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Even before cracking open the box for Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12, you know that EA Sports wants to make it crystal clear that this is essentially The Masters: The Video Game. They’re right to brag since this is the first time you can play a virtual round of golf at Augusta National. In fact for the majority of us, it will be the only way we’ll ever do so.
For those not savvy with real golf, bringing The Masters to this series is the equivalent to adding the Super Bowl to Madden NFL Football if it never before appeared in the franchise. The fact that there is so much more to this year’s installment than The Masters makes Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 the most excited I’ve been about the game in almost half a decade.
You can have a dozen modes, numerous courses, and the nicest looking grass and trees that a computer can generate, but without the actual “playing golf” portion of the game feeling solid, you have nothing. Thankfully this area holds up, and in some cases, actually surpasses it's predecessors.
There are still two options for your shots; using the left stick to simulate the back swing and forward motion of your club, or the classic three-click. Gone, however, are the days where you could just press R3 and choose which method you’d like to use. Now you have to go to the options menu, which is accessible during the game, however nowhere near as speedy as hitting a button to swap between control schemes. While this won’t bother the majority of players, some do enjoy using three-click for teeing off, only using it for putting, or other various combinations.
Using the left stick to swing still feels the same, with any slight movement to the right or left causing your shot to go in that direction as well. Three-click uses the half-circle that was introduced last year and works the same. Personally I prefer the three-click and am glad to see it still going strong. There was word that three-click would not be available for putting this year, but I’m happy to say it is.
The right and left bumpers no longer adjust your draw or fade;
instead you just tilt the right stick. The bumpers now work with a feature that
is well established in the world of golf, but new to the Tiger Woods series:
The caddie is surprisingly not annoying. He’s easy to skip over if you don’t want to take his advice, but when you get into a sticky situation such as heavy rough or attempting to get out of a bunker, his shot suggestion is priceless. You can press the left stick up to see the ball’s estimated path and landing spot, which I also found is helpful for predicting where your own shots will end up. If the caddie suggests a shot that you feel is a little too far left, just create your own shot a little further right. Occasionally he’ll offer up more than one choice, and if there’s a higher risk shot, say, one that involves draw or fade, it will be colored yellow for slight risk or red for heavy risk. There are also times when the caddie has no advice and you have to figure things out for yourself.
If I had to say anything bad about the caddie, it involves putting, combined with the putt preview. The caddie will give you a suggestion as to what you should aim for when putting, factoring in the way the green slopes and other considerations. After positioning your shot, you can check putt preview, a feature from previous games that allows you to see the estimated path of your putt based on where you place the cursor on the green. Following the caddie’s advice will usually show your path going straight into the hole. However I ran into a lot of situations where I nailed the shot according to the three-click meter and the ball was considerably off despite two aspects of the game telling me the shot should have worked.
Also I found myself getting kind of addicted to the caddie, just hitting one button and going from hole to hole without sizing up any shots. Sure that’s my own fault, but it is a crutch that is tempting to hold on to.
Speaking of game modes, there are plenty. The main mode of the game is “Road to the Masters,” which is as it says. You start off playing in pro-ams, work your way up through the Nationwide Tour and the PGA Tour until finally you’re asked to play at Augusta. I am really glad this is here, as previous games have you just starting as a PGA pro, however if there is anything bad to say about it, there isn’t much to the pre-PGA portion and you end up blasting through all the levels quickly. I’m glad that it isn’t long and drawn out, however the option of a more “pro” experience would have been nice instead of making, as an example, the experience of the Nationwide Tour only last two tournaments of one round each. One aspect I really appreciate is the Q School section. Although I was hoping dearly that this would be a new version of the long gone and sorely missed Tiger Challenge, it’s just a tournament. If you place lower than 25th (which, granted, is difficult to do,) you start over at the lowest level in the next calendar year.
Playing, as it should be, is what makes you a better golfer,
statistically speaking of course. You earn XP by making long drives, getting
birdies, and other general good play on the green. That XP goes towards any
four areas you wish: power, accuracy, control and putting, which are all broken
up into sub categories. I’ve found that generally if you put all your points in
power and putting, the other two are easily neglected and almost unnecessary, however
the XP system is way better than the Hank Haney “lesson” method attempted
previously which had you get better at aspects of the game that you were
already good in, and occasionally even growing poorer in those areas. Your
caddie gets in on the leveling up action as well, becoming more knowledgeable
about particular courses the more you play and succeed on them. Next time you
play a round there, he’ll give you even better suggestions.
Gear is still available, but aside from being able to “buy” it, you can also earn sponsorships through advancing in the game, which unlocks better equipment to use at your disposal. In fact if you choose to buy items, you have to collectively buy a sponsorship upgrade to access the items available at that level. Speaking of equipment, there are thankfully fewer goofy looking items this year, which to me hurt previous installments. I wanted to have the best gear on my character, but that would usually require him suiting up with such ridiculous duds as purple shorts and a king’s crown. Not only did they redeem themselves by cutting out the Spencer’s Gifts level of clothing, if your golfer has on, as an example, basketball shorts, you have to change into something more appropriate if you’re going to play at Augusta. I love this little detail.
Aside from your career, there are other sections of the game worth checking out. One is called “Masters Moments,” where your goal is to recreate iconic moments from The Masters. Remember Phil Mickelson landing his ball a few feet from the hole after hitting it out of the trees and pine? Yeah, you’ll have to do that. This can tie into your career, as finishing these challenges will get you an exemption into The Masters, even during your first PGA season.
“Tiger at the Masters” has you playing as Tiger, trying to meet or beat his performances during each round of his four wins at The Masters. If you fail, you have to try again. There also appears to be a placeholder for this year’s tournament.
Aside from these new modes, online matches and tournaments are available as in previous years. Along with this active online mode, there are passive online features, such as being able to earn points by beating the drive distances of other players while engaged in any mode of the game, a carryover from previous installments. Your golfer also earns “pins” that are reminiscent of the icons you can unlock in Street Fighter IV to add to your in-game player tag. In this case, you get a literal tag that you can add three pins to. They are unlocked by accomplishing goals such as getting your first eagle or first PGA Tour victory. What disappoints me about them is there are only around 30 of these, and the methods of acquiring them weren’t that creative, considering they’re essentially in-game achievements.
The presentation is similar to previous years, with a bit of extra green and gold to celebrate their new Augusta acquisition. The menus are very well designed and also very Masters-themed. EA Trax is still around, but way classier than your typical EA Sports fare. Speaking of sound, wind noises are more noticeable this year, which not only gives you a reminder to check the wind speed and direction, but also seems to match up with how strong the gusts are. Jim Nantz does commentary this year, and it’s a very welcome addition.
The Tiger Woods series has always been a favorite of mine. It actually gets me to tune in to the real thing now. After the solid 2008 edition, I felt that the series was slipping, using gimmicks like The Ryder Cup to pull in new fans, but instead turning them off by neglecting gameplay. I was worried that having The Masters in the game, along with the much shorter development cycle, would harm the experience, but instead Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 has revitalized the series, and has got me daydreaming when I’m away from my console about getting home and playing my next round.