STAFF REVIEW of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 (Xbox 360)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008.
by Rick Wallace

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 Box art In the real life world Tiger Woods dominates the sport and shines brightly as the best to have ever played the sport hands down. In the video game world the Tiger series has been trying to get to the same threshold and command the same respect from virtual golfers. Well I am happy to say that Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 has made great strides towards that threshold and respect.

You'll find many aspects of 09 to be familiar from previous iterations of the game and it will be easy for veterans to pick up and play the game and perform well right off the bat. What the game does differently is it allows the less skilled or new users to pick up the game and feel like they are able to compete with those veterans. The swing stick seems like its been totally revamped and actually displays itself in the lower left corner so that you can keep track of your entire backswing and follow through. If you are pulling the stick back at an angle, then you will immediately know it and can readjust before hitting the ball.

The menus are easy to navigate as usual with any EA game, and you'll find plenty of things to do in this game. There are mini games, training modules, career mode, online tourneys, multiplayer and plenty more. You will not be at a loss of variety one bit with this game and it should keep you busy for quite a long time. There are also plenty of new features in the game to add a whole new level to your Tiger game play.

Graphically the courses are magnificently recreated in wonderful detail, realism and scenic views. 16 real life courses ship with the game and I am sure we'll see a few more roll down the pipe in the form of downloadable content. Or at least I hope so. One of the most stunning views I happened to see was the sun setting over the Pacific ocean while playing Pebble beach. The oranges and purples reflecting off the ocean was absolutely amazing and it carried over onto the fairways and greens of the course. The view literally took my breath away as the real course would do the same. The character models are once again well done and lifelike and you'll find that creating your own golfer with your own face using the tools provided is rather accurate and has surprisingly good results.

The sounds in the game are what is to be expected from any golf game. Ambient course sounds ring across the fairways such as rolling waves from the Pacific, birds singing, crowd cheers, and much more. The typical swoosh and ping sounds are realistic and once again nothing overly dramatic, but nothing out of the ordinary. The commentary has changed up a bit bringing in a few new announcers which will add a little new variety to the game, but eventually it gets repetitive and annoying at times.

One scary thing that I have to mention is the appearance of microtransactions in the game. As you play the game you will earn virtual money that can be used to buy accessories, equipment and clothing to increase your golfer's attributes or just change one's appearance. you will immediately notice that not only are these items purchased with vitrual money, but you could also use Microsoft Points as well if you so desired. Everything is unlockable with virtual cash which is the way it should be, but it's just the fact that these microtransactions are even an option that scares me for the future of video games.

One of the brand new features in Tiger is the addition of Tiger's own coach, Hank Haney. from the moment you start up the game and create your golfer, you'll meet up with Hank. He will have you complete some simple tasks and evaluate your performance. From that you'll receive a grade on the following categories: Power, Accuracy, Short Game and Putting. These rating will rise and fall with your performance in all single player game modes. One time that the ratings are not affected is during online multiplayer matches. Without any kind of special gear or accessories you can obtain a total rating of 10.0 in each category. When you add in accessories and equipment that rating can be as high as 12 in each category. While the system is not without flaws it works fairly well throughout the game and is definitely a welcome addition. As for the flaws, I have found that there are times when I play a course the way I feel is best for my play style such as lay ups or no extra power added to a shot and I'll tend to get penalized. I have also seen my short game decrease when I am sticking shots close to the pin and might get one or 2 shots off line here and there. You'll also see some unfair rating decreases when playing the mini game matches against the AI such as battle golf or one ball.

Now after you play some events, Hank will grade your performance and give you specific challenges which directly relate to areas that he feels you need to work on. These challenges are fairly straight forward and will give you the opportunity to increase your ratings in categories related. You'll have an initial challenge without a timer to earn you standard rating increase. Then once you successfully complete the drill you'll then be given an opportunity to pile on some more points in a timed challenge where you try to complete the drill as many times as you can during the allotted time period. You'll earn second bonuses for each shot successful try.

Another new addition to the game is the integration of EASports Gamernet challenges. In the past all challenges were accessible and playable only by going online and accessing the Gamernet option. You could view those challenges based on their category, and participate in them if you so chose to do so. You could post your own challenges online as well. Points were rewarded for beating challenges and posting challenges of your own. Now the system has been totally revamped and integrated seamlessly into the game. You can still access all of the challenges through a menu option which a fine and dandy. But now Gamernet challenges will pop up whenever you are playing the game in a single player mode and as long as you are connected to Xbox Live. You won't have to do anything extra other than play the game as you normally would. If you beat the challenge, then you'll get credit for it. If you don't beat the challenge then you just continue playing without missing a beat. The challenges are now condition based meaning that at anytime you can run across one when playing the game if you meet the conditions laid out for the challenge.. So as you play the single player PGA Tour Schedule, you can come across Gamernet challenges such as Longest Drive, Closest to Pin, etc. without distraction.

As I mentioned earlier, the gameplay seems to be tweaked just a bit to benefit all players. You can select from 2 swing styles: Swing Stick using the analog stick and 3 Click meter. The 3 click meter is a visual representation of you swing where you will click a button to start the meter, stop it at the power desired with another click, and finally stop the meter one last time as it decreases to try and hit your ball accurately. This swing style may be perfect for those that just can't seem to pull the analog stick back and push it forward straight. The other style is the Swing Stick which allows you to pull the analog stick back to represent your backswing, and push it forward to represent your follow through. Its not about how fast you pull the stick back and push it forward to generate a good shot. Its more so about the fluidity of your swing and how accurately you pull it back straight and push it forward.

In this year's game there is also a Club Tuner included. This tuner allows you to tune the clubs to your specific swing style. You can add power, draw, fade, loft, etc. One thing to keep in mind is as you adjust the specific categories of the club you will also decrease the ?sweet? spot of the club. The sweet spot is the part of the club that you always want to hit the ball with to get the best result from the club. The smaller the sweet spot, the more chance there is for you to have errant shots. Its a risk and reward system honestly. Anyone that bumps power up to 100% will have a super small sweet spot and will hit huge drives, but if they even remotely have a swing that isn't perfectly straight both back and forward they will be greatly punished with a ball that sails out of bounds or way off course.

One last new addition I would like to mention would be the new simultaneous multiplayer aspect of the game which is basically a page taken right out of the old Links series on the Xbox and PC. You will no longer have to spend multiple hours online to get one round of golf in with a buddy. You can go online with up to 4 other players and play a round in the time it would take you to play one round in single player. This is due to the fact that each player plays each hole at their own pace. Your opponents are represented by colored ribbons that stream across the sky representing their exact shot they just took. For instance, if you are in a party of 4 players and decide to sit at the tee box for a few moments you'll get to watch where everyone hit their tee shots. A colored ribbon will display the path of your opponents ball from impact to landing. The bottom line to this feature is now you can go online and get 4 to 5 matches played in the amount of time it used to take you to play one without simultaneous play. One thing you should be aware of is that when playing a hole each one of your shots is limited to a specific amount of time on the shot clock. You can set this shot clock to count down from 10 to 60 seconds. If someone exceeds the shot clock, they will be penalized a stroke.

When it all boils down to it, Tiger 09 is the best golf game to hit a console in quite a long time and it should be a welcome addition to any virtual golfer's gaming library. The new features alone make the game 100 times better than previous versions, and the new simultaneous play online is just magnificent and should have been implemented long ago. Many game modes, challenges and online play will keep this game spinning in console trays for quite sometime. Do yourself a favor and go pick up a copy if you are the least bit interested in virtual golf. You will not regret the purchase.

Definitely add a few more courses via downloadable content! the 16 that ship with the game are great, but I really look forward to even more options to play. Possibly make the multiplayer ball ribbon in simultaneous play a little more transparent. At times another player's ribbon can detract from making shots or putts on the green.

Overall: 9.1 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.3 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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