Chipped past the hole but still on the green.
It’s uncanny how much Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2010 mimics Tiger Woods’ PGA Tour season this year: par. Well, “par” for Tiger at least, who was absent for the second half of the 2008 season recovering from a double stress facture and a torn ligament in his left leg. So far in 2009, he has won two tournaments and placed several times in the Top 10, but he’s really just trying to keep up with the pace he set in years past. And the same goes for the Tiger Woods franchise, which hit its peak between 2003 and 2005, and is still trying to remain on the front page of the leaderboard.
[image1]For the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the title, not much has changed since last year’s installment, replete with nearly all of its pros and cons, and graphics, modes, menu interfaces, options, and the casual yet professional aesthetic. That may not be a financial problem considering the consistent sales figures that the franchise pulls in every year no matter how the formula has been improved (or not). But it’s disappointing to find glaring flaws that still remain unfixed, swept under the façade of new challenge modes and swing controls.
Fortunately, the new features are, at worst, beneficial tweaks that make the already remarkable array of gameplay modes and options even more well-rounded. Precision Putting replaces the unrealistic idea that a golfer needs three different putters for three different distances with simply one putter that can cover most any distance on the putting surface. Swinging the analog stick down and up gauges for power, with a handy yellow marker that shows your current power setting, while the speed of the follow-through also matters – move it too quickly and you’ll send the ball rolling past the hole.
A more refined version of the Tiger Challenge mode from Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2009, Tournament Challenge serves as a suitable accompaniment to the standard PGA Tour Season mode by asking you to perform or outperform certain feats that were actually done in real life. Each course has four challenges of increasing difficulty, some of which begin with an informative introductory video of the golfer (usually Tiger Woods himself) who accomplished the feat. Earning points by getting lower than a certain score on a couple of holes or defeating other golfers in match play (or one of the many other variants of golf) will unlock more courses and more goodies in the shop for your customizable character.
Live Weather, as its name suggests, matches the weather (precipitation, wind direction, and wind speed) on a particular course with today’s weather on that course, by accessing the weather database on Weather.com. It’s an interesting option that puts you more into the game, but since actual weather is as arbitrary as the default “random weather” option anyway, Live Weather won’t impact much (unless you live near one of those golf courses and can’t help but have an “Oh my, but that’s what’s going on outside right now!” reaction).
[image2]Online mode now includes daily and weekly tournaments, where you compare your scores to other players on a leaderboard, and Play the Pros, where you compare your scores to actual golfers with your attributes capped at 7. Either way, though, the incentive to play is limited once your eyes roll at the -27 score at the top of the heap. Beating that means getting the equivalent of nine birdies and nine eagles spread between reaching Par 5 greens in two, some Par 4 greens in one, and a whole bag of pure dumb Happy Gilmore luck.
And that’s it, really. As usual, you can expect to create a customizable golfer, tweaking everything from body size and facial features (once again, you can plant your face on the golfer using the Microsoft Live Vision camera) to an exorbitantly expensive clubhouse-worth of stat-boosting equipment. Then, you can pitch that golfer through a dog-eared gauntlet of PGA Tour events and Tournament Challenges, winning trophies, gaining cash, unlocking more equipment, uploading GamerNet challenges, and smashing every record along the way. All the while, you’ll appreciate the rich detail in the undulation of the courses and the crispness of the flyby commentary, despite the scary-looking crowds all clapping at the same time like white zombies.
Numerical data will be swirling through your head with every shot - firmness of the greens, slope of the landing area, slope of the hitting area, lie of the ball, wind speed, wind direction, the best loft, the best trajectory including fade and draw, the right power, the right top spin or backspin, and how many headshots from a stainless steel driver you need to the head before realizing that golf is “a game designed for people who don’t hate themselves enough in their daily lives”. If you get the reference, you deserve a driver the size of an infant.
Even so, I lied. There are two vital pieces of information that aren’t provided and which you will have to guesstimate: the slope of the landing area and the hitting area. If you are hitting the ball off a slope that goes from left to right, the ball will naturally be hit to the right; if the slope goes from back to front, the ball will be hit at a higher angle. Of course, how the hitting area slopes is also important, especially if the ball is expected to roll a long distance or if the putting green has a fast and sensitive surface. None of this information is provided, and unfortunately, the targeting circle the shot preview uses is useless, which is odd considering that whenever you use the chip shot, the better and more useful sloped grid appears. Why you can’t toggle between the targeting circle and sloped grid is unusual to say the least, but less forgiving is that without either piece of information, hitting the ball near the pin can sometimes be nigh-impossible.
[image3]Dynamic attributes return as well, rewarding players with higher stats - in power, accuracy, short game, and putting - if you excel at those skills on the golf course. It’s a system designed to keep the tension high, make every shot count, and have a clear progression during the PGA Tour season. However, the attributes are still too dynamic, fluctuating at the slightest mishap or unjust misfortune. For instance, the power attribute is largely dependent on your average driving distance, but if you’re at the British Open where the winds can blow twelve miles an hour into your face, your ball is going to be short and your power attribute will likely drop, regardless of how much additional oomph you pack into the swing. The dynamic attributes don’t take course or hole difficulty into account, banking on statistical averaging over the entire season to fix the problem - which doesn’t.
The 3-click swing, available only in beginner and amateur difficulty, returns as a throwback to the gentler days of golf games, but it’s seen as a crutch. Like last year’s installment, someone thought it was a good idea for notifications to cover the 3-click swing widget even when you’re in mid-swing. The framerate also occasionally stutters, making the bar move in a jittering fashion. Meanwhile, the “real” method of swinging the ball using the analog stick is generally inconsistent, with power and direction at the mercy of your thumb.
And why can’t I replay my GamerNet clips from my hard drive without having an information box cover the middle of the screen?
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 is a safe and sound approach shot from the fairway lie of last year’s golfing venture. Its low risks won’t change your mind about the franchise, and there’s still a level of frustration given that it would only take several minimal tweaks to make the design match the brilliance of its production values. But just like Tiger Woods, it may just be thankful that the ball is still in play.