time online with the PS3 version was pretty trouble free in terms of lag and network issues. Of course you are able to play all the modes in multiplayer, be they online or offline, and it adds a lot to the game of golf. In many ways I think that games like Tiger are meant to be played with other people, given that golf is a social game in real life.
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