Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 Review (PS3)
By Stevie Smith Sep 9, 2008, 20:04 GMT
Luscious courses, perilous bunkers, treacherous water traps, attentive crowds, world renowned sportsmen and a certain Mr. Tiger Woods… namely all the prerequisites for EA’s annual revamp of its longstanding PGA series. Yet, as with almost all yearly sporting updates emerging from the sprawling EA stable, does Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 offer up a mere lick of golf-tinted paint or genuine sporting progression?
Folks, let’s not forget this is simulated golf. Beyond driving off the tee, finding a good lie on the fairway, chipping onto the green, and putting for glory, what can EA actually do to avoid producing little more than a shinier version of what it has already produced? Well, very little in terms of actual gameplay.
The PGA series has long-since been a faithful simulation that’s far-removed from arcade imitations and, as such, giving Tiger and pals ballistic irons and telescopic putters just isn’t going to impress the actual sports fans who choose to buy into this particular franchise.
In terms of gameplay immediacy, little has changed in an evolutionary sense over last year’s release, with club swing and power largely governed by thumb stick movement, while spin and boosted power is mapped to either the ‘L1’ or ‘X’ buttons for that little button-mashed extension of ball control. It’s all instantly familiar and fluid and, although some may decry the lack of enhancement, in this case the trusty old ‘if it ain’t broke…’ gaming cliché certainly applies.
Choosing to strangely devolve rather than evolve, EA has actually opted to resurrect the classic ‘3 Click Swing’ control technique used to such good effect in prior Tiger Woods releases. For those not familiar with this (strictly optional) retread, the player presses ‘X’ to fill a power gauge, then presses ‘X’ again to stop the power gauge at an optimum point, and then ‘X’ once again to determine resulting shot accuracy.
While obviously not indicative of forward momentum for the overall franchise, the ‘3 Click Swing’ is a novel distraction for a while, but in no way a replacement for the intuitive thumb stick control method.
That said, if there are PGA players suffering to get to grips with the many subtle nuances of the game’s control mechanics, then this year’s update provides gameplay assistance in the form of personal performance coach Hank Haney. Tiger’s very own coach, Haney periodically pops up and provides handy hints, tips, and performance-influencing challenges to help hone a player’s fluctuating skill set as they tackle the game’s 16 courses.
Appearing, in the main, at the conclusion of a full round of golf, Haney assesses everything from drive, putting, and the short game and doles out increased or decreased skill stats depending on how well (or poorly) the player performed. His influence is most clearly felt during the game’s expansive career mode, influencing the player’s ongoing abilities and, to be fair, helping to improve vital understanding and execution through extra mini-challenges that can temporarily boost stats.
Haney’s touch on the game is also evident during the all-new Club Tuner mode, which enables players to, as the name suggests, fine tune their array of clubs in order to extract optimal performance when swinging wildly before an adoring crowd of spectators. Moreover, Haney takes the player through custom drills that replicate in-game moments of dire failure, allowing the player to benefit by learning what they did wrong and then practicing and improving for future in-game reference.
While the concept of painstakingly tweaking club power, draw, fade, and spin across a bulging bag full of drivers, woods, irons and wedges might fill the casual player with a sense of dread, Haney’s reassuring presence makes securing elusive ‘sweet spots’ an (almost) enjoyable process that doesn’t require lexicon-esque knowledge of the sport’s most intricate details.
All-in-all, the inclusion of Haney is certainly welcome. Indeed, gameplay impact aside, the only point of detraction that can be lumped on helpful Hank’s shoulders is that his in-game representation looks as though he’s carrying about 15 years more on his face than Tiger’s faithful real-life performance coach.
The EA label all-but guarantees a gamut of gameplay modes, and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 doesn’t disappoint when it comes to variety. While players can jump right onto a course as Tiger and begin driving for instant glory, there are also 12 traditional modes (Skins, Matchplay, Stableford, etc.) for both single and split screen multiplayer, a further eight mini-games, an involving character creation tool (with photo-based facial capture) and, of course, an in-depth and longevity-friendly Career mode -- the latter of which is likely to suck up the most time for single players.
And, from an improved multiplayer standpoint, this year’s Tiger introduces four-player simultaneous match play, which allows golfers to take their shots without waiting around for ‘their turn.’ The result of this is much quicker, more enjoyable golfing that allows players to focus on their own games while the progress of their competitors is constantly relayed on-screen via real-time shot arc overlays.
In a visual sense, Tiger Woods PGA 09 is undoubtedly a good looking game, but there’s only so much that can be done with predictably plush fairways, glistening water effects, bushy backdrops, sweeping helicopter shots of each upcoming hole, and a predominantly green colour palette. That said, everything is present and accounted for and oozing EA polish, golfing stars (although a little thin on the ground) are varied, accurately captured, and beautifully animated, and Mr. Woods certainly looks satisfyingly tigerish and smug whenever he beams his pearly whites.
Progress is also somewhat hamstrung in the audio department, with golf not lending itself convincingly to the sound of explosions when teeing off, amusing cartoon effects when pinging the ball into trees, or exaggerated screams when punting one into the crowd. Again, the game ticks all the right boxes but doesn’t stretch itself when it comes to ‘bettering’ the steady and gentle atmosphere that generally accompanies a leisurely round of 18 holes.
In actual fact, if anything, the overall sound performance is somewhat sullied by the decision to forego chuckle-inducing colour humour in favour of recruiting moustache-faced Sam Torrance to the commentary team. Without insulting Torrance’s outstanding professional golfing credentials, to say his aural delivery is droll to the point of being without enthusiasm is something of an (undead) understatement. Poor move by EA on that one.
It’s also worth mentioning that, while there’s plenty on offer for the more dedicated, knowledgeable and impassioned simulation fan, those less attuned to the sport and just looking for a pick-up-and-play experience are also well catered for.
This is thanks, in the main, to EA including plenty of handy default settings (and Hank Haney) that remove unnecessary fiddling and allow players to concentrate on simply revelling in the visual and aural ambience while gleefully swinging, driving, chipping and putting their way around any given course, challenge or tournament.
Equally as accessible as it is involving, EA has managed to pseudo-evolve the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series with some appealing gameplay ‘extensions’ while maintaining a firm grip on ease-of-play through a successfully intuitive control system, gently tiered challenge, and glossy next-gen visuals. Ultimately, what emerges is a genuine sporting representation that’s likely to satisfy existing fans while unfortunately passing ineffectually beneath the radar of those who think Tiger Woods is simply a place they shouldn’t visit alone at night.