Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 Review (Xbox 360)
Golf has an unmistakable empty feeling nowadays without Tiger Woods prowling around golf courses on Sundays. Luckily for us digital sports fans, we can now partake in a round of golf against Tiger, torn ACL or not in real life. Better yet, we can take in a round of golf as Tiger in this year's edition of Tiger Woods from EA Sports.
Tiger Woods 09 is the best edition of Tiger I have played yet; however, there are some bad design decisions that keep the game from achieving truly legendary status.
Fans of previous games of the Tiger Woods series will feel right at home when they power up their Xbox 360 consoles. Swinging is largely the same, putting will not be any different than before, and overall, if you were good at previous editions, you should be good now.
The career mode in Tiger Woods begins a bit differently this year, with Hank Haney starting you out on your journey to golf super stardom. You begin your career by doing drills to test various portions of your game and then your skills are rated based on how you performed. This new way of rating your game then fluctuates after each round depending on how you played on the course.
Hank Haney teaches you the ropes this year and evaluates your game.
The drills Haney puts you through consist of testing your power, accuracy, short game and putting, all of which comprise your golfer's final ratings. Power is simple to explain, as you just try to drive the ball past a certain point. I took the test five times and I crossed the line each time. The accuracy, short game and putting drills consist of you trying to place the ball in a circle on the green, which is near the hole. Getting a respectable skill level on each is relatively simple if you are a veteran of the Tiger series.
This new approach to your customized golfer's ratings is a great new twist on the game and is very similar to Tiburon's other big title's (Madden NFL 09) twist on dynamic skill levels in the sense that it scores you after each round. I was able to get my golfer up to respectability after several rounds of golf coupled with the Tiger Challenge feature. After you reach a decent level, it gets harder and harder to improve your game and thus, getting up to truly elite status takes a bit of work as you must meet certain benchmarks -- such as average putts per green -- to reach the level you want to reach.
Another new feature that you will find off the course is the new club tuner. The basic premise of tuning your clubs is to maximize your score by enhancing certain areas of your game. Haney will give his recommendations for this process, but you can go the prima donna route and choose to just set them without taking his recommendations into consideration. There is definitely a bit of risk/reward with the tuner, as you sacrifice performance versus ease of use as you tweak the club, but more advanced Tiger and golf fans will appreciate the added bit of depth while customizing their golf bags -- even if it is a bit unrealistic in real-life terms.
EA has executed the golden rule of video game design (at least according to me) by creating a game that is extremely accessible to new players, while adding enough depth to make even experienced players feel challenged.
As I stated earlier, when on the course you will find that Tiger is a very similar playing game as before, which is a good thing. EA has executed the golden rule of video game design (at least according to me) by creating a game that is extremely accessible to new players, while adding enough depth to make even experienced players feel challenged.
The new swing instant-feedback meter is an extremely helpful way of detailing what is wrong with your "swing" as you move the analog sticks back and forth. This will help you iron out some bugs and such with your swing as you try to continually fine tune your game. The meter gives you instant feedback: It tells you how well you struck the ball via a line through a ball on the lower left portion of the screen, and whether you hit the ball off center with your analog stick movements.
You could also opt for the three-click swing system as well, but I personally did not spend more than a hole playing with it. Three clicks works, it is functional, but it's just not how Tiger 09 was meant to be played.
The sensitivity of your analog stick has been improved quite a bit and makes for a much more realistic brand of golf overall. Not to mention, in conjunction with the club tuning feature, you have a perfect way of trying to figure out a way to make the game play best for you. The tuning feature works by adjusting the sweet spot of your club to make it easier to hit a ball longer while shrinking the sweet spot sacrifices your ability to hit a good straight shot. The club tuning feature gives you options, because you can make the game harder or easier, and in general it allows you tune the game to your liking.
The courses, especially the grass and water textures, are much improved.
Out on the course, when trying to hit good approach shots or even drives on narrow fairways you are going to have to have a steady finger most of the time to achieve the accuracy you want. With the instant swing feedback meter, you can instantly tell why a ball is sliced or straight based on how you moved the analog stick during your swing. In short, you now know why you messed up a shot instantly. In the end, you will have to have a better "swing" with the analog sticks this year (even more so than last year -- which was much tougher than '07) in order to hit the fairways and nail your approaches consistently.
Closer to the hole, I found the pitching and chipping games to be largely the same ones I have been playing for years now. The accuracy is a bit more sensitive, but in all reality veterans of the series are going to step right in and be able to manage their short game without much fuss.
When playing against AI golfers, fans will be happy to find out the rubber band AI has been eradicated from the game...
On the greens, you will find the putting game is largely unchanged. This news will make many veterans clamoring for a change unhappy, but the system isn't as bad as it could be. The speed of the greens still has a big impact on putting and you can still judge power during your backswing. Really, if you didn't like the system in year's past, you will not like the system this year. In my opinion, the putting system needs an overhaul sooner or later, but it is far from the worst ever concocted for a golf video game.
When playing against AI golfers, fans will be happy to find out the rubber band AI has been eradicated from the game, at least from my experiences. My poor created golfer wasn't all that good, so my contention stories are few and far between. However, when I played against the AI it never felt cheap. I never felt like the game was trying to keep me in the tournament or the rest of the field was trying to catch up. I played through the opening tournament in Tour mode four times to see how varied and realistic the results were. The lowest winning score was -10 while the highest was -13 all under similar conditions through a four day tournament. All in all, the whole single player experience has been improved markedly this year.
...still having no mid-round saves is a travesty. This absolutely must be at the top of the list of things to add next year since it will make the game more accessible to those people who lack the time to play a whole round in one sitting
Of course, Tiger 09 is not perfect. In fact, there is just enough wrong with the game (or missing in one case) to make me wonder what the decision making process was when it came to some aspects of the game. First off, still having no mid-round saves is a travesty. This absolutely must be at the top of the list of things to add next year since it will make the game more accessible to those people who lack the time to play a whole round in one sitting. I can't tell you how many times I have had to cut a round short, never to finish it, because I had to go do something outside of my virtual golf course.
Also, the commentary might be some of the worst I have heard in a video game in a long time. Quite frankly, it's just plain bad. The comments are "on" in terms of relevance, but there is absolutely no life to them at all and I really feel that the game would have been a lot better if it was just the natural sound of the golf course in the game instead, which is done extremely well. Really, it's the same lines recorded by much worse announcers and the whole thing just sounds terrible. This is a baffling decision and it makes no sense why the commentary is so bad. This is the type of commentary that is so bad it will actually detract from the overall game experience somewhat.
Tiger never looked so good on a gaming console.
Another thing that annoys me to no end is the fact half of the game's courses are locked at the beginning of the game. Now you can choose to pay some hefty fees by hopping on Live to unlock them right off the bat (gag) or you can play the game and do it the old fashioned way, by unlocking them. Either way, having half of the courses locked from the get-go in Tiger is the equivalent of firing up Madden but having the NFC teams locked at the beginning of the game and unplayable in "play now" mode. It makes absolutely no sense and to me -- half of the game being unplayable at the onset is a huge deduction to the overall game's value. This is no longer the '90s and it is no longer cool to have most of a game locked up and unplayable at the start.
Of course, when you finally do get to play on the courses, they look absolutely beautiful. The Tiger team has redone a lot of the textures and graphical elements as well as the lighting to create the best looking golf game yet. However, as with most other sports games, the graphics of Tiger 09 just can't compare to the best graphics of other genres. As far as sports games go, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 is one of the best looking games I have played thus far though.
On the online end of things, Tiger Woods 09 does not disappoint. The simultaneous play feature is one of the greatest ideas and features implemented for online golf yet. It does take something out of the experience in a competitive sense, but not having to wait forever for other people to shoot is just an amazing thing. The experience has been relatively lag free (the shots updated very quickly), and the color trails allow me to track other players.
The new GamerNet Challenges are a great twist on online golf as well. Quite frankly, EA has begun to break into the potential of online golf. All in all, the online experience is the best yet for the Tiger series and it very well could be among the best yet for golf games in general.
In short, if you enjoy golf in the least bit or if you need a good game to play with friends, buy this game -- just ignore the announcers as best as you possibly can
Final Thoughts: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 is one of the greatest golf video games ever. However, there is just enough wrong and just enough that isn't great to keep the game from being truly timeless. Does the game beat out heavyweights such as Links 2004? I think it's close. If the Tiburon team keeps at it, next year's game could very well be the best golf game ever.
In short, if you enjoy golf in the least bit or if you need a good game to play with friends, buy this game -- just ignore the announcers as best as you possibly can. This game isn't a 9 here at OS, but it is as close as you can be without getting it. Give the Tiburon guys another year of refinement, and give them one more chance to remove antiquated game design choices like locking courses by default and this series has a legit chance of getting a perfect score.
On the Course: The best Tiger game yet on the course. It is perfectly accessible for newcomers and can be difficult enough for advanced players. I dare say if the team keeps it up they could near perfection very soon.
Graphics: Very good, but not great. Jaggies and the lack of "details" really disappoint me. I want to SEE the little things. The flag and your clothes flapping in the wind, actual good looking character models in the gallery, birds, etc. The environments aren't alive.
Sound: The natural sound is really good, some of the best I have heard in a sports game. The commentators though? They are some of the worst in video game history; it stinks of pure laziness and is unforgivable in terms of the final score.
Entertainment Value: The game is fun, very fun. You will appreciate all of the little quirks and the strategy that goes into a round of golf if you keep at it long enough. Tiger is one of the best dorm room games out there.
Learning Curve: If you can do three things, you can play this game: aim the ball, pull the right analog stick back, push it forward. However, to master the game it will require quite a bit of time and practice. In short, the learning curve is perfect.
Online: Perhaps the best online golf ever with the GamerNet Challenges as well as the simultaneous online play. Golf could be one of the greatest online sports out there and I think EA is finally realizing that fact.