A golf game might be the hardest type of sports game to develop, if only because of the audience golf brings to the table. Golf’s barrier to entry has been minimized in recent years, and being an individual-based sport that does not have an age limit means that there are a whole lot of different types of golfers out there -- and thus golf gamers out there. Nevertheless, the Tiger team is tasked with the job of appeasing all of these sects of golf fans while satiating each one’s desire to have a suitable golf game on a yearly basis.
And when it comes to Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters, the Playstation Move version might be the development team’s best chance to appease all those fans this year.
The Masters, Kind of a Big Deal
Augusta National is the Madison Square Garden of the PGA; it’s the Super Bowl of the golf world. Every golfer definitely wants to win the FedEx Cup, but if you forced a PGA Tour golfer to choose between being the best golfer of the year or winning the Masters, my guess is -- purse aside -- each one of those golfers would take the green jacket.
EA certainly understands the aura of Augusta National as well. After all, new “laser-scanning” technology that allowed the company to capture every grassy pixel at Augusta National had to materialize before both sides would even agree to this partnership. This type of obsession to detail should not be overlooked. Since almost none of us will ever be able to make it to Augusta National, even as a spectator, this game really is the closest we will get to golf’s greatest spectacle.
You can go on a journey across America and see a game at every MLB stadium, but it’s hard to go on such a journey when it comes to golf. And that’s the real achievement of bringing Augusta National to Tiger 12. A layer of the mystique has been removed, and now you really can analyze and parse through every aspect of the course. The amount of detail, love and care here is legitimate, and the fidelity as you roam the course is top notch.
CBS, though, will still be able to bring us into those Masters moments more than Tiger 12 really can. As I played through some of the most famous holes Augusta National has to offer, it still felt more like a museum tour rather than a thrilling window into what it would feel like to play a round at the Masters. Everything from the history of each hole on the course to the history behind some of the best moments at the Masters is being included in this year’s game, yet the “experience” of the Masters might not quite shine through. The magnitude of the course, and the historical significance of Augusta National is there, but it’s hard to identify if the “soul” of the course is really spinning on the disc.
Some of the Masters Moments you will be able to play through in Tiger 12.
Perhaps it’s just that presentation is a strength of TV more than it really can be for video games. Or perhaps a heaping amount of presentation is not what most of these sects of golf gaming fans are looking for in the game. Regardless, it feels like the one lost opportunity here. Everything from the crowd’s roars to the player’s reactions could use just a little extra something. At the very least, the game does have Jim “I am THE voice of the Masters” Nantz and David Feherty in the booth, both of which add authority to the game’s presentation.
It’s All in the Hips
Motion controls and golf just make sense. And folks who have played the Nintendo Wii version of the game should not be shocked to hear that EA has figured out how to deliver motion controls to the PS3 as well.
Simply put, the Move controls work best when swinging and worst when navigating. On the green, it’s probably a bit more of a chore than it really should be to aim a putt. I felt myself just longing for an analog stick as I had to tilt the controller multiple directions to correctly line up a putt. However, I quickly forgot about those issues when I actually got to just swing the dang club.
The new caddie feature plays into this equation as well. Within the career mode your caddie will “level” much like you do, but as I played through a couple holes during my demo session, I did get the feeling it will be a feature for people who don’t want to really take the time to figure out every green and tee. In addition, it’s a tricky thing to really balance. The caddie can’t be an all-knowing entity like the putt preview, but at the same time which gamers is the caddie serving if he just gives you a general idea of where to aim the putt?
Again, the caddie can’t be a green-reading extraordinaire, but the caddie is not really trying to teach you to read the green or anything either. In other words, newer fans to the franchise are not really being better served on the greens by this anonymous caddie, and long-time veterans are going to ignore the caddie and simply read the green like they have always done.
Still, the caddie is no doubt a necessary addition, and on the tee and in the fairway I think the caddie works better than on the green.
Caddies aside, the thrill of swinging the club in Tiger’s version of first-person mode (known as True View) works quite well here. I am not in love with the post-swing camera, and the one-to-one motion inevitably makes some of the swings look a bit rough, especially the putting strokes, but it’s certainly a tangible gameplay experience that is hard to duplicate in any other sports game.
To explain my dislike of the post-swing first-person camera a bit more, it just does not transition cleanly from the swing to tracking the ball. Perhaps it was just because we were in a crowded demo area, but there was a slight camera hitch between the follow through and the following of the ball.
Everything else felt great. You can push putts, or slice and fade the ball, and it’s true that your real swing is mimicked by the game. I have a bit of a natural fade on my shot in real life, and you could immediately see the same when looking at my swing path in the game. Motion controls can sometimes be a gimmick, but it’s no gimmick here. With the high-def graphics and fantastic Move controls, I will unfortunately have to abandon the Wii, buy a Move controller, and start getting my rounds of virtual golf on the PS3 this year.
It’s easy to get excited for Tiger this year purely because of Augusta National. But the Move controls mixed with the PS3 graphics excite me just as much. For the first time this generation, I will get to mash the graphics of the PS3/Xbox 360 together with the amazing controls found in the MotionPlus version of Tiger on the Nintendo Wii.
And those who have experienced it know that Tiger mixed with motion controls is an exciting proposition. When I got really comfortable with the game last year on the Wii, it came to the point where I did not even have to look at the TV screen while I was on the green to gauge the power of my putting stroke. It was all based on feel, and that’s a truly amazing feeling that's hard to quantify in the genre.
So when you mix gameplay potential together with 16 beautiful courses (another 12 are coming via DLC), what sounds like some promising updates to the career mode, and the first inclusion of Augusta National -- yes, I just mentioned it again, it’s that big a deal -- golf fans should be intrigued by this year’s title. While some Tiger pitfalls, like presentational shortcomings and confusion about how best to serve its users on the course, seem to be cropping up once again, the game still looks like it will be a solid experience come March.