Normally one of the talking points of a new Tiger Woods PGA Tour release is what new holes there are to do, but given the real life events that have occurred in the last 12 months, EA Sports probably decided it would be better to focus on other aspects of Tiger’s game. South Park had earlier hinted at a change of direction for the series, but the final product takes a more traditional approach to the Gentleman’s game (Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden).
Incremental updates to sports games tend to become more incremental as a console platform ages. Now the 6th iteration of the game to appear on the Xbox 360, it is increasingly difficult for EA Sports to keep the game fresh with new “features” without tinkering with the fundamental gameplay of the series.
The game plays much like every Tiger game since the advent of analogue sticks. Pulling down on the stick represents your backswing, then push it forward to take your swing. To decrease power, reduce the length of your backswing. An onscreen meter gives you feedback on how straight your swing plane was on the analogue stick, which ultimately decides how cleanly you hit or shank the ball.
A new game mechanic has been introduced this year which is dubbed “Shot Focus”. You can use available Focus to read putts using the “putt preview” (which gives you a sneak look at how your putt will roll as you have lined it up to give you a chance to correct it), add power, spin, or increase the accuracy of the landing area for an approach shot. The meter automatically replenishes with each shot (excluding putts), and did not seem to be related to how well you play (drives into the rough giving you as much Focus as one into the fairway). The Focus meter therefore limits the usage of in-game aids, but the fact that it does not depend on how well a golfer is player is rather unrealistic – sportspeople “in the zone” should theoretically have more “Focus” than those playing like Michael Campbell has been playing of late.
The biggest addition to the Tiger Woods franchise this year is the inclusion of the Ryder Cup competition for the first time, allowing players to compete in the USA Tour vs. European Tour rivalry, which is set to take place at the Celtic Manor Resort in Wales this coming October. It is a nice addition to the game, but also frustrating because when playing alone you only have influence on one out of the 4-6 matches being played in each of 5 rounds. No matter how well you might be playing, you have no control on what goes on in the other matches, and it is left up to the CPU simulation to decide the fate of the competition. You can choose to switch golfers (but not sides) at the conclusion of each hole, which might for example allow you to mount a comeback in a losing match. However that then leaves the original golfer you were controlling to once again be left in the hands of a CPU simulation.
To overcome this problem, you can choose instead to take the Ryder Cup format online and play a 12 vs. 12 competition. However that would require 24 players to convene at once and then to stick around while the 28 matches of the format are played. It is a great initiative, but ultimately useless as I struggled to find more than one or two players in this lobby, let alone 23 others.
On the subject of online play, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 is historical for being the first game to require EA Sports’s “Online Pass” in order to access online features (Xbox 360 owners additionally require an Xbox LIVE Gold subscription). This controversial scheme requires players to enter a one-time-use token to unlock online features. If this token has already been used by someone else (most commonly arising when a player has purchased the game on the second-hand market), then you will be invited to start a free 7 day trial, or else purchase an Online Pass for 800 Microsoft Points ($13.33 NZD). Unlike an Xbox LIVE subscription, you are not purchasing a defined period of access – “EA may retire online features after 30 days notice posted on www.ea.com”.
There are plenty of online modes to justify the 800 MS Point spend for serious players, including head-to-head games as well as regular daily/weekly/live tournaments organised by EA Sports. You will want to spend plenty of time practicing and levelling up a created golfer before you brave the online leaderboards though. The differential between first and last in one tournament I participated in was huge, with the leader at (-22) and last place at (+126).
Creating a golfer is an easy process and supports the Xbox LIVE Vision camera for creating a “game-face”. Your mileage may vary though – my golfer ended up looking like he had had a facial transplant after a serious accident. XP points are gained either by playing rounds of golf in the career mode, or though the Skills Challenge mode, and are then used to improve the attributes of your custom golfer. Players worldwide have obviously been very busy with the game, since many are driving over 400 yards and regularly hitting sub-50 rounds on the tour. That’s not to say that this game is easy though – putting is still a horrible experience, and the aids such as the putt preview do very little to provide gamers with a realistic representation of the real world experience.
The final note-worthy addition to Tiger Woods 11 is the new “True Aim” mode, which is designed to give you a more realistic point of view during play. Instead of the “ball follow” camera that we are all accustomed to watching after the ball is played, True Aim is all presented from a first-person camera. So once you have taken your swing, the camera stays still and pans over to where your ball is travelling, just as if you were playing in real life. It will be a mode that players either love or hate – personally if I wanted to have no idea where my ball ended up after I hit it, I would just go out onto the course and play.
At the end of the day this is still an arcade golfing game, as much as the game tries to be a more realistic simulation. It also happens to still be the best golfing game for any game console despite its flaws. If you have any recent Tiger Woods game then there is probably very little in PGA Tour 11 to warrant the purchase unless the Ryder Cup makes it a must-buy. But if you have an older version of the game, then PGA Tour 11 is a decent game to consider upgrading to.