The seasoned PGA Tour Golf series shoves Tiger out of the way this year, instead choosing to put “The Masters” tournament front and center. The case, promotion and advertising for Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters are all Masters-centric, perhaps in a first step toward abandoning the long-running Tiger Woods branding entirely. But has EA taken a mulligan to start the series over from scratch, or is this just the same old game with a slightly new spin?
Since the introduction of Wii Motion Plus support in Tiger Woods 10, the Wii edition of this leading golf franchise has been the must-have version each year. This is because motion controls, properly done, make swinging a golf club feel realistic as opposed to playing with a traditional controller. Although Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters on PlayStation 3 now features motion controls, we found that version to be less than perfect. Not so with the Wii version, which consistently gets its motion controls right.
So refined are the motion controls now that it seems EA is adding additional features to make the game more realistic, as the Motion Plus aided swing already felt flawless. For instance, Balance Board support is optionally included to allow for measurement of your hip movement in your swing stance. This seems like more hassle than it’s worth, but someone looking to produce the most realistic golf simulation yet possible will appreciate the subtle way this addition forces you to have correct posture and to swing the Remote like a golf club rather than develop a lazy shortcut method. Previous additional options such as a first person view and two different putting options also return, making the game as real and customisable as the player wants. At this point, short of adding Vitality Sensor support, it is almost impossible to imagine any further refinement to the basic mechanics of playing golf.
These features are all optional and are customisable at the initial start up screen, or later on in the options menu. The sheer number of options to wade through seems like a lot to choose from for a beginner and it feels like some of this would have been better left entirely in the options menu to make the initial setup for a beginner clearer. The start up screen does offer most of these choices on a sliding scale from easy to difficult, so it is not really that confusing. But what these features are and whether or not you want them seems like too much information for someone just starting out.
Where the start up gets things right is a practice round of golf immediately following your initial selections. Recreating a classic Masters tournament, you play as Tiger and get a chance to feel how the game is played without any real consequences before creating a single player tournament or going online. Although the initial options screens may have scared away some new players, forcing them to play a quick hole right away should effectively reel them back in.
In an additional step towards catering to new players, a new “caddy” system is introduced. This is a feature that gives advice to the player on what kind of approach to take for each shot on each hole. Although loudly trumpeted as the most important improvement in the game this year, frankly, the caddy system isn’t really that new; PGA Tour Golf has long had a system in place to set up your next shot with a recommended club and aim. The caddy system merely gives you two choices to select from. For the most part, it is nothing more than a shortcut method of playing the game with all of the most important choices made for you, making the game incredibly manageable for a beginner, especially a beginner at golf. But more experienced players will find it either too easy or just annoyingly intrusive and and will be happy to find that it is another feature that can be turned off in the options menu.
While the caddy system makes things easy for new players, returning veterans will find that there is plenty of challenge to be found online, especially with the addition of the legendary Augusta National course, the site of The Masters tournament. As usual, players can compete against the pros during live tournaments. In between these online events, regular online competitive matches are always available and an extensive offline career mode should keep players of all skill levels busy for the next year. If you’re good enough, at the end of your career mode season you’ll be invited to the Masters to play at Augusta National, a PGA Tour Golf series first.
Additional bells and whistles include the return of Disc Golf, Mini Golf and the various party games, and online play for Disc Golf returns from Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11. As deep and lengthy as the career mode is, these extra game modes add even more entertaining diversions to extend the life of the game. Disc Golf in particular is likely to become the primary draw to this game for a very particular subset of fans of that sport.
It should be noted that the Wii edition this year comes with 24 courses included. A fairly typical number compared to past years, to be sure, but the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions received only 16 courses each. Although those consoles will eventually see more courses than the Wii, they will accomplish this through paid downloadable content. Although the Wii version will not be expandable in this way, out of the box it comes with 50% more courses than the other consoles, providing substantially more value.
The sand trap that the Wii edition seems permanently mired in is in its graphical presentation. In the past we’ve praised the graphics, as they generally match the appearance offered by the HD consoles, but they also clearly lack the high resolution and vibrant colors that provide such satisfying visuals on the those other consoles as well. At this point, it appears the graphics are as good as they’re going to get on the Wii, with no noticeable improvements in the last several releases. As such, the visual appeal will never match the HD graphics offered by the other systems. For most Wii players this is a familiar problem and something that goes without saying. But as Mark Twain once quipped, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” As you are already not getting a good walk out of this game, you really need to be genuinely interested in the mechanics of playing golf, as the visuals alone will not be enough to capture the interest of players when the same thing is offered in a better format elsewhere.
As it so happens, the mechanics of playing golf are where the Wii version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 excels. Although no substitute for the real thing, golfers looking to improve their golf game on the cheap and in the privacy of their own home will find the Wii version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 the most useful golf simulator yet conceived. This year’s inclusion of the highly exclusive Augusta National course makes the game a serious option for pro golfers looking to prepare for their shot at winning The Masters tournament some day.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 represents a subtle refinement of an already solid offering. While a good selling point, that also means this is basically the same game as last year’s release, just with a few minor alterations. Last year’s release was certainly great, but that doesn’t mean we have to buy it again. It seems that gone are the days when dramatic technological improvements were introduced with each new release in this series. With fewer improvements possible, it will likely become tougher each year to recommend an upgrade. But for this year, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 may very well represent the apex of the series.