STAFF REVIEW of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 (Xbox 360)

Monday, July 12, 2010.
by Ken Laffrenier

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 Box art The game of golf is not for everyone. Many individuals downplay the athleticism, strategy and talent required to fully appreciate such a noble sport. Truth be told, the challenge in golf is not to beat your rivals but rather to compete against the very essence of nature itself. This is the classic competition of Man vs. Himself and Man vs. Nature; where the slightest change in the moisture on a course, or the degree of pivot in your knee, creates dire consequences in a game?s outcome. Where I come from we have a clear sense of what the game of golf is ??.the perfect way to ruin a beautiful walk!?.

EA Sports has been working diligently, to recreate the sense of wonder and awe that is synonymous with the game of golf, since the early 90?s. Now, as anyone that played golf on the old 386?s can tell you, it hasn?t always been a favorable experience?sure some of the vistas were stunning but waiting through the 3-5 minutes it took for the layers to load (for every shot) were beyond frustrating. Sometime in the mid 90?s, the game of golf experienced a ?coming of age? with the introduction of a young Tiger Woods and, as with all sports genres; EA Sports was quick to pair up this iconic player with its floundering title. Along with the creation of console gaming?Tiger Woods, the PGA and EA Sports ventured into an ongoing epic to find new ways, each and every year, to add to the nuances and create an immersive golf experience in the comfort of your living room.

So here we are, 2010 and into our 13th ?annual? Tiger Woods golf title appropriately called ?Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11(???...I get it?it?s to signify the year its released?no that?s not it?. Maybe they?re superstitious?maybe it?s named after the season the game is to represent?couldn?t be that easy could it?).

I have never really understood the rationale for the annual release of popular sports titles. It has always been my opinion that, especially with today?s console speeds, that the upgrades could simply be downloadable content or add-on disks (as you can tell I?m not a big sports title gamer). In playing Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 however, there are numerous reasons to release this as an independent title?in fact I think EA Sports could have completely re-branded the title because there are so many new and exciting revelations to the console golf genre. The only real similarity between this one and previous years are Tiger Woods, some of the course names and the common game play modes to placate traditionalists. Don?t get me wrong, I?m not saying they?ve done everything right but they?ve come a long way in creating an enjoyable golf simulator instead of trying to recreate the game of golf in your home?which, unless you?re in College and renting with no security deposit, is impossible.

The graphics this time around are certainly up to par (pun intended) with the standards we've come to expect. You are given the opportunity to customize your player through various physical and image adjustments and you are once again given the chance to put yourself in the game through the Photo Game Face option...interesting concept with, lets say, humorous results. All of the player animations are clean and precise although the minor clipping becomes glaringly obvious when set against some incredible backgrounds. I've never played at one of the courses shown in the game but the comparison to some of the televised games is spectacular. I will say this regarding the graphics...I don't think any of the buildings in the game have seen a major upgrade since the release of Tiger Woods 99 and why are there 60 people in the gallery all clapping, cheering and ducking in unison....time for a major upgrade here EA.

The controls have the standard 3-click swing we all know and love; as well as the analog stick swing that most gamers have come to utilize. But new to the '11 version is the True Aim controls....actually its not so much the controls as it is the way you play the course. With True Aim you view the course and your shot as though you were on the actual fairways....this requires much more time spent reviewing the course layouts and the different lies off the tee blocks and, as in the real game, you are not given the traditional ball tracking view but rather you watch the shot from the perspective of you in game player. This could be endlessly entertaining for realists but I found it quite frustrating having the monotony of 'oooohhhhh's' as my ball once again lies deep in the tall stuff.

On the control front we see the new 'Focus' innovation. These options did take some time to get used to but thanks to the tutorial and the new 'Skills Challenge' I was having my shots dancing with the flag pole. The Focus feature allows you to perform more advanced shots by boosting your shots, adding spin or showing a clear shot line for putts. The focus feature bar fills up as you create clean shots and depletes as you use it (a tough lesson to learn when your trying for a 40 foot putt). The Skills Challenge is sort of what it sounds; a series of challenges designed to increase both your understanding of the controls and your ability on the course. Its here that the best new innovation is showcased...the ability to level up your player by gaining experience points. These XP points are earned through the skills challenges and through your play on the links. On the links there are points for hitting greens and fairways in regulation, placing your ball close to the pin and any other way that showcases how well you're doing. When I started my first tournament I was lucky to hit 210 yards off the blocks but through more play and completing challenges I'm now able to dust off at almost the 300 mark. Although initially frustrating, having an award system set up like this encourages more repetitive play whereas in the past I would have sailed through early matches and past up opportunities to advance.

There are several different mini games and various game other words there is a lot of interesting things for even the most casual of gamers. The PGA Tour Season has you playing through a full season with your goal of making the cut for the FedEx Cup. To qualify for the Cup you must accumulate points throughout the season and only the top 125 golfers will earn a spot on the playoffs. The biggest and, in my opinion best addition to the game this year is the inclusion of the Ryder Cup. You can enter the Ryder Cup as part of the career mode or from the main menu (I suggest cutting your teeth on the tour to ramp up your skill settings or you will be woefully outmatched); and then choose your sides...the long standing US vs. Europe rivalry is paramount in creating your 12 person roster. The Ryder Cup is a welcome addition to the Tiger Woods series and really works to draw you in, personally, to the matches and events taking feel as though you have a real investment in place every time you step up to the ball.

There is the included online play but ramping up the interest is the new Online Team Play. Team play consists of up to 24 players splitting into 2 groups and working together to achieve victory. Usually online modes like this (especially for golf) are boring and repetitive but this time out we get to see the arcs of the shots as each player hits allowing you to more closely gauge your competition. Not only are there achievements to be earned (naturally) but the addition of increased stats and notoriety online is a great motivator for online play. Add the EA Sports Gamernet and you finally have a truly playable online sports franchise.

In all, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 has lots to offer gamers whether new to the series or even a jaded traditionalists like myself. This may not be the most revolutionary release in the title but its nice to see some little extras. Moving forward my concern would be that EA Sports continues to try to become that 'real life golf replacement' they seem to herald themselves as. Instead I would like to see them embrace the escapism that console gaming represents....I can curse and scream at a little round golf ball any time I like....what I really want is the chance to play like the pros in 3 easy steps (if you saw me play the links you'd know it's never going to happen in real life). Throw in the occasional explosion and a beverage cart and I will sign on for life.

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.3 / 10
Visuals: 8.6 / 10
Sound: 8.6 / 10


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