In the world of video games, there are few things that are certain. One of those is that sports games get an update every year. Tiger Woods PGA Tour is not a series that I have played religiously over the years. I've played it with friends every now and then, but I'm not the master of golf gaming. With that said, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 is the most addictive golf game I have ever played. There is a lot of gameplay here, and almost all of it is executed extremely well. Several tweaks and new ways to play the game have led to one of the best golf games on the market.
In my time with other Tiger Woods games in the past, there was somewhat of an issue: These games are easy. I would pick up the controller, get acquainted with the controls, and within minutes, I was shooting 12 under par rounds of golf. The developers have smartly added some randomness to how shots play out and make it significantly harder to attain the immediate precision that was in previous titles. What result is a much more intense and realistic-feeling game of golf rather than a series of carefully crafted and calculated strokes that always land in the same location.
When you first start up the game, you're asked to create your digital golfer. While you can play as any of the licensed pros in the game, it's generally worth it in the long run to create your own player. EA has brought over its Game Face software, which allows you to snap a few photos of your face with a digital camera and load the image files to let the game create a virtual version of you. The system works reasonably well, although taking photos that will work can take an annoying amount of time. I had to take the pictures eight times before the system was content with them. The end result looked me ... if I were a meth addict. Using the game's customization system, I was able to correct this.
It's more rewarding in the long run because when you start your career with your created golfer, you will be the worst player in the history of the PGA. Tiger Woods 11 employs an experience system that rewards you for playing well, so you gain five points for hitting the fairway off the tee, 25 points for getting a birdie, etc. Once you complete a round, you can take these hard-earned experience points and spend them on new clothing or clubs for your player or on upgrading your character's skills. There are 13 different skills to upgrade, and it takes a long time to get them upgraded to a decent level.
Players are going to think that they are doing something wrong when they shoot a round 12 over par, but it's simply a matter of their player only being one-third as good as the other players in the tournament. At the start of my career, a great drive off the tee clocked in at about 240 yards for my golfer. Tiger Woods on a bad drive will still break the 250-yard mark and can easily clear the 330-yard marker. Your golfer simply can't cut it with the big boys for a while.
That doesn't mean the game isn't fun, though. The biggest game-changing addition to Tiger Woods 11 is the focus meter. It depletes when you use it and allows you to do a little extra with your game: add power to a drive, put a spin on the ball, force a more accurate shot, or preview where a putt will go on the green. In order to rebuild focus, you have to take shots without using any focus. Managing this system adds some strategy to the game so that you won't find yourself without focus when you really, really need it.
Another tweak to gameplay is a new play style introduced this year: True Aim. While you can still use the old system of knowing exactly where you're aiming your shots and being able to see the lie of the green, True Aim removes this to give you the authentic golf experience. Nobody is making you play this way, and it's quite difficult, but it is significantly more realistic to not be able to see an overhead view of where your shot is headed or follow the ball from a skyward angle. The camera is planted right next to your golfer at all times, and it's up to you to figure out the rest. This mode will appeal to some, but most players will likely avoid it, even though the game constantly encourages you to use it.
The best addition to this year's game is the Ryder Cup mode. A U.S.-versus-Europe golf event that's been going since 1927, the Ryder Cup consists of five rounds of team-based golf, with each match being scored by hole rather than overall score. The point is to win more holes than the other team and to earn 14.5 overall points over the course of five rounds. What makes this mode really interesting is that since you are playing as a team, you still play an 18-hole game, but you can switch between any of the teams on the course between holes. If one of the teams is struggling, you can step in for a few holes and try to dig them out of it, and the AI will take over your remaining teams. As a realistic game, everyone is on a different hole at all times, so switching around can and most likely will result in you repeating several holes during a round.
Topping off the experience is a good online system. There are plenty of online modes, and you can play with friends or an online stranger in anything from a quick three-hole match to a 12-versus-12 team tournament. The options are always there, even if you can't wrangle up enough players. I'm a fan of the three-hole minigame in online play. It's quick, painless, and lets me get in a quick session of golf if I'm in a hurry. Around launch time, there are between 1,600 and 2,000 players online, but this number will decrease over time. The best part of the online experience is that you can bring your created character into any online match, and he can continue to earn experience as you play online. Seamless integration of the single-player campaign with online modes is a huge bonus.
The 17 courses in the game, ranging from my favorite Pebble Beach to the Celtic Manor Resort all look very, very good. (Even the launch DLC looks good, but $10 for a new course at launch? Really?) The buildings could look better, but they only appear in the background of a few shots, with swaying trees as a constant reminder of the wind. Gorgeous grass and solid character models are the real stars of the show. It moves in a very convincing manner, with a few hiccups here and there resulting in some awkward animations and horrible camera choices. The camera problems crop up more often than they should and can occasionally ruin some holes as the camera focuses on nothing while you wonder where your shot ended up.
The soundtrack doesn't really do the game any favors. There's absolutely nothing to listen to while the matches are going since it's a quiet sport, and the menu music is entirely forgettable. The announcers do a much better job and call the shots reasonably well, although there are more mistakes than I've seen in other recent sports games. They have a lot of interesting things to say, especially when you're playing poorly and they can make fun of you for it.
If you have any interest in golf, you should give Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 a serious look. It's not perfect by any stretch, but it's addictive and fun, and there's plenty to do before you'll get bored with it. A word of warning, though: EA has implemented a feature that requires you to activate online play. People who purchase a new game will gain free access, but those who rent or purchase a used game must pay $10 dollars to access to the game's online modes, so if you try before you buy, you won't get the entire game experience. Tiger Woods 11 is still a load of fun without the online play, but the added challenges and competition of the online modes push this title from a good game to a great game.
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