Who hasn't played with Tiger Woods?
This game gets a Ho-in-One. And that’s the end of the obligatory Tiger Woods jokes (though they should totally make the South Park version of the game). Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 is one of those annual sports franchises that is just about as expected as they come, to the point that they only make changes in an effort, I believe, for critics like me to say something different. But as grateful as I am for the writing material, changes are only good when they’re thoughtfully designed and polished, and some of them just don’t make the cut here.
[image1]This isn’t to say that the core Tiger Woods gameplay has gone off track. There are five new golfers and five new courses to choose from, but golf in video games is still about calibrating and compensating for wind, slope, lie, power, club, and any water traps or bunkers that might turn your life into a nightmare… just like real golf. Thankfully, they’ve added the slope grid during an approach toward the putting green, so you have a better idea on where to aim and how much spin to give the ball.
Although the character modeling and commentary are becoming outdated, the menus have that Photoshop shine and the environments remain pristine with rolling fairways and stretched horizons. Strong winds will push against the trees and blow against your hair and clothes. Winds also now gust weaker and stronger in real time, which is realistic but makes for irritating moments when you strike the ball into 2mph winds only for it to sail suddenly into 10mph winds right into the woods.
To prevent you from abusing the system, the new focus meter controls the number of times you can use helpful features like putt preview, additional topspin off the driving tee, and heightened accuracy to the pin. Any basic, unmodified shot below 100% power restores a part of your meter. This makes you want to get better at the core game so you don’t have to use any extra enhancements. By effect, though, it awkwardly rewards you for missing a close birdie putt with putt preview and then gaining focus for sinking the basic par putt, like a consolation prize for trying.
As usual, the main career mode has you play through an annual calendar of multiple 18-hole courses that take about a half an hour each to complete. It’s your choice whether to use the analog stick, the 3-click swing with a better circular design, or the new True-Aim camera angle which fixes the camera on the golfer and places yardage markers on the course. It works as a realistic, third-person depiction of golf, though you’ll probably stick with the other two camera angles if just to control the spin of the ball.
[image2]Unfortunately, some of the more pressing issues remain unaddressed. The slope of the ball’s lie still has no visual breakdown, so you have to severely guesstimate how far the ball will shoot left, right, up, or down when you’re shooting off an incline. The 3-click swing lacks precision due to its power bar increasing and decreasing in unusual increments of 3, which means you’ll end up with far too many 101% power shots that drain your focus. It also gets covered by the Xbox Live Notifications. (Damn online friends!)
This time around, your winnings don’t count towards anything aside from a ranking, and the variable stat system has been scrapped. Instead you earn experience points – small amounts for getting birdies and long drives, and larger amounts for winning events. You can also earn additional chunks of experience in the Skills Challenge for doing everything from match play to breaking Tiger’s superhuman records.
In a strange twist, experience points are not only used to upgrade your skills - separated into ten different attributes within the four familiar categories of power, accuracy, control, and putting - but also to purchase new items, animations, and clothing from the Pro Shop. You probably know how this is going to turn out. Why would you spend precious experience points on items that give minimal boosts instead of leveling up your essential stats? Worse, experience points spent on items are lost permanently whereas those spent on stats are recyclable.
At the same time, placing points in one attribute eventually decreases the maximum value for another attribute, so you’re encouraged to purchase items if you want to cap your abilities. The items that are actually worth buying have a price tag of 28,000 XP, and given that the average 18-hole course awards only 1,500 XP, that’s about 324 holes for one item. A better long-term system would have included both experience points and tour winnings, and a lot more items that you could purchase for a small amount of cash.
[image3]On a better note, several new modes join the familiar mini-games and online tournaments. The Swing Tuner lets you adjust your clubs and visualizes all the attributes so you can see the difference each experience point makes. The infamous Ryder Cup, an annual event that pits USA against Europe in head-to-head matches, and an online 12-vs.-12 match type makes team play more viable. The only caveat is the $10 EA Online Pass, which second-hand users must purchase to access online play. As much as EA has the right to charge for hand-me-down online access, no player should be at all pleased about it.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 needs to learn from other golf titles like Pangya to build a better pro store and long-term reward system, and Hot Shots Golf to create a slope indicator and a precise 3-click system. But the essentials are more than covered, and the new attribute system is more gratifying than the prior variable stat system. Grab a copy if you like the Tiger Woods series; otherwise, it’s not going to change your mind about golf at all. Did you learn anything?