Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters has finally arrived. For any golf fanatics out there you're going to be spending hours upon hours in front of the television explaining to your wife the importance of being quiet as you try to sink the 30-foot putt.
All of it is for the coveted green jacket.
I'm going on year two of reviewing Tiger Woods PGA Tour and I have to say that I'm really quite impressed. When I played it last year for the very first time I wasn't really sure on what to expect from a golf game. I had played them before in the past, but I didn't really get 'hooked' on them. It's golf, right? There's only so far a company can take the game of golf before it starts running out of ideas, right? You would think that and you would be wrong. I was 'wowed' last year by Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 and all the fascinating creative additions EA added.
This year I needed more to keep my interest at bay and EA Sports delivered.
While not much had changed dramatically in the gameplay department, there had been a few tweaks to make the golfing experience better. One of the no-brainers is the ability to carry over XP from last year's game into this year's game. That can be compared to finishing NCAA Football and carrying over your player into Madden NFL, though not quite on the same impact scale. It's nice not to have to start from zero and re-build what you've already built up in the previous year's game, so this is pretty nice.
Another enhancement for the more recent generation of 'instant gratification' gamers is the ability to play Fast Golf. This allows players to go through a full round of golf in half the time. So it cuts loading corners quite a bit and speeds up the experience so that you can get in your game before you have to go out and make public appearances with family and friends. Honestly, this is more like something you would find at the beginning of the video game golf era where details were short and games were quick. I like this option and, again, it works well when you just want to relax and kick back.
Now with all this said, the biggest enhancement for me is the ability to save games in the middle of tournaments. Being a father of four there is little to no time to sit down for a consistent amount of time and game. It comes in spurts until everyone is in bed then it's 'game on'. Even that has its limits as it lasts only between 3-5 hours at a time, depending on how tired this old man has become from the day. EA Sports has provided the ability to stop in the middle of a tournament and choose 'Save and Quit'. When you return days later and choose the tournament you were playing it simply asks if you want to resume where you left off or restart the tournament. You might look at this as something simple or something that doesn't deserve this much typing; I simply see it as one of the best options they could have added. I don't like having to restart a level if I have to leave it and quite honestly you shouldn't have to do that. So, kudos to EA Sports for adding this feature.
As for the other mechanics of the game, you have focus intact, power swinging and other fine features that you're use to over the years. You still get club upgrades, different pro shop options and ways to improve your game through XP spending. With that said, I think the putting has gotten more difficult for whatever reason. I know that putting was my shortcoming in last year's game, but eventually I got use to it. In Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters it seems to have gotten a little bit more frustrating, though it is tolerable. I've gotten down getting the ball to the green without a hitch. I can get a ball to the green in two hits on a par 4 course. As soon as I hit the green it's all a bit shaky. The indicators are not as accurate as last year and the caddie, which I will talk about next, doesn't give great advice when putting. You'll need him on occasion, but more often than not he's a lying bastard when putting (too harsh? maybe). In all seriousness, his advice is right about 50% of the time, so use your gut when you're making that put on a fast slope to the right. This is my biggest complaint for this year, and it honestly just might be me.
Anyway, speaking of caddie, it looks as if EA Sports took their coaches idea from Madden NFL 11 and applied to Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12. The caddie in this edition plays a significant role in the game, as he shoots out advice for shots. While I can't say much for his short game advice his long game advice is generally very useful. When I first started playing this game I was going manual on every shot decision; not trusting my caddie at all. That got me nowhere in the game fast. So, I threw caution to the wind and started using his shot selections to help me out on the course. Pars and birdies started rolling in and a happy, trust-filled relationship was started with my caddie. What's interesting about the caddie is that as you get better in the game and win tournaments his advice gets better and better. His skills will grow with your skills and the experience of the game gets remarkably deeper. That's not to say that he doesn't play cautiously sometimes and you'll be required to make a judgement of your own, but more times than not he'll definitely help you to win. People may not like this option, but much like Madden NFL it's a part of the game and it belongs. I enjoyed it and felt like this made the title that much better.
Now, let's talk extras. In Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters you are given the opportunity to relive Tiger Woods moments in The Masters. When you first begin the game you'll start out with Tiger Woods in one of these moments. Since he has dominated the sport (maybe not recently, but he is still damn good). For hardcore golf fans this is probably a really fun thing to do. For me, it was neat, but it wasn't the reason I was playing the game. I think that EA Sports did a fantastic job in recreating the moments, but again I would rather build a career from scratch in the game then play moments already played out in Tiger Woods' life. This certainly does belong under 'extras' in my opinion.
Speaking of The Masters, how does that come into play? Well, EA Sports makes you work for the chance to play in The Masters. You will be given certain tournaments to play through on your way to Augusta. You will have to complete certain goals in the tournament and even be required to obtain a PGA Tour card along the way. The game certainly sends you through the field on your way to the ultimate competitive tournament that is The Masters. For me the road was long and rough, but it was well worth the effort. Along the way I got to see different golf courses beautifully represented in the game. For example, when you get through your amateur status and hit the PGA Tour you'll get to play in places like TPC Scottsdale, which is a gorgeous yet deadly course (deadly in the sense that you have to be extremely accurate and aware of your shots). Getting to The Masters can be compared to taking a cross-country trip. Sure it's a four-day experience, but you get to see so many wonderful things on the way.
The trip, while tough, is definitely worth it. Along the way to The Masters you will also find many chances to earn XP by doing certain things on the course, like avoiding water hazards for a round or getting a birdie on a par 5. EA Sports really does a bang up job on making the experience fun every step of the way, which is more than any golf fan can ask.
So what about presentation? Much like the gameplay there have been tweaks here and there, but nothing quite earth shattering. I found certain visual improvements have made their way to this year's edition. For example, the grass is now more 'alive' than in previous editions. EA Sports refers to this as 3D grass, but I call it something I get stuck in on a windy day. Honestly, it was neat to see on the course, but it was something I didn't necessarily say 'whoa' about when I noticed it. I found the surrounding environments a lot more fascinating with better/sharper details in lakes and surrounding trees. I also found the character details to be more detailed, though I gave my poor golfer man boobs by accident (wife pointed it out -- yes, it was that detailed). Anyway, seeing more details and little bit more a visual effort for this year's edition was nice, but it wasn't something that needed to be done. Honestly, last year's edition looked damn good.
Moving on, let's talk about broadcast presentation. Jim Nantz and David Feherty are the two color commentators for this year. Nantz is always fun to listen to, when he isn't commentating for NCAA basketball hoops. He has a nice, gentle non-judgmental voice, even when you make mistakes. Feherty is the opposite of Nantz and he's ready to tell you like it is. I don't like Feherty much, as he really killed my confidence early on in the game (I kid, sorta). They work great when applied to golfing situations, but I wish they interacted just a bit more. They seem to talk individually, as if they were in completely two different places during gameplay. Having some back and forth interaction between each other would have made their presence a bit more defined. Nonetheless, they spoke well and didn't sound like goobers.
Outside of all these things, the online experience is just as good. You get to play wonderfully ranked matches and get to compete against other players around the world. I regretfully didn't get much online time with this game, namely due to the fact I was playing it prior to the release, so I can't give a detailed opinion of it. The little I did work with seemed seamless. Once I get a bit more experience with it I will let you know how it works out.
So is this game fun and is it worth your money? Well, the game is fun, as I admitted to EA Sports today that it was tough to break away from. The gameplay is so engrossing with the ability to build your golfer and upgrade them, that you'll become addicted quickly (even if you're not a golfer). The addition of courses and the addition of wanting to play in The Masters will motivate gamers to play this game quite a bit. I know for the last five days this game and me have been tough to separate. That's just the offline part. The online part will have even more gamers addicted and playing this game non-stop. So is it worth the money? Yes, I would definitely jump into this edition of the game, even if you have last year's. It's true that not much has been dramatically improved on the mechanics end of things, but there's enough new content to work for that dropping an additional $59.95 will seem like a no-brainer. Criticize me if you want, but if I didn't get this for free I would have definitely purchased it, if not only to put on the green jacket (so I could feel 'virtually' cool).