Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10
Developer: EA Sports
Publisher: EA
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1-4
Words By:

As a games reviewer sometimes you think you have the best job in the world. The there are other times when you get a run of awful games to play that you find it hard to say a good word about. Other times you get emails from readers complaining that “you must have taken a bribe to give that game 7/10, because it’s crap”, or I want to marry this game and have its children because it changed my life, I have been know to play it for three days straight, how dare you give it only 7/10!.” Other times we’ve even been contacted by disappointed or even angry developers, wanting an explanation of why we thought their game was so bad. But most of the time you think nobody reads your work at all, and then there’s the rare occasion when you note a game’s failings in a review that nobody else seemed to notice, and the sequel actually does something to put things right, and you think: did they, did they read my review, did they act upon the criticisms I raised?

Nah, probably not. But going by a couple of insignificant but noticeable changes they could have. Gone is the Cal punk EA trax soundtrack that was better suited to a skate or snowboarding game, and the water in the game has improved mightily, now where lakes and ponds lap the edges of greens and fairways it looks right, and while this may only be a tiny visual effect in the periphery of the game, it’s very pleasing to the eye… The game has also addressed a couple of problems it had with the basic rules of golf, but more on that later.

As usual the career mode its probably what Tiger 10 is going to be all about for you, and naturally you can design your own player, the Gameface editor allowing you to use a digital version of your own mug shots via a Live camera. You can further personalise your player by earning or buying more clubs, equipment, different celebratory animations and reactions to poor shots as in previous games. Once you’ve created your player character (which can thankfully be completely changed now if you make a horrible mistake or just get fed up with your player’s look) you’ll probably head for the ‘Tournament Challenges’ like I did - like I in fact - always do. They’ve been a feature of the TW games since the dawn of time, and long may they be so. They’re basically a series of tests or scenarios designed to help you master the game’s different shots, familiarise you with the game’s trickier holes, award you with some upgrade points and relive some of the top pro most amazing real life shots. It probably sounds boring as hell but mixed up with the game’s tournament season mode it’s Golf’s answer to Pro Evo’s Master League, and can be as addictive as nicotine.

As with the last couple of Tiger games, “10” is a real looker. Concerns about the game being graphically shackled by the simultaneous development of the hugely publicised Wii version were unfounded. Visually, the franchise has never looked better whether it’s the menus or the textures of the actual putting greens. Now whether you’re at ground level playing the game or doing an aerial fly-by, a hole really feels like it’s part of the entire course set in a rolling landscape, rather than an isolated island of grass and sand for you to whack a ball around on with a distant 2-D backdrop. The golfers themselves also look good, and animation, clothing and details like skin have never looked more convincing… but ohhh, the player likenesses of the real pros? They’re at best passable, at worst poor, and even Tiger, whilst looking a bit like Tiger seems to be strangely over-bulked-up - like maybe they borrowed Mike Tyson’s pecs from Fight Night. At least that old granny Colin Montgomerie’s likeness finally looks more like him than Sandy Lyle, although he looks rather too cheerful to be realistic. Players also seem to have generic swings, and considering the game had several individual Pro’s swings mo-capped into the game in past years, this seems lazy. Even Tiger always uses the same basic swing and follow through for every shot in the bag, and anyone who’s seen him play will know that this simply isn’t the case.

The courses look truly lovely, and more organic than before with individual blades of grass on show everywhere, and shading that makes the contours of the land pop out more than ever before. The trees have really had a makeover, and now look much more natural, varied and realistic as they sway in the wind, and for the first time it’s impossible to spot two the same. A “real tournament atmosphere” was really attempted for the first time, and they’ve done it quite well, with hundreds of fully-3D-ified spectators clapping and cheering every shot mindlessly – just like real American golf galleries. I haven’t heard some idiot yell “you’re the man!” yet, but I’m sure he’s in there somewhere. The crowds even act like real golf spectators and stand in some incredibly stupid places, and you can actually hit them with an errant shot, which will result in an amusingly pained animation, so expect Tiger Woods 11 to feature an injury lawsuit mini game featuring Judge Judy.

The game boasts an impressive 16 courses; the ubiquitous TPC Sawgrass, Harbour Town, Pebble Beach, St. Andrews Old Course, Bay Hill Club and Lodge, Bethpage Black Course, Doral Golf Resort & Spa, East Lake Golf Club, Firestone Country Club, Hazeltine National Golf Club, Oakmont Country Club, Pinehurst Resort, Torrey Pines, TPC Boston, Wentworth Golf Club, and the Turnberry Ailsa Course where our very own Open has just been staged.

As before they aren’t all unlocked at the start for offline play, but you can play them all online straight away. This means that for the first time that I can remember in a golf game, you can relive the US Open, the British Open and the US PGA on the actual courses – now all they need to do is ask Tiger to go to Augusta and smooth talk the powers that be until they allow EA to model the National course and we’ll have something special indeed.

Xbox Live is heavily featured with all kinds of online tournaments, live and daily tournaments and online multiplayer game modes, although it still seems next to impossible to team up with a friend in a ranked match against another pair, which is plain daft. Setting up a game is a doddle and you can add all kinds of options including a handy shot clock to keep slowpokes moving and a “DNF” (Did Not Finish the game) filter limit to avoid bad losers. Fortunately now you can also play a pacier game with 4 players on Xbox Live simultaneously, with their balls being represented by an on-screen trail, which can be off-putting but speeds things up immeasurably. Finish the hole first and you can watch the others play out – this is a feature that an old favourite of mine, Outlaw Golf 2, had several years ago. Amongst the usual online game modes there is a new feature this year called "Play the Pros" which allows online players to post their scores against the actual real life PGA Leaderboards, although in an effort to keep things real this can only be done in Tour Pro mode (no power boost, no spin control, and no putt preview, so it’s rock hard.) To keep the more “realistic” approach going, dynamic weather means that you might start a round in the sun, and it might rain a couple of times and dry out during a round. TW10 also now features “Live Weather” with the Weather Channel providing dynamic weather data for the game, so theoretically, if it’s raining in West London when you start a round at Wentworth, it should be raining in the game…

Once again you can play all the different game types; Strokeplay, Matchplay, Stableford, Skins, Bingo Bango Bongo, Alternate Shot (or Foursomes if you’re British), Best Ball, Fourball, Greensomes, Bloodsome, Battle Golf (you get to remove one of your opponent’s clubs if you win a hole) and One Ball, as well as a selection of minigames (target golf, putting contest, long drive competition etc.) for one or more players. Sadly, and amazingly I can report that the TW PGA team still don’t seem to grasp the basic rules of golf as far as hazards, out of bounds, penalty drops or even the basic order of play are concerned, probably because none of the developers actually play golf, or more charitably maybe it’s because of the developer’s stock get-out: “gameplay purposes.” Whatever the reason behind it you’ll find yourself sometimes being forced to play 3 off the tee if you hit the water on a par 3 (not necessarily what you’d do in a real game of golf), and ruled arbitrarily “out of bounds” or “in a lateral hazard” when there is no indication of that when planning a shot or an escape. You can’t even use adjoining fairways as you can on some courses in real life, the game decides that the ball is out of bounds – and that’s incorrect, particularly at somewhere like the wide-open Old Course at St. Andrews, a place where this slapdash approach to the rules of golf seems even more insensible. You’ll also often find yourself playing your chip shot onto a green before an opponent, despite being closer to the hole than them, again flouting the basic rules of golf.

I don’t want to harp on about this (but I will) – I mean, how this series can go on year in, year out with a PGA logo emblazoned on it when it’s never abided by basic rules, or even basic etiquette like including the option to concede a putt or even a hole during matchplay rather than doggedly putting out when the hole has clearly been won or lost and both players would like to get on to the next hole?

At this point I’d like to say Aaarrrgh! Can you imagine FIFA being allowed to get the offside rule wrong every year? Bizarrely this year the game even features various USGA golf rules and examples thereof between shots, so any in-game errors glare even brighter. More golfing incorrectness (presumably born from developer ignorance or a lack of interest) comes with the series’ steadfast insistence that “you can’t use a driver off the fairway or a wood out of a bunker, and shots from the rough must always go less distance than shots from the fairway” – any golfer will tell you that this is completely the opposite of the truth (particularly with the advent of “Hybrid” woods designed precisely for the purpose of getting out of trouble), so why does the official PGA game insist on it being this way? Huh? WHY?

And while I’m ranting, what about replays of good shots or even holes? You can turn them into an EA Gamernet Challenge, available to play again and again and even upload them to the EA Gamernet servers so everyone else on the planet can try and match or beat your shot, but a simple saved replay to show the missus your hole in one? Nope, not unless I’m missing something. It’s incredibly fiddly to review a saved shot (but you can) but only as a preview to challenging your own shot as a Gamernet challenge! It’s quite simply, daft. I just want a replay for goodness sake!

The basic mechanics of the game have changed little since the first Tiger Woods game started using analogue swing control (pull back and push through on the left or right stick to swing. Once again you can also use an alternative ‘old school’ 3-button-click control system if you prefer, and even swap between the old and the ‘new’ in-game. This 3-click method dates back to some of the earliest of golf games on consoles and was probably perfected on Leaderboard on the Commodore 64/128. You can choose how much fade or draw to put on a ball before you start your swing, although you still have to swing straight to achieve the amount you aimed for. You can also select how high or low to hit the ball and select from full, punch, pitch, flop or chip swings, meaning that just about any yardage is possible to achieve with practice. By the default “Amateur” setting you can still add spin in flight (by choosing a direction and tapping ‘A’ or the left bumper) and thus change the direction that the ball will bounce or spin when it hits the fairway or green, hopefully enhancing your shot (although this is obviously not always the case!) Putting has once again changed for the better with a new “precision putt” gauge for strength, and a “putt preview” to see how well you’ve read the slope. This seems to have made putting – that was easy enough before – even easier, and although enhanced ball physics mean putting downhill on fast greens are is akin to putting down a marble staircase, with practice you’ll soon be 1-putting most of the time. I mentioned the ball physics and I’d like to compliment them again, apart from few jitters during chip shots (the only shot that still doesn’t really feel right to me) the ball movement is remarkably realistic, with the ball sometimes almost coming to a complete halt before responding to a slope and the forces of gravity and following the contours in a totally believable way. I’d have liked to have seen a few lip-out, ‘wall-of-death’ and ‘horseshoe’ putts going on though – and you won’t see things that regularly occur in real golf like a ball teeter on the lip of a hole and then drop, or fast-rolling putt slam into the back of the hole, hop in the air and then drop either.

The difficulty level in the TW games has always been way off the mark and it’s still too easy at the default “Amateur” level, but is getting better. They’ve been quite clever in as much as the distance you can hit the ball has been reduced to more realistic levels, and dynamic skills statistics and club tuning means that you might be able to hit your driver 360 yards right now, but your swing will have to be more accurate to get it on the fairway. As with the other categories (Accuracy, Short Game & Putting) hitting lots of wild drives will also affect your distance stats at the end of a game, although these can be regained with good play and visits to Hank Haney (your coach, who sounds a lot like Hank Hill from King of the Hill) for practice drills on the four basic shot types. Upping the difficulty to “Pro” or “Tour Pro” soon brings the guys who shoot 52s down to earth, but removes one of the elements that makes the Tiger Woods games a bit different; being able to apply spin to the ball after hitting it, a thing that keeps you involved in the shot right the way through. I find ‘Amateur’ too easy and ‘Pro’ difficult to enjoy and strangely non-engaging, I need a setting somewhere inbetween.

The sound is fine, with some much more appropriate piano music accompanying the game’s menus, and crowd noises that respond to your shots, as do the players - unfortunately the golfer’s unnecessary pre-shot player address sequence and post-shot reactions mean you’ll soon be sick of them and tapping the ‘A’ button to skip by them as quickly as possible – this get particularly tiresome if you play against 2 or 3 AI players. Some of the other animations will most likely get on your nerves too; your player’s OTT reactions to good shots, and pedantic responses to missed putts are positively embarrassing (and you can buy even more bizarre ones best left to hip hop street urchins, American basketball and football players – do people really want this sort of thing in a golf game? Really?) Oh, and whilst I’m having a moan about animations, although we now get a shortened punch shot swing players still take a hugely disproportionate swing with their putter to tap a 2 inch putt in – why hasn’t this been sorted out? – It looks daft.

As a golf simulation Tiger Woods 10th incarnation still needs improvements in several departments, but as a golf game it’s never been more accessible, or provided a more varied challenge thanks in no small part to several new dynamic features. Visually it’s a treat and the ball physics are amazing. Online play now has so much depth that it could keep you playing until next year’s game, and offline the tour mode and tour challenges will keep you going for several weeks or even months. TW10 is a worthy sequel and an improvement on last year’s game, and most importantly it’s fun to play. It’s just a pity the same old flaws are allowed to show up year in year out.

Best Bits

- New putting system
- 3-click control method for non-swingers
- Improved dynamic skills/attributes system
- 16 great courses including the venues for 3 of this year’s majors Loads of real golfers and modes of play
- Enhanced online modes
- Postcard looks
Worst Bits

- The odd bug and AI flaw
- Still seems to be too easy, or too hard for most
- Errors in basic rules and etiquette grate with real golfers

by: Masonic Dragicoot

Copyright © Gamecell 2009