Little strokes fell great oaks.
Now that Tiger Woods is seemingly free and clear of his infamous sex addiction, slowly but surely returning to top form with him currently sitting in second place on the FedEx Cup Leaderboard, his face can safely grace the cover of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14. He was showcased on front of last year's title as well, but only dangerously so in a "What, too soon?" kind of way. Thankfully, Tiger is legitimately on the comeback trail and this year's installment follows suit with numerous enhancements that will thoroughly please veterans of simulation golf.
Within a few rounds, it becomes clear that Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 has been pushed away from the casual path. The three-click swing is far off in the distance and the caddie option is only accessible during practice rounds, so you're basically on your own. Using the analog stick to swing the golf club, you'll have to judge the wind velocity, wind direction, upslope/downslope, sideslope, stroke speed, and impact point (just to name a few) to ensure that the ball lands in fairways and greens in regulation.
The easiest difficulty, Amateur, still has notable assists like the familiar putt preview, the ability to spin the ball during its flight, and the slope-indicating grid on the putting surface. But as the difficulty is raised, each of these assists drops by the wayside and the accuracy of your analog stick swivels needs to be incrementally more precise.
This is especially true when you add the Kinect into the mix and for the new Simulation difficulty setting, which awards an extremely high experience and status point multiplier to compensate for how ridiculously challenging it is. Since you don't have the ability to zoom in here, so you'll have to pick a spot into the horizon and hope that you've memorized the layout of the hole well enough to land the ball safely. The meter for gauging power, the grid on the putting surface, and putt preview are all disabled. If that's not a formula for getting double bogeys on every hole, I don't know what is.
That said, there's no thrill in the game that matches the moment right before the ball sinks into the hole for a birdie in Simulation difficulty—an experience I've had only a handful of times. At the same time, it will likely make you hate the analog stick if you're at all inconsistent with it, especially since the higher difficulties require you to hit diagonally in accordance with the new Advanced Shot Shaping. The new Golfer Swing Styles allow you to choose the power or control style and height trajectory of a created golfer, but there's no option other than a fade or draw. Frustrating or not, success is a matter of millimeters now more than ever.
Along with this comes a host of improvements tailored for veterans of the franchise. All four major golf tournaments are featured in career mode and in live tournaments, including the prestigious Masters course at Augusta where (warning!) players on Amateur difficulty will suddenly lose their ability to spin the ball mid-flight. Random miss-hits have been nixed altogether, with swing tempo now affecting accuracy, left-right movement now added to every swing, and more detail shown during precision chipping. Female golfers can now compete in the LPGA, and the new option of night golf, played with an illuminated ball, pairs well with the already existing live weather settings.
For a slice of golf history, you can enter the Legends of the Majors mode where you'll revisit some of the greatest moments of the sport, with you playing the role of the legendary players who made them. Starting from Tom Kidd's first Open Championship in 1873, you will be challenged to repeat the feats of Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and of course Tiger Woods.
Live online tournaments have also been revamped with the ability to shoot the links with 24 players at a time, chatting with (or muting) your competitors and seeing the flight path of their shots all in real time. Earning status points toward your Country Clubs standing returns in full force, with the occupancy of Clubhouses increased fourfold to 100 members, larger Team Loyalty awards for playing multiple days in a row, and the ability to chat with fellow members for assistance and camaraderie.
The trouble, however, is that the presentation has not improved for a few years now. The addition of new statistic transitions between holes and new voice-over commentary aren't enough. The character models for faces have remained stagnant (still don't know why there is no control for mouth height), and they've removed voices and victory animations from created golfers. The textures of the grass and trees, and the crowd of creepy, synchronized clones still look like they're from the last generation and interrupts the realism every time you take notice of them. It's also still frustrating that you can't save replays for incredible shots (like, say, the two chip-in eagle bunker shots I made) so that you can show them off.
On the matter of coins and pin packs, it's not as much of an issue here, though it still gives players a noticeable boost if they choose the "pay to win" optoin. Fortunately, XP boosts don't give too much of an advantage anymore, since gaining XP in this installment is fairly easy and the attribute system has been simplified. It's almost better to use coins to level your character instead of purchasing pin packs for the expensive price of 4,000, 8,000, or 14,000 coins (you earn about 400 coins per 18 holes).
Longtime fans of the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series should not miss out on this 2014 installment, as nearly every change and enhancement is meant to cater to their every desire. New players may be frustrated with the higher standard of difficulty and the presentation has become worn and dated, but there is no question that Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 is, despite being the only one, the best golf simulation yet to date.