EA Sports is back with another one of their key brands this year in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14. ($59.99 ERP, EA Sports). The long-running franchise gets some new features and gameplay tweaks to fully submerge players into the world of professional golf and its world-renowned talents and locales. Eldric "Tiger" Woods has been in a bit of a rebound mode of late. From his well publicized personal foibles to his golf game, Tiger is starting to bounce back on both levels. Much like their famous namesake, I think the Tiger Wood PGA Tour 14 is in similar comeback mode, with many of the features and changes to this years game coming through as positives.
That's not to say that Tiger is back to his dominating ways of years past, and the game could still use a big refresh, but both player and title continue to do what they do best fairly well: Play Golf. EA also took away a lot of the gimmicky things from last years model and introduced a few things that really shine in this years edition, most significant among them the "Legends of the Majors" mode. Like many sports games, this one is not immune to the "It's the same as it used to be" issues, but the changes in gameplay and overall feel fall make up for those and then some.
First, let me explain my interest in golf. I love the game. From a personal angle, though, I have major barriers in my ability to enjoy going out and playing the real game: I only play rarely, and more importantly, I'm absolute awful. I do, however, check in on the most recent tournament throughout the early rounds, and spend many lazy Sundays on the couch rooting for the likes of Rickie Fowler and company. Like many casual fans, though, I'm infinitely more interested in the overall state of the game and any particular tournament when Tiger is on the prowl.
Within that, I really like golf games, even back to the Golden Tee machines that sat in sports bars in Southern California years ago. Safe to say that Electronic Arts knows what it has going for it with this franchise, and they don't disappoint. This year, the ability to add female players in career modes was something that I sort of felt was there all along, yet apparently wasn't. That said, it's a nice change of pace, and a refreshing if not somehow late-to-the-party acknowledgement of the growing LPGA popularity. As always, the game is beautiful to behold, and the graphics are super smooth, with just enough texture and background noise. While it doesn't feel completely new or foreign, that's a good thing when it all works this well.
Overall, the gameplay is great.I really like the swing arcs that go along with each shot and I like the fluid motion. I also like the controls for the most part, putting notwithstanding. Fade shots, draw shots, big drives and spin are really all easy to access, if not necessarily easy to master. I found that the "Training" modes and levels didn't really go over much in way of situational suggestions. I had to learn the hard way after my third consecutive tree- induced double bogey that maybe "straight up, straight out" wasn't always the best tactic for shot selections and such. I will say, however, that while putting in previous titles became sort of a joke, they sort of went to the other end of the difficulty spectrum in this version.
Even short range putts become sort of a crap shoot, and while this might just be me adjusting to the new methods, I feel like this is a part of the game that could use some tweaking. That said, it's golf, and maybe I'm just too much of a Happy Gilmour type, so my short game isn't ever going to win me any gold jackets (Yes, I know the real ones are green!). Micro-transactions and points allow players to improve their players skills over time, and maybe I can play or spend my way to mastering the greens.
The thing I like most about this years game is the Legends of the Majors mode. This allows you to take control of a variety of legends in golf, and right smack in the era they actually played. I actually disliked this sort of thing in a lot of other sports games, because most of the time, the sports had changed so much that they couldn't really change the engine enough to make it work well. In Hockey, for example, having a Bobby Orr or some older player from days gone by player in Nike Vapor skates never seem to fit. In Golf, though, it just works, and I think EA really nailed this part.
In Legends, players get to play with equipment specific to the era, so wooden clubs and grainier sepia-toned film are the norm. It sort of oozes history and nostalgia, and in a lot of ways, sells the history of the sport really well. Also, the multiplayer boasts increased capacity and better communications, but I've yet to really get into that part of the game. I tried the Kinect Mode, and either my living room is too small or I really suck at golf (both of which may be true!) or its just... half-baked. I also think that Wii has me somewhat programmed into thinking that if I'm actually "playing" golf on a station; I need some sort of tactile feedback. Not much to say because I didn't last very long with this method of play.
I can't comment to how often I'll go back to the Legends mode once I'm through it, but it's a fun piece overall, and really seems well thought out. All in all, I think the regular players and the diehards will be happy with this feature, and this title overall, as EA continues to do what they do best in this series, which is deliver all of the challenges and majesty of the sport, while leaving the intricacies intact. I think Ted Ray's quote sums it up quite nicely: "Golf is a fascinating game. It has taken me nearly forty years to discover that I can't play it."
Suggestions: Overall, keep it up. The problem with this is stagnation, and after I just wrote a scathing review of 2KSports and their MLB2K13 roster update, this is the slippery slope of sports titles. One the one hand, if it's really great, don't fix it or mess it up, but even really great gets stale. Like many other games, I'd like to see Xbox REALLY harness the power of the Kinect functionality, especially for sports titles, but I'm not sure that the nuances required in a real golf simulation game allow for it with the current hardware.
I will be curious to see what the next gen sports titles do, particular the behemoth that is EA. Step it up guys! Take these titles to the next level!