Oh, how the wind changes.
Where once Tiger Woods stood proudly on the cover
of EA's Tiger Woods PGA Tour
series, he is now facing away – if that actually is
him - his body the size of the EA Sports logo and paling in comparison to the green “Masters” font and the cautionary yellow flag of the Masters golf course. I'm surprised that the word “Tiger Woods” along the bottom of the box isn't made invisible. Such is the fate of a once dignified icon of a dignified sport who has fallen to the woes
“sex addiction”. Thankfully, though, the video game franchise does not follow in his footsteps.
Nor has it changed all that much, either. This Masters installment, despite it obviously including the famous titular “green jacket” golf course, is still about getting an obnoxiously small ball in an obnoxiously small hole by guesstimating everything from the slope of the ball's lie and the club's maximum power, to the velocity of the wind and the general weather. It's really just a series of 18 physics problems on a fancy, manufactured lawn that costs way too much in upkeep for simply trying to screw with people's balls.
The main difference in this installment, of course, is the inclusion of the Masters, the most prestigious and one of the oldest golf major tournaments that is known for its fast greens, thin fairways protected by tall trees, and hazards around every corner. Scoring par on every hole is a feat in and of itself. Defeating a field of PGA Tour pros at the Masters is your ultimate goal, but you must receive an invitation first by climbing to the Top 100 on the in-game EA Sports World Rankings or passing all nine Masters Moments which challenges you to recreate the most remarkable feats over the history of the course. Either way, you still need to get through the twists and turns of the amateur field, Q-School, and the PGA Tour.
Assisting you through your career is the installment's newest feature: the caddie. For those who don't know already, the caddie isn't just a man-servant who carries a golfer's clubs around. In many cases, the caddie earns 10% of their golfer's earnings for also providing advice and information – the wind conditions, the club selection, previous records on the hole, the current leaderboard, and anything that would help lead the golfer to a victory. And if all else fails, he's a loneliness deterrent.
Here, your caddie will provide several prepared shots from which to choose with varying degrees of risk; if none of the shots suffice, you can opt for a custom shot, though most of the caddie's recommendations are quick and easy since they already account for wind, slope, and lie no matter how severe they might be. At the very least, they provide a sort of swing preview, a glowing trail of the ball's trajectory if you hit the shot perfectly, to compare against for any custom shot. And it makes the Move controls that much easier, though they still work as well as they did before. Also, the caddie's recommendations will improve on a particular course as you complete the course's objectives for bronze, silver, and gold mastery levels.
However, the numerous lists of objectives hampers the progression of the game with their rigidity. Not only can you not clear, say, a silver or gold objective until you complete the bronze mastery level (which means you must complete a course a minimum of three times), but the putting objective will likely impede you unnecessarily. The 25-feet putt silver objective and 50-feet putt gold objective are understandable in theory, but completing them usually means you have to rely on luck or play intentionally bad golf just to land the ball on the green 25 or 50 feet away from the hole. Worse, six sponsors
also have their own list of objectives – four levels each – that can force you to sink a putt from the fringe of a green or some other obscure task. The net effect is that you're effectively penalized for not playing the game on the easiest Amateur difficulty setting in terms of earning sponsors and mastery levels.
This is disappointing mostly because the harder difficulty settings are indeed challenging. The traditional three-click swing is much faster on the standard difficulty setting, making it now on an even level with the more advanced analog stick swing. You also now have the option of adjusting the general scores of the AI players on the leaderboard, particularly the Insane setting where the AI can score 24 under par in just one round. Setting both the difficulty setting and AI scoring higher means more experience points for your golfer to distribute among the familiar attributes of power, accuracy, control, and putting. The only gripes are that there is no setting between Normal and Insane AI scoring, and the boost in XP is low for the relatively high increase in difficulty.
Further criticism can be lodged at the DLC courses – not for their existence, but for how they are incorporated into the PGA Tour schedule. A good portion of the event calendar is based on these DLC courses, which if you don't have, must be skipped. But instead of letting bygones be bygones, you are effectively penalized by having the CPU be able to compete and collect points on the FedexCup Leaderboard and EA Sports World Rankings due to your absence. Even after I placed first in every non-DLC event leading up to the Masters, I placed only 101st on the World Rankings list (if you can believe it), one place shy of the required Top 100 for the Masters invitation, which forced me to spend three additional hours completing all nine Masters Moments instead. This is the very definition of invasive DLC, an unfortunate side effect of EA's aggressive campaign for extra cash.
On top of that, the presentation is on the verge of being outdated. The character creation still remains solid, though the lack of eye and mouth height sliders limits the facial structure. The commentary gets repetitive quickly, and making everyone in the audience have the same height, the same poor textures, and the same animations is disturbing. It's like being eerily surrounded by clapping ghosts from the grave of the Nintendo 64.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters
streamlines and updates the franchise at the cost of some stiff features and aging presentation. But the core of the franchise is left intact, including the online modes and the familiar math-intensive progression from hole to hole. Even with the invasive DLC and some lengthy loading times, The Masters
will be appreciated by golf video game fans that generally enjoy patient and methodical play. (Unlike Tiger's, of course.)