I've always been a fan of golf, and still consider Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf as one of the best golf games I've played. Not that EA has to live up to those standards of 1989 golfing, but it has to live up to those standards of 'ease-of-use' and fun.
Be the ball
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 is fun. It's a game that doesn't try to over complicate itself, like many sports often do, but doesn't stray away from the technical needs that hardcore golfers need; gameplay-wise it's perfect.
The gameplay is broken down into many layers: Traditional Game Modes (stroke play, match play, etc.), Mini-Games (good quick stuff like Long Drive Contest), My Career (Ryder Cup, PGA tour, and skills challenge) and, of course, online.
Traditional Game Modes
You're getting what you have really always gotten. Here you get to play some 'traditional' modes that you're use to playing. There's nothing really unbelievably new to shout about in this category, but there's so much here that it could have stood by itself in a game of its own. You get your traditional stroke play, match play and other things like Four-Ball and Alternate Shot (those help you when you get prepped for the Ryder Cup). Most people will probably dig into this when they want to play along other players, but 'career oriented' players will shift their focus more to the My Career portion of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11.
Starting with the Ryder Cup, you get the traditional Ryder cup rules and regs as you get to choose between Europe and America. You have the option of playing 'foursomes', fourballs or singles. For many who are traditionalist, like myself, when it comes to golf I didn't really care much for anything else except the 'singles' portion of this option. I found playing actual players from the tour is something unique and fun. For the Ryder Cup junkies out there you will enjoy what this option has to offer.
As for the PGA Tour Season, I sincerely hope that you golfers are in for the long haul. The game gives you an actual event calendar that will take you through many, many hours of golfing. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this as it gives you the actual treatment any PGA golfer might experience (aside from the gambling -- looking at you Phil Mickleson!). I was really impressed by the variety of golf courses that it has to offer and the variety of elements (like wind and weather) that the game throws at you. Playing a course great on day one doesn't necessarily mean you'll be good at it on day two. EA really brings a new level of accuracy that doesn't frustrate the gamer; rather it makes you want to improve. The game also generates and keeps track of FedExCup points, money leaders and encourages you to finish what you started. My only grip with this mode is that the saves only occur between days and can't happen in the middle of a match. Is it devestating? No, but it would help to have an option to save because you had to jet somewhere, and then have the ability to come back right at the hole you left.
Anyway, I really enjoyed this part of the game and played it most of the time I was reviewing it.
The final 'real' piece to My Career is the Skills Challenge, which is new this year. Here you'll put skills to the test and earn some XP points (getting into that soon) that will improve your golfer and your skills. I particularly like this because it just helps you become a better gamer and a better golfer. In turn, it helps a lot when you play online after doing the skills challenge. This game, much like the real game of golf, requires practice, practice, practice. If you can make your player better while practicing (upgrading levels, getting new loot and such) then it's worth your time.
While I'm typing this up I'm playing online. I'm currently going up against kordic-31 and heatjer, and we're all still learning to say the least. The online play is smooth, fast and fun.
With the online mode you get some of the modes you've played in the 'traditoinal' offline mode such as best ball, four ball, alternate shot, match play and skins (and there are more). For me I just went through a pro points challenge set of holes with the two players listed above and have found the competition refreshing. I think most people will go this route or have the ability to play with friends. What impresses me about the online mode, when you're creating a room of your own, the amount of customizing and rules you can apply for the golf game. I had one person that turned off 'focus' (explaining shortly) during the match, which caused some issues. Thankfully, it caused more issues for them than me and they ended up quitting in the middle of the match.
The new feature that EA Sports has been touting is the Online Team Play. It's a huge leap in terms of online golfing, as players can play 12 vs. 12 in a game. Picture the Ryder Cup, except without rich people and you get this mode. I haven't tried it as of yet, mainly because the PS3 online games went up and on today, but I'm anxious to get going on this (and promise to update it once I try it out).
I'm also anxious to try out the Live Tournaments mode, but will have to wait until one is going on. I'm sure that will happen shortly.
As for the new elements of gameplay inside of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, they come in a nice variety of flavors.
The True-Aim option is something new and exciting for the series. It gives the player a bit more control over their swing. Instead of a wonderful circle indicator (which I still prefer because I'm a rebel) you get more accurate distance estimation. So, in turn you get a more accurate shot at getting your ball in the place where you want it to go.
Cousin to that is the Focus option. Focus is a wonderful meter that allows you to 'cheat' a bit. By using focus you get to accurate plan out your putting path, so that you have the best possible chance of getting your ball in the hole. Out of all the things that focus does this is the most valuable. I had the biggest pain getting my short game down in this edition of PGA Tour, so having a bit of a 'cheat' helped. You get an onscreen indicator that predicts the path the ball will travel. From that point you have to estimate the speed and aiming.
As for anther use of the new feature, you get to add a bit more to your shot in terms of 'power'. By using focus you can hit your ball up to 10% more powerfully during your swing. This helps when you've got a long par 5 ahead of you.
Finally, another use for focus is the ability to spin your ball. Once you hit a shot you can spin your ball in pretty much any direction you see fit. I found this really useful when I needed to get a ball out of the rough and back into the fairway. You must spin the ball while it is in the air; if it hits the ground you can't spin it. It's the second most costly feature with focus.
As you use focus a red meter depletes. If you have no meter then you can't use focus. You can rebuild your focus by performing well on the golf course.
These two features were welcomed additions to the game. A feature that was neat, but sorta useless was the Live Weather feature. I appreciate the effort that went into adding that into the game, but I'm not sure it's necessary. It's accurate, but not really at all useful or cool.
As for XP points, you earn XP as you do good things (make a birdie, hole-in-one, eagle, multiple fairway shots, etc.) during your match. The XP upgrades your golfer's attributes and allows for them to get better in gamer chosen areas. For example, if you're having issues putting then you might consider using XP to improve on reading greens. It's neat to see an 'rpg' element in a sports game and it's welcomed.
You can also use XP in Pro Shops to upgrade equipment and your player's style.
Hooked it with presentation
Commentators aside, the game is pretty. I'm amazed on how much EA Sports has turned up the level of visual presentation in their sports games this last year. The courses are deep and detailed. While it certainly isn't the amount of detail that God of War III can provide (they have to make the same game for the 360), it does impress. One of the few things I noticed today was the wind blowing on the pants of the players on the course. It's subtle, but it's detailed and visually appealing.
As for character models, you get some nice ones with the real players and some scary ones with gamers of the world. You can pretty much customize your golfer anyway you want in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11. From hair to shoes you get your choice of customizing and even the choice of putting your face (or someone else) on the player you're using. Much like the details of the courses, the models aren't meticulously over detailed, but they're good enough to be called next generation graphics.
Scott Van Pelt and Kelly Tilghman are the announcers in the game and I have to admit that they are quite annoying on the golf course. I want announcers, but I prefer nothing cute. Both of them, though they were reading from scripts, were too cute for the game. I know the game is suppose to be great for younger folks and give out cute quips at given times, but they take it to another level. Whoever wrote the scripts for them should consider a new line of work. Maybe it was me, but having them say the same thing over and over again is a bit much. In comparison to Madden 2010 and FIFA 2010, the commentary in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 was bit pathetic. On top of this, they were wrong a few times about what was happening onscreen, which just baffled me. For example, once I hit the ball into the rough and Scott Van Pelt comes on and says something associated to hitting it on the green poorly. BAH!
Anyway, if you're new to the series you're going to dread what they have waiting for you in terms of commentary. If you play bad they will be on you with less than encouraging tones. This is the first game that actually made me feel frustrated solely through the commentary. I think Bob Costas or a Tom Hammond would have been a better choice; at least they wouldn't have sounded like two people in the audience making fun of your lack of golfing skills.
Excellent looking game overall, with some much needed help in the commentary field.