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Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters


A bogey from EA marketing is the only blemish on a nearly perfect round of golf.

EA is arguably the juggernaut of sports game producers.  While there was some hearty, superior competition from 2K games in the NBA department, they often tend to hold a monopoly on official licenses.  When they produce a great game, such as their continually impressive NHL series fans are happy, when they fail to make great leaps in a series such as is often the case with the Madden games, fans are less than pleased.  Frankly, their golf series, which has been sporting the Tiger Woods moniker for well over a decade now has been a solid outing.  However, over the past two years, Woods’ favor in the public eye has fallen and although he was still a prominent fixture in last year’s entry to the series (likely due to the scandal popping up well into the game’s development), this year, the focus is shifted from the living legend to EA’s acquisition of the Masters Tournament license.  In all honesty, the shift from Woods to the iconic tournament and a heavy focus on a create-a-player career is a huge positive and sets “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters” on the path to greatness.

tiger woods 12 the masters course

I can honestly say the career mode in Tiger Woods 12 is one of the most fun sports career modes I’ve played in any game.  EA gets things going with their game face feature, wherein the user uploads a front and side shot of their face to EA's website, then downloads it in-game.  Set a few facial markers and 20-mintues later you have a 3D model of your head on your created golfer’s body.  While this feature also shows up in “Fight Night Champion” this was my first time working with it and the results were amazing.  My only complaint was the lack of true life in the eyes.  From their players can fiddle with the hair and body styles and then head off the path to PGA your stardom.

You begin with low stats and amateur ranking, and the game sets up a nice pace allowing you to learn the ropes as you play.  By the time you finish the amateur tour (all career milestones have certain tasks associated with them holding you back from the next level) and enter Q School for your first shot at pro status, you’ll have likely built your stats up a decent amount and have at least one sponsorship unlocked.  The sponsorship feature in this year’s edition of the game is key to success, with each sponsor having tasks you must perform to unlock each of the four levels associated per sponsor.  The higher the level, the better the equipment.  At the game’s highest sponsorship level, you’ll come across equipment that significantly boosts your player’s stats.

There’s one more key component involved before you can try your hand at securing a Green jacket.  EA has added the in-game global ranking and to get to the Major tournaments you need to rank in the top 100.  Do well in a tour event and you’ll shoot up the rankings.  It’s not required to play every event, but skipping an event does come at a cost: a slight decrease down the ladder.  This is particularly important in regards to the one aspect of Tiger Woods 12 I despise: EA’s upfront inclusion of DLC.  In the main career mode there are a number of tournaments utilizing the games built in 16 courses. 

tiger woods 12 the masters shot

However, EA has 20 DLC courses planned for sale and they’ve chosen to add around 5 in-game tournaments that take place on these courses.  I initially thought it was a nice bonus for those who spend the extra money to have earlier shots at moving up the rankings by playing these optional tournaments. However, EA has also decided to penalize gamers who don’t purchase the DLC tourneys by forcing users to skip them as they would a standard in game event.  The drop in ranking applies to these events, even if you haven’t bought them.  Frankly, I think it’s a gutless move by EA who are already charging gamers $60 for a game and then more or less telling them they need to shell out more if they want full functionality of their game, and it’s an issue that makes me much more hesitant to whole heartedly endorse what is otherwise a fantastic game.

Complaint here aside, the other additions to the game range from pleasant to disposable.  On the disposable side comes the in-game caddy that will eventually grate on your nerves.  For new players it’s a nice help, showing you’re one to two safe, but often less than competitive shots.  I relied on the caddy for a few hours as I learned the ropes, but now quite a few hours into the game, I rarely take a caddy suggested shot for face value.  On the more positive side Masters Moments are a fun little side challenge.  EA has assembled nine historic Masters moments for players to pass and eventually master themselves.  They range from the famous “shot heard round the world” to one of Tiger Woods’ more recent Masters rounds.  “Mastering” these challenges requires players to replicate the moment precisely, meaning the “shot heard round the world” forces you to make that double eagle.  Much easier, but still challenging is just passing the challenge, in the case of the previously mentioned moment, you only need to land the ball within 15 feet of the cup.  The immediate bonus for passing all nine is permanent inclusion into the Masters tournament through career mode; even if you haven’t broken into the required top 100, if you’ve passed the Masters Moments you’re guaranteed entry.

tiger woods 12 the masters putting

Online features round out core game functions with standard multiplayer games showing up, as well as online tournaments and the EA Gamernet.  I’ve found the Gamernet to be a blast, posting my own challenges (after every shot in the game you have a chance to save your performance and upload it for other players to meet or beat) and tackling challenges from other gamers.  EA also promises a live online Masters 2011 tournament players can take part in concurrently with the actual event, but since that has yet to occur, I can’t comment any further.  Unfortunately, as this review was written and my game time has been all prior to official launch, my online time has been limited as the player base is miniscule, but from what I’ve toyed around with, I don’t see any glaring issues.

Now if you’ve come this far, you’re likely screaming, “HOW DOES IT PLAY?!”  Well, chances are if you’re an annual fan of the game, you’ll find what works well still in place and a few nice changes.  The swing stick is back and just as smooth as I remember.  The better your stats, the less finicky it is when it comes to minor errors.  If you’re playing on the first two difficulty levels, you can use your focus to correct minor mistakes, boost green reads, or preview the complete trajectory of the putt.  Once you move onto to Tour Pro difficulty, focus is mainly useful for getting better reads on the course.  If you’re truly brave and move onto Tournament difficulty, focus is gone and many standard visual aids are removed, simulating a really accurate, but really difficult golfing experience.

It took me very little time readjusting to the swing stick and like in real golf, putting will take the most time to get used to.  The game this time out does a nice job of giving you a lie indicator, adding in much asked for slope readings, a key to cleaning up on the putting green.  EA has also added a choke feature as part of shot setup.  For those unfamiliar with the concept, it allows you to adjust your swing, sacrificing a little distance for a lower trajectory shot.  This in turn results in less bounce and a perfect way to avoid treacherous wind gusts.  It’s benefit is not instantly seen as it has it’s own set of stats, but all one needs to do is play a round in exhibition mode with one of the 24 golfers included (19 male pros, 3 female pros, and 2 fantasy golfers; 9 total golfers are new to the series this year) and play around with some of the new additions.  I personally have never been big about using real golfers in golfing games.  Creating your own character and experiencing the rich and lengthy career mode is where all the fun comes from.  To wrap it up and make a long story short, there aren’t boatloads of moves to memorize like in a football game; this is golf and the big picture is mastering the basics. 

tiger woods the masters shadows

Graphics

  • The player models are quite strong, but could still use some work compared to other games.  Despite the only above average quality, they are well animated and EA has done a nice job working on facial details and body movements.
  • Animations are quite strong and really pull you into the game.  Wind plays not only a big part in game play but also on an aesthetic level where wind ripples through the grass, trees, and player’s hair.
  • Overall the game is very smooth looking and competent in almost all visual categories.  Don’t go in expecting Halo: Reach level quality and you’ll be fine.

Audio

  • The licensed soundtrack is generally calming, low-key instrumental tracks.  They are generally only noticeable when you’re in the menus between matches.
  • Effects are above average with commentary being the biggest component.  There’s a fair amount of repetition, but as you get focused on the game, you’ll rarely notice it.  What you will notice is your caddy, who doesn’t have an expansive batch of dialogue.
  • Environmental noises are all well handled from club swings, to the impact of your ball on the various terrains.  Crowd noises are a bit canned, but do add to the atmosphere of the game.

tiger woods the masters chip shot

Conclusion

While from a visual and soundscape standpoint, “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters” isn’t going to knock you over, from an engrossing, well structured golfing experience it is truly a masterstroke.  Game play is tight, the entire system is incredibly easy to navigate, and securing the Masters license this year is icing on the cake.  The caddy system is the only disappointment, solely due to the limited dialogue your caddy provides and how quickly he becomes useless (you can improve their performance on the courses by mastering them at three separate levels, but that’s more of a long run discovery). 

The biggest issue I have with the game comes back to EA’s underhanded marketing.  The 16 real-life courses in the game are tremendous fun and show the variety of the golfing world, but the 20 courses slated for DLC show EA is cheating paying customers, especially when one looks back to the original Xbox version of “Tiger Woods 07” where courses on that disc were removed from the 360 version and appeared as DLC.  The slight penalty in career mode for not purchasing these DLC courses is truly unconscionable and I hope this is the last time EA tries this.  I wouldn’t hesitate to give this game the highest rating possible, if it weren’t for this terrible marketing strategy, because that aside, it’s a fantastic game and one of the best sports titles I’ve played.  Don’t hesitate to pick it up if you love golf, just understand the few drawbacks.  Highly Recommended.