Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 2005 Review (Xbox)
It's no secret to anyone who follows the PGA Tour: Tiger Woods is not the dominant force he used to be. Some attribute it to his upcoming marriage, some say the field is catching up to him, some say that he's simply in a long slump. Whatever the real reason is, he now is no longer in the hunt at every tournament he enters.
What about his gaming counterpart? Though EA's "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" series has owned console golf for a few years the realistic gameplay, excellent graphics, and top-notch online options of "Links 2004" gave Tiger a run for the top of the Xbox golf leaderboard. Is the virtual Tiger ready to retake the lead?
At the heart of the game is the golf itself, and that's where "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005" struggles to make par. All the features, modes, and unlockables don't mean much if the play on the course itself isn't rewarding and challenging. While the introduction of the new TOUR Difficulty is a direct response to the fans of the series who grew tired of shooting 25 under each time out, it doesn't completely answer the questions of realism that have hurt the series' reputation.
Shot options are impressive, as you can choose between a full shot, punch, flop, chip, or pitch. Each shot type behaves realistically, and offers a nice selection of ways to approach a hole. The addition of the ability to adjust the ball forward or backwards in your stance also helps make the shot set-up more strategic. Though the game as a whole is still focused on the long ball, course management plays a bigger role in this year’s edition, and you certainly are handed the tools to make some strategic shots. The analog swing is fun (though forgiving), and course elements such as rough, wind, and elevation are modeled pretty well.
Unlocked by the time you've played a few rounds, TOUR Difficulty is a new mode that aims to please sim fans. It requires more precision in your swing, allows a greater chance of a mis-hit, increases the effect of wind and rough, and removes the Caddy Tips when putting. You can use this mode whether online or off, and when playing offline you can get three to one odds on your wager if you agree to play on TOUR Difficulty. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, this makes a huge difference in the game. I had finished two rounds of a tournament when TOUR Difficulty unlocked, and was sitting at 18 under. I ramped up to TOUR Difficulty, and shot one under for the next two combined. If you are looking for challenge and close to real-world stats, TOUR Difficulty combined with low attributes and some options turned off may fit the bill.
Although they have provided sim gamers with a new mode, EA has once again given in to the arcade side of the game this year on a few key issues: spin and putting. Though it can be turned off in the slider settings, Spin Control is on by default in all difficulty modes. This means that spin is determined in the air, by moving the left stick and tapping the black button. As any golfer (or anyone with a basic understanding of real-world physics) can tell you, once the ball leaves the clubface, you're done controlling it. All that remains is to hope and pray. I think it's in there specifically to counteract that feeling of just watching helplessly, and keep the player involved all the way through the shot, but it's simply not golf.
Putting remains a major concern in this year's edition. You line up a target for your putt, accounting for the read of the green. In default mode, you'll get Caddy Tips telling you exactly where to place this target, but you'll lose these in TOUR Difficulty where you'll need to read the green yourself. In every mode, though, you'll have Tiger Vision available. Though a knock on the series has always been that the putting was too easy, this new feature makes it even easier to putt. Depending on the putting rating of your golfer, you'll get from one to four uses of Tiger Vision per round. If you choose to use one, you'll automatically read the green as Tiger sees it. You'll be provided with a marker where the target should be ideally placed, and given a few seconds to line up your targeting marker. If you do that, and swing correctly, the putt goes in. Though it's something that can be ignored, it’s yet another arcade element in the game. The putting is easy enough normally, and adding between one and four automatic putts a game just makes what should be the trickiest part of the game that much easier.
Even if you accept the difficulty level of the putting, the actual mechanics of the putting game remain a major flaw. After setting that target, you need to take a full swing with good tempo to make that putt. While the need for good tempo makes putting a bit more difficult than past editions, taking a full swing whether you are 2 feet away or 20 feet just isn't golf. There’s no sense that you are trying to put any touch on the ball at all, as you take the same swing on every putt. I can understand the decision from a design perspective: once players have mastered the full swing required of the long game, don't force them to learn a new game once they are on the green. But any golfer will tell you that putting is, in fact, a completely different game. The mechanics are utterly different once you hit the green, and any game that aims to simulate golf needs to reflect that.
If "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005" leaves the putt a little short in the gameplay department, it's an easy eagle when looking at the features and modes. I can't think of another sports game that offers more gameplay modes, unlockables, and fun extras. From a clubhouse decorated by your accomplishments to a full 10-year PGA Tour to course design to battles against the "Legends of Golf" themselves, there's more than enough to please any golf gaming fan.
New this year is the addition of golf legends such as Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. They feature prominently in the Legend Tour section and in the Legend Scenarios. . The Legend Tour replaces last year’s World Tour, and asks you to work through a series of matches against both current PGA tour players and fiction creations trying to unlock each Legend. In the Legend Scenarios, you are faced with a set of challenges for each of the legends that make you prove yourself in the aspects of the game that made them so great. The set of Seve Ballesteros challenges, for example, will test your recovery skills whereas the Gary Player challenges test your skills in the short game and on the green. It's definitely a fun way to get some appreciation for golf history, and it forces players to work on more aspects of the game than just driving the ball as far as they can. One of the most appealing features of last year's game was the Game Face technology, allowing you to create any golfer you could imagine. They’ve upped the ante this year by adding a slew of new options, as well as a full swing editor. The amount of options available is stunning, and you should easily be able to create an eerily accurate representation of yourself, if you’re interested. It’s especially fun with this year’s new online modes, as you can get together with your buddies on Xbox Live, and show either yourself … or what you wish you were.
This year's major new feature, TigerProofing, is about as close as you'll get to a fully-fledged course creator in this generation of consoles. As you progress through My Legend Pursuit, you'll collect Legend Coins that are used to buy courses to add to your Dream 18. Once you buy a course, you can then alter the holes by adjusting almost every aspect. While the 1st at Pebble Beach will always remain a 331 yard soft dogleg to the right, everything on top of this basic skeleton can be adjusted through sliders: length of rough, width of fairway, undulation of the green, depth of the bunker, strength of winds and on and on. You can even unlock fantasy options with Legend Coins like purple fairway grass with dollar signs mowed in and a Bulldog logo on the flag. While the underlying hole remains intact, it's almost unrecognizable after you've completed your alterations. However, while a course creator is all well and good, it would be a side feature at best in most games. In "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005", it becomes an integral part of the game, as you attempt to gain Prestige for the course you are creating. The more difficult it is, the more prestige it gains. With a high enough Prestige Level, the Legends will challenge you on your course. For tips on how to get them to show up, you can unlock Design Secrets as the game progresses.
Put a birdie on the scorecard for online play. This is the first year that Xbox Live gaming is available, and the options and implementation are very impressive. There are online tournaments hosted at least a few times a week where you play against the leaderboard, as well as plenty of head-to-head play. The options for head-to-head play are deep, allowing you to set a shot clock, difficulty, and a host of other options. As you play in both offline and online modes, you can even establish a handicap, which can also be used online. Just as in the real game, this can allow golfers of varying skill levels to play against each other on a more level playing field. A real innovation in the online arena is wagering. You earn money with each online session, and this money can be used in an Online Pro Shop for clothing, clubs and the like.... or you can use it to bet on a match. While it's only virtual money, I see this combining with handicaps to really extend the online life of the game. It's a shame that foursomes and user-created tournaments couldn't be implemented, but overall the online play interface is excellent. There weren't online users while I was writing the review, but I did some tournaments (where you play solo against the leaderboard) and set up matches. Unless there are major performance issues in head-to-head play that I didn’t see, the online mode is a real strong selling point.
GRAPHICS & AUDIO
Unfortunately, Tiger closes out the round with a bogey in graphics and audio. The graphics are one of the weaker features of the game on the Xbox. Though the graphics aren’t horrible, the game just doesn't match up with other golf games on the system. The textures are pretty flat, and exhibit some pop-in. On many holes, if you are pitching on to the green, you will actually see a more detailed texture roll over the flat texture of the green you get from a distance. Just ahead of the ball is a wave of detailed grass textures, while the green ahead of that is just a flat green color. These types of graphical issues plague the game, and really detract from the beauty of the courses. Though the courses are constructed well, the lack of textures makes it feel cartoony and unrealistic.
The audio is passable, nothing more or less. The commentary is lifeless, and most of the lines will be familiar to those who played the 2004 version of the game. The on-the-course atmosphere is fine, though unexceptional, and the menu music is actually one of the better EA Traxx. If you’d rather listen to your own music in the menus, Custom Soundtracks are available (though the back of the case says otherwise), but are implemented poorly. I know I was able to get my soundtracks playing in the menus, but I'm afraid I can't describe how. I started playing around, and they suddenly worked.
Overall, Tiger shoots a solid par. Though the engine itself doesn’t match some of the better games in the genre on both the Xbox and PC, it certainly plays a passable game of golf. It’s got an arcade flavor, but definitely delivers a fun game. While hardcore sim golfers will want to take a pass on it, more casual gamers will appreciate the forgiving qualities.
The features are what really put this game over the top, as you are getting a ton of gameplay for your $50. Just working through each mode would take you until the inevitable 2006 edition, and I doubt you’d be finished then.