FORE... teen! EA Sports presents the newest entry into its heralded brand of PGA golf, including the usual cast and courses with some new additions, and a fresh set of exclusive Augusta National related content. The sweet adjustments made to Total Swing Control, a plethora of modes, and on-point presentation creates a console country club well worth the price of membership.
The links extravaganza starts with the "Learn From The Legends" tutorial. This shows you the basics of 14's Swing mechanics. There are two basic philosophies to player type: Power and Control. Power players like Woods and Rickie Fowler get more "bang" out of making contact with the ball, but their margin for error is slimmer, and "accuracy" measures like lie and trajectory aren't as forgiving. Predictably, Control is the opposite. Such a player (example: Zach Johnson) might get beat off the tee box in terms of distance. But the swing is much more "workable", ball tendencies are more accurately calculated, and short game prowess is improved. Another yin/yang dichotomy is found with Draw and Fade. Draw guys and gals fair much better with drawing the ball from one direction to the next. And Fade players favor fades. Delving into intricate stick mechanics, we have Over and Under swing. Tiger Woods entries in the past had a feature that my friends and I always referred to as "hulking up." This was tapping X repeatedly during the thumbstick motion to get Power on the shot over 100%. 14 encompasses this with simply Over swinging the club. When addressing the ball, a somewhat transparent curved white line appears to show you how much input should be put into the thumbstick, given the club selection. Going just beyond the suggestion will give you that little bit extra. But be warned, the accuracy may suffer in consequence. And swinging Under will return more feel and make the ball "stick" better, but won't travel as far. The last portion of the introduction allows you to create-a-character, with a bevy of facial and body customization options, that will be used in Career mode. After completing the tutorial, one thing became evident to me. That, at least in the virtual sense, Tiger is back!
The current (and near ending) console generation has went through periods of "phases" when it comes to certain genres. Early, WWII shooters were all the rage, and now my copy of Call of Duty 2 seems like a fossil. Sports games are no different. For the past handful of years, FIFA, NHL, and NBA 2K have been contending for sports game of the year supremacy. But before those three became THE titles, I always felt PGA TOUR was overlooked. Not to say that it doesn't have a good number of dedicated fans; I just never thought it got the recognition it deserved, particularly with the exquisite 09 entry. That was the best golf title I had ever played in terms of the game's "feel." Unfortunately, this has stayed that way for a number of years. Starting with PGA TOUR 12, the experience felt more like EA was trying to "hold my hand." Take the "Caddy" feature, for instance. It not only suggested shots, but set them up perfectly without any input from the player. This took all the guesswork out of the experience. Which, coupled with a steady thumb, should be the challenging/fun part of the game. But it got reduced to just tapping A/X and swinging. I'm not the biggest links player/fan out there, but my novice understanding and playing history should be a factor. With 09, I believed because I knew the way "fast" greens work, where the ball should be struck when in a bunker as opposed to rough, and flight path vs. wind conditions made me better at the game. The past two entries have not given me that sensation. Addressing the ball and swinging the thumbstick was more than enough to attain a good scorecard. I, honestly, expected the trend to continue with this entry. I was pleasantly surprised by the return of golf affluence.
A feeling of welcome isolation is present in 14. Nothing is setup for me. Sure, a likely club selection accompanies the beginning of a shot, but that's to be expected. And even this isn't a solid tip if the wind conditions are anywhere close to impressionable. A blank slate is offered. And it's up to me to craft workable, perhaps even creative, shots for the best approach to the pin. This is the essence of a good golf game, and 14 has it. There are several aspects that go into creating a favorable "thwack", which are all conveniently labeled. Total Swing Control is back, and better than ever! The swing trajectory is probably the most prevailing aspect. Illustrated in the lower left corner of the HUD, it gives a very detailed account of each completed thumbstick gesture. It seems more "acute" than in past entries. It will draw EXACTLY what path the 'stick took, from bottom tap to top tap. It reminds me of the "pitch line" in the MLB 2K games. This gives a good reference point to what might be amiss with your swing and where the error(s) are occurring The line also comes in handy with Draw/Fade shots. Zooming out down range shows the probable landing area. Nudging the right thumbstick either port or starboard will bring up another down arrow for the adjusted arrival zone. Once this is locked in, the appropriate Swing line goes from being either straight up and down to diagonal. So in accordance, your swing stick gesture needs to follow suit. Having such articulate feedback offers crucial info on how you did with the skewed motion, and what you may need to work on when attempting that "over the trees" tee shot on those tricky dog legs.
The other "shot" feature worth noting in 14 is the Strike Meter. Again, this isn't a new feature, but the improvements are extensive and much appreciated. On lower difficulties, the point of contact will default to the "optimal" position based on the situation. I set my swing difficulty to "Hard" to gain a little more "personal influence" over my shots. This shifted Strike Meter into "Sticky," which let me adjust the contact point to my desired spot without having to hold the opposite stick in that position for the duration of the swing. This became very helpful. Placing the point down from the center a tad lifted the ball up to ride on the wind direction. Juxtaposing contact in relation to a sloped fairway lie helped with the possibility of an erratic, misguided whip. Very seldom do I not change the contact point. It just feels like lies are tailor made (see what I did there?) when I make this simple change. This is a really strong gameplay mechanic.
Additionally, the chipping and putting mechanics also score high. To me, the short game aspects of PGA TOUR were always what separated average to good/great players. The suggested power percentage doesn't take into account the according bounce. You're shown where the ball will land, not where it will end up. Because of this, a "close approach" to the pin is dependent on the player's ability to gauge a less-than full swing. Some greens play fast, some slow. This must be observed when playing a round at particular courses, for bounces from chips and putting. Much like the other GP elements, the "flat stick game" is as intricate and difficult as ever. Grid lines are quite animated, and must be observed with respect. There were many putts I simply didn't account for the break enough and would come up inches short. Word to the wise, don't be afraid to flair to the right or left a good measure. Pushing up or tapping downhill also has dramatic effects on pace and direction. These sound like redundant points, but I'm addressing them because it feels like the design emphasis was to ensure that it will take time and practice to be really good at this release. That's not to say past PGA TOUR experience won't come in handy, but it won't do to JUST rely on one's pre-established knowledge bank.
14 features plentiful game modes. The most prevalent "solo mission" being Career. Take a created character and choose a path to the PGA from either states side in the U.S. Amateur Championship or "across the pond" in the British Amateur 'ship. Placing first grants you access to either the U.S. Open or the Open Championship to compete for the lowest amateur score. After this, you'll begin your sustained career in the WEB.COM tour, and eventually land a spot on the big boy circuit to jockey for majors, and the elusive, illustrious grand slam. In this thread, expect to tee off against the likes of: Woods himself, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Ian Poulter, Rory McElroy, and newcomers Bud Cauley and Keegan Bradley. Alternatively, create a female character and work up to a life on the LPGA tour. The ladies roster includes superstars Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis with newbies Lexi Thompson and Stacy Lewis.
Another single player offering is Legends of the Majors. These play like the old Lightening Challenges from the NASCAR Thunder games. You'll be blasted back to a great moment in history and have to recreate the success of that year's winner. Start in 1873 at the first Open played at St. Andrews, and secure the win with Tom Morris by either shooting even to "Win" the challenge or shoot -2 for "Legend" status. There are quite a few to play-and-unlock, and make various stops throughout the decades. Quick Tournaments offer the ability to play the final round of majors and cups; while Practice Round serves the same purpose, without all the broadcast "pomp and circumstance." Other local modes support up to four with favorite rule sets like stroke & match play, skins, and more. My personal favorite is Bingo-Bango-Bongo. In this, players can earn up to "three points" per hole by gaining the three aforementioned checkpoints. Bingo is given to the first player on the green, Bango is for who's closest to the flag stick upon initial approach, and Bongo is who scores best on that hole.
To coincide with the beefy local options, online shows its muscles, too. The newest edition to this section is Connected Tournaments. This follows in a similar vein as SSX's online system (outside of the "3-2-1 Go" portion, that is). Drop in to a particular Tournament at anytime while the event is still "open" with varying rules and locations. You could choose to enter into a 5 Hole Shootout at an old stable like Pebble Beach, or play through a full 18 at a new "on disc" addition such as Oak Hill Country Club. If enough PSNers are active in the Tournament along with you, you'll play simultaneously with them and actually see their ball trajectories displayed on screen. Reminds me of a Time Trial "ghost" in a racing game, except what you are shooting against is in real time. This is being billed as a "TWENTYFOURSOME." Although there is no limit to the amount of users that can be in a Tournament at one time, you'll only see up to twenty three of them. Because I tested this before the wide release, I was lucky to be joined up with one or two others. I'm anxious to see this in action later today.
The other major "limb" to PSN is Country Clubs. This feature returns, but with an upgraded sensibility. The number of member slots has leaped from 25 to 100. EA also implemented an "auto-recruitment" feature. After "hitting the course" for the first time, you're placed in a Club. Mine is "Beer ON TaP." From the menu, I can select to Chat with other "TaPpers" and perhaps setup an online match. Online Matchmaking offers a more "traditional" approach to the section. Search for a Play Now game to get going quickly, or select Session Match Search to find games that fit exact specifications. You can choose to play against PSN friends in private lobbies or create a game for the public. There is a litany of matchmaking options, from: ranked or unranked, course, game mode (stoke, match, 3 hole mini game, ect.) number of players (up to four), tee selection, weather, and so on. 14 even has night golf. That's right. Pick a course and hit the links in the veil of darkness! Unfortunately, flashlight helmets are not a selectable item. Which is a shame.
I was given the "Masters Historic Edition," which includes a course entitled Augusta National 1934. This renders the timeless course in the way it was in '34, with all the hilly fairways and roller coaster-esque greens you can handle. And you'll be attacking the layout with sticks fit for a museum. True woods and crude irons rule the day with titles like "Mashie," "Cleek," and "Brasie." Also, the presentation is skewed. Forget hi-res environments and crystal clear audio. It is set as if you were watching an old news reel, in that beige colored tint, and were listening to a radio broadcast reminiscent of sports reporting found in that era. Additionally, this version comes with the current Par 3 course played on Wednesday of Masters week. Quite a welcome break in the monotony of "full range" layouts, if you ask me. The last "extra" is the Practice Facility. Included on are the standard drving range, short game section, and putting green. Of the three, this might be my favorite. The ability to isolate one aspect and repeatedly work on it is such a luxury. Particularly with new TSC "tweaks."
The presentation in 14 is yet another really good aspect. I wasn't necessarily blown away by the "little details," like individual blades of grass or anything like that. But I was impressed with how the time of day affected the overall "look" of courses. Shadow effects from morning, to noon, afternoon, and on into evening set their own visual tone and made the "time illusion" believable. Different aspects of courses are clearly defined and work well together. Light, medium, and heavy rough all look as they should. So you won't have to rely on the HUD description to know what kind of trouble is at hand. I was also good with the way night golf looks. Yes, everything has a blue "hue," but black just couldn't realistically work. I will say it does add a degree of difficulty to the proceedings. Not easily seeing the fairway-to-green transition made me misjudge shot and club selection on more than a few occasions. Audio is stellar. The noises of nature are prevalent. Could even be described as loud sometimes (when you hear the wood pecker, you'll understand what I mean). Jim Nantz and David Feherty lent their talents to the 'track, and give a good amount of balanced, smooth professionalism with joking-ly snarky comment from the duo, respectively.