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Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09

EA Gets an Eagle on this round
Three years running Iíve had the pleasure of reviewing the Tiger Woods series for the current generation of consoles, and with each year come tweaks to the game. Some tweaks actually enhance the gameplay, such as the move to an analog swinging system, while others donít quite hold the same amount of joy Ė like forcing the Tiger Challenge to be a series of 18 hole match games, or the hyper sensitive swing mechanism.

In an effort to spare a 3000 word diatribe on the game and its merits, Iíll give you the juice right now. This is a step in the right direction for Tiger Woods games, and for EA in their sports realm in general. Combine this with the early feedback on NHL 09, and it looks like we could be seeing a great year for sports game enthusiasts. This year, the game just feels right. Gone is the pounding rock music of two years ago, it was replaced with a soothing minimalist approach with almost utter silence when you step up to the tee or address the ball and lyric free music in menus . The commentary, while still suffering from typical game commentary follies, is not as gut-wrenchingly horrid as expected. And the tweaks to the gameplay make the experience, both online and offline, a pleasure to play. Iíve been having a tough time NOT playing the game Ė itís even ousted Catan as my soothing nightcap to an evening of chores and the daily grind.

The game still utilizes the swing stick, and once again gives the option for those who chose to use the three-click method for taking shots. This time however, gamers who donít have the ability for whatever reason to consistently move the stick in the prime movements can enter the new club tuning mode which allows you to compensate for your particular style of hitting. And not just a simple blanket alteration either, each club in your bag can be fine tuned individually to get you the best possible shot, with the biggest possible sweet spot on the club.

The Tiger Challenge makes a return in yet another modified version. Gone is the hexagonal grid from last year and in its place is a menu of 9 challenges each assigned a point range. Earn enough points and you unlock the next tier of challenges, in addition to a pro challenge. Naturally, the PGA Season is the main draw for single player gamers and some changes have come, such as the ability to skip a tournament if youíre not up for it. Keep in mind however; this will make your effort for the FedEx Cup a little more difficult as you wonít earn those points. Another nice change is the weakening of the always present Ďrubberband AIí, meaning comebacks from the AI in the game are not nearly as frequent or as dramatic this time around. The big disappointment is once again the omission of the ability to save a game during the middle of a round of golf Ė Hey, EA Ė Life happens and we might want to turn off the system and return later sometimes. Please add this next year.

A plethora of other golf modes are once again present, and some even come into play during some of the Tiger Challenge matches. One major enhancement has been made and that is the inclusion, and ability, to challenge other gamers worldwide during any mode of play thanks to the EA GamerNet. At any time on any hole, a small notice will chime letting you know that the next shot you are about to make has a challenge attached to it; which can be a long drive, closest to the pin, or a series of bounces and a stop zone. Completing or even posting challenges earn you GamerNet points which can be used to build your online avatar on a EA website, while a neat concept I really donít see the need for that when our consoles already have unique IDs and most play with customized in game characters anyway. The challenges are available from their own menu within the game, so you can easily spend a night attempting to crack one of literally tens of thousands of challenges issued by your fellow gamers. The only downside I can say about the in game challenges is that they are accompanied by a non-intrusive real world advertisement, which is quite small and not too obnoxious. Yet. The biggest plus for the game is by far the option to have simultaneous play when entering games online. Yes, no more waiting for everyone in your foursome to line up shots, hit the bunker, and take multiple shots before you get to play. Now everyone plays and the only waiting is at the end of the hole if someone is lagging behind Ė no longer will you play an hour long 9 hole game online.

Microtransactions are also part of the game, as you have the option of paying for any in game clothing, accessories or equipment with Microsoft Points. While this is troubling, it is not even close to necessary as you can earn enough cash working through the PGA Season to satisfy your shopping needs thanks to the balancing of skills which make your created golfer much more of a contender early on in the game, and not just after countless hours of playing.

As mentioned the audio in the game is actually quite enjoyable, but as with almost any game there is a nice temptation to throw on music of your own; and with a game such as this where audio clues are not a requirement to enjoy the game fully the option is there. But I will say the ambient effect make great use of the surrounds with wind and animals filling in quite nicely, and even the crowd manages to cheer you on by your chosen nickname. From my recollection, the game looks very close to the previous versions of this generation and thatís not a bad thing by any means. There still is some inexplicable slowdown during some moments where I would think that there shouldnít be, and while distracting itís not a deal breaker.

The achievements are broken up quite nicely and cater to longevity of the game, and donít rely too heavily on multiplayer games which is a nice touch. The GamerNet challenges do get referenced in the list, so those without Xbox Live connections will miss out on some points unfortunately.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 is a fantastic entry into this series of games, and really restored some faith in what EA has been doing to the series. As long as the tweaks donít break the gameplay, and new additions do nothing but enhance the solid base, then future versions should be enjoyable as well. The downside for the publisher, as in forcing people to upgrade to a better version, is tougher when a great title is already in hand. In what is a great bounce back from the Skip It rating I gave the 2008 edition, I can easily Highly Recommend this to gamers who enjoy golf games and have shied away from the titles for issues in the past.