An overstuffed animal.
After what seemed like an eternity of thoroughly dominating the PGA Tour, Tiger Woods finally showed what a nice guy he really is by sliding back down to mortal terrain and giving up the number one spot to Vijay Singh. Hey, it's hard to keep your eye on the ball when your "wife" looks like this.
The video game bearing his name, though, has virtually no competition whatsoever as the king of digital links. Luckily, it's a pretty great series; by some accounts, last year's Tiger Woods 2004 was the best sports game of the year.
So what do you do with a series clearly at the top of its game? Stay consistent, apparently. Tiger Woods 2005 adds a couple new features to its already full plate without taking much away from its solid formula, although at this point it's getting hard to paint new stripes on the same old beast.
For the most part, Tiger Woods 2005 emulates 2004. You'll find all the previous modes, including the full PGA Season, sweet Real-Time events and a boatload of match types and skill challenges. But 2005 ups the ante with a few notable enhancements, the biggest of which is the crown jewel of sports game player creation, GameFace.
This year's model, dubbed GameFace II, takes what was already the world's most impressive player creator and fleshes it out to ludicrous proportions. You can tweak every element of your golfer's face and body endlessly and now can play with unique features like birthmarks, water spots, wrinkles, blemishes, scars and even bags under the eyes. Really the only thing you can't do is to truly shape a fresh new hairstyle, but I suppose they had to leave something out for another sequel. As it stands, GameFace II is remarkable.
Once you build your perfect double, you can take him through Tiger Woods 2005's single-player career, which now includes both the PGA Tour and the new dual-pronged Legends mode. The Legends Tour lets you take on a series of goofy characters and PGA pros in order to eventually play and possibly beat five legendary golfers: Nicklaus, Palmer, Ballesteros, Hogan, and Player. Alternately, you can try your hand at the Legends Scenarios, which are just like the scenarios from the older Tiger Woods games and require you to win medals in a series of golf challenges.
The interesting thing is that all of these modes, from the PGA Tour to the Legends modes to all the little skill challenges along the way, are tied to your player's progress. Like Tiger, you earn cash for just about everything, be it winning a four-day Tour event or beating Justin Leonard in a head-to-head match in Legends Tour. As before, this cash is used to level up in about ten player attributes and to buy tons of new gear, accessories, animations and art. The result is a game in which you always feel like you're accomplishing something, a thorough, flowing career from the moment you create a golfer onward. It's very well done.
However, not all of the new bits are so interesting. The much touted Tiger Proofing, for instance, is really just a wimpy course editor. You earn coins in Legend mode to spend on unlocking the game's 14 courses, which you can then 'Tiger Proof' by tweaking the difficulty of each hole. Shrink fairways, lengthen rough, deepen bunkers, even change the weather, if you're so inclined. Your goal is to create a Dream 18 course on which the esteemed Legends would want to play.
While it adds some life to the courses and therefore the game itself, Tiger Proofing feels extraneous and sort of unnecessary. It's not a very robust tool, really just allowing you to manipulate pre-chosen variables, and in the end is less fun than it sounds.
Ultimately, it's all about the gameplay, which oddly is where Tiger Woods 2005 shows the least amount of growth. The analog stick swing mechanic is back and is a touch more forgiving this time around. Aside from the ability to change to a front or back stance for more or less loft, there's nothing new here. If you kicked ass before, you will certainly kick ass again.
Especially if you adhere to the old mantra, "Drive for show, putt for dough." In the case of Tiger Woods 2005, veterans will be very, very rich indeed thanks to the new Tiger Vision ability. Essentially a putting cheat that can be activated once or twice a round, Tiger Vision lets you presumably see what the mythical Tiger sees by giving you a big yellow dot on the putting surface. Put the aiming arrow on the dot and let 'er rip to drain the putt. Gimme.
The putting as a whole hasn't changed one iota from past games, meaning fans of the series will still dominate the green. Part of the problem is that there is no actual swing or timing skill involved – you just line it up based on the caddie's recommendation and bang, it goes in, regardless of distance. In other words, a 10 foot putt and a 95 foot putt might wind up having you aim the same distance from the hole ("aim 2 inches left, 4 feet long"), leading to a misrepresented lack of difficulty at longer distances.
The result of all this non-change is a game tailored more for newcomers than vets. In my first PGA Tour event, I wound up with a four-round score of 62-under par. Yep, 62-under. My closest rival? Tiger himself, at a pathetic 7-under. Can I land a "wife" like that now?
To offset the weakened challenge, the game offers up Tour mode, which removes caddie recommendations and doesn't let you apply spin to the ball if hitting from the rough or the sand. It makes putting much harder, that's for sure, but fails to give you more ways to read the green. Putting becomes a bit of a crapshoot and just isn't much fun.
Tiger Woods 2005 sees very little change in its delivery, too, although that's not a very big deal since the game looked so good to begin with. Some new animations and a nifty Create-a-Swing feature add some flair. The Xbox version is tighter around the edges than the PS2 version, and both of these outpace the Gamecube, which annoyingly breaks the game up on to two separate discs.
If you needed more out of this enormous game, you'll get it by playing with others. Both the PS2 and Xbox (finally, EA) feature full online playability, allowing you to play a variety of match types against other players or in official tournaments. Straightforward, but effective.
As is Tiger Woods 2005. The new features are generally welcomed but don't change the fact that this is largely the same game you probably spent way too much time with last year. You get the feeling the developers have sort of maxed-out the capabilities of current generation systems and are now just trying to cram as a much into the packages as possible. But hey, sometimes more reallyis more, keeping Tiger firmly on top of at least one golf game.