Playing 18 holes of golf is an experience unlike any other. Each and every hole can result in a handful of different emotions. Learning from each mistake, keeping your poise, and, most importantly, visualizing and executing are never easy things to accomplish – despite what Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 made you think when teeing off on the 18th hole with 25 under par.
Over the past two years, the Tiger Woods franchise has gone through some of the best game mechanic changes with nothing more than realism and approachability in mind. Precision Putting and Putt Preview in last year’s installment were a welcome change that made one of the most difficult elements of golf a much more manageable experience. This year, we see a drastic step in the right direction with the addition of “focus” and “True-Aim” – two features that do their best to make the upgrade from last year’s Tiger Woods worth it. Whether it is enough is really up to you, and hopefully I’ll make your decision easier below.
One of the largest complaints in previous years was the unrealistic stroke counts that players were able to achieve. If you put in enough time and learned the game’s tendencies, you were undoubtedly going to become a player exponentially better than Tiger himself. In turn, you were either frustrated or unchallenged. Focus and True-Aim are two new features that hope to aid this very problem.
There are unquestionably three game mechanics that make Tiger Woods too easy: power, spin, and Putt Preview. While Putt Preview could only be used once each hole, it came at no cost to the player. Power and spin are two game mechanics, with no limit in use, that were constantly overused and resulted in unrealistic drives and ball placement. With the addition of focus, there is now a limit on the use of all three of these elements as well as a new game mechanic: accuracy. This limit is based entirely around the cost of focus.
When first starting the round, you are given a full bar of focus. Power, spin, accuracy, and Putt Preview each cost focus. Each press of the button that increases power, spin, and accuracy has a cost. Therefore, it is possible to use up your entire bar of focus before you even make it to the green, in which case Putt Preview will be unavailable. However, one can regain a small amount of focus by taking a swing without using any of these mechanics. And in order to keep things more balanced while adding a rewarding element of strategy, focus is not reset after each hole, it is carried throughout the entire round.
Because of this drastic change, there will surely be mixed feelings about the addition of focus. But in all honesty, focus is one of the simplest, most effective additions to any sports game. It sets out to help increase the difficulty and in turn adds a new element of strategy. Knowing Putt Preview costs almost a fifth of your focus, you’ll be asking yourself constantly: “do I use Putt Preview more than once this hole, or perhaps save it for power, accuracy, or spin on the next hole?”. Having a cost-reward element is a surprisingly gratifying experience and one in which I hope to see more of in other sports games in the future.
Focus is not without its faults though. It is undoubtedly at its worst during courses with numerous par 5 holes. Par 5 holes allow players to regain a large amount of their focus without using it until on the green. As a result, Eagle opportunities increase, as using more than one Putt Preview will not have a drastic effect on focus. Pro mode does its best to dilute this situation by making focus cost more as well as decrease the amount of focus regained, however, it is not as large of a difference from Amateur difficulty which is disappointing. Should EA continue to balance this game, it is my sincere hope that they increase the focus cost of Putt Preview across all difficulties.
If focus doesn’t help improve the challenge, True-Aim will. True-Aim puts you in the shoes of the player as you are only given a GPS view of the course instead of the usual “zoom to aim” functionality. Much more analysis of the course, your club, and the weather is required in order to master this gameplay option.
While True-Aim requires a lot of practice to get used to, it not only provides a more authentic round of golf, but is a much more rewarding experience than normal gameplay. However, it is not a gameplay option that many will stick to, but instead one that is visited when the mood strikes. Ultimately, it is a “nice to have” feature for those looking for more of a challenge.
Moreso than other other sports game available on the market, the Tiger Woods franchise has appealed to so many because of its focus on creating your own player and starting a career in the PGA. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 improves upon this by adding experience points (XP). Last year there were four attributes that were leveled based on career gameplay, skills challenges, and the exhaustively repetitive training sessions after each event. This time around, XP is used to level any of the eleven attributes that are split up across four main attributes: Power (Swing Speed, Power Boost), Accuracy (Swing Plane, Balance), Control (Draw, Fade, Touch), and Putting (Green Reading, Swing Plane, Feel, Tempo).
Full control is given over increasing or decreasing each of these attributes which adds yet another element of strategy. As XP is accumulated through free play, career, and skills challenge, your player level increases which then unlocks more items in the Pro Shop. But while XP is a change many have been waiting for, it is disappointing that items in the Pro Shop require either XP or Microsoft points to purchase. I am in complete disagreement that season earnings be nothing more than a measurement of season winnings and see this as a way to arbitrarily increase the amount of playtime required to obtain these items. Seems to me like EA did this to entice players to just take the easy road and spend money on these micro-transactions – something which I am not a fan of.
Between spending XP on attributes and Pro Shop items, the amount of time required to be at the same level as Tiger Woods will take around 20-30 hours of gameplay. A ton of time can be sunk into career mode but the amount of XP gained over the course of a round is a bit too low. Because of this, it may become daunting for some that so much time and effort is required.
For those casual players, these changes may be a lot less accessible than last year. Having so much control over the progress of your player is great for those that consider themselves hardcore sports gamers, but not so much for others. Then again, the Wii version or even the use of Playstation Move may be more than enough for those casual players out there to forgive the changes to career mode.
Should your love of Tiger Woods lie outside of career mode, the newly added Ryder Cup will be, well, an experience. Ryder Cup consists of five different matches as Europe and United States tee off against each other. Because each match can take up to 30 minutes, the progress of the Ryder Cup can be saved for later, which is a very nice touch. This is an absolute necessity as the entire event can take up to three hours to complete.
Through each match you are able to switch between various players after each hole, thus allowing you to pick up some of the slack. But this slack is the biggest problem with the Ryder Cup mode. When playing single-player, it becomes extremely frustrating when you realize how reliant you are on the AI. The at times questionable approaches and poor putting in clutch situations by the AI is enough to make you feel like you are simply along for the ride. Therefore it is best to play the Ryder Cup with a group of friends in local multiplayer.
As many Tiger Woods fans know though, it is much more fun with friends (as most things are). Online multiplayer is unchanged outside of the new addition of 12 versus 12 team play. This mode was added in order to reflect the implementation of the Ryder Cup and is a fantastic addition to an already very well fleshed out online multiplayer experience, filled with a plethora of game modes.
While it is great to see online mode get new additions, it is extremely unsettling to see that Gamernet hasn’t been fleshed out more. Being able to challenge other players’ best strokes, drives, holes, or rounds both online and in single-player is an extremely addictive feature. But when Gamernet points have no real worth outside of leaderboards, an opportunity is really lost. The constant awards and unlocks in games like Modern Warfare 2 and Blur would be perfect when coupled with Gamernet, and is hopefully something that the developers have in mind for the future.
Taking risks in annual sports games are an absolute necessity. EA took some risks in this year’s installment of Tiger Woods and they were both hit and miss. For the casual player, Amateur and Pro modes are finally a balanced, challenging, enjoyable experience due to the additions of focus and True-Aim. But for those hardcore players, the addition of focus may not be the change you are looking for. Instead, True-Aim and the addition of XP in career mode may be the biggest sources of appeal. Either way, EA has provided enough game mechanic changes and new features to resolve last year’s issues while still tending to both the casual and hardcore – which is what any sports gamer asks for year in, year out.
While recreation of the courses, including the three new courses (Whistling Straights, Greenbrier and Liberty National), are great, the graphics really haven't evolved much since last year.
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The addition of focus and True-Aim are enough to appease those that complained about the lack of difficulty in the past. However, Focus is not without its faults and True-Aim isn't for everyone.
Voice overs are just as dry as last year and crowd chatter is still extremely limited. Additionally, somehow (thinking it wasn't possible), the music selection is worse than last year.
There's easily enough content here to sink 50+ hours into. However, Ryder Cup is a mode that will most likely only be enjoyed a handful of times and grinding for XP will certainly start to become a draining experience.
The additions of force and True-Aim are a great solution to the lack of difficulty in previous years and manage to improve realism. For casual players, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 improves upon enough to provide a challenging, enjoyable experience. However, for hardcore players, the appeal of the new game mechanic changes and game modes may vary.