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Review #40

Tiger Woods PGA Tour '09
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Genre: Realistic Sports
Release Date: August 26, 2008


Note: Images are courtesy of Sportsgamer.

Ever since the analogue swing mechanic was introduced, I've been a huge fan of the Tiger Woods games. While not the most realistic - learn how to game the system, and you can essentially shoot high-50s on some courses - it was an incredibly fun golf title that had near-endless playability and tight controls, combined with picture-perfect golf courses to play, everything from real courses to insane fantasy courses.

However, since the dawn of the new console generation, Tiger and I have had a bit of a falling out. The first few versions of the game for the 360 removed a lot of options, a lot of courses, screwed with the mechanics, and generally been a less enjoyable experience than Tiger Woods '06 for PS2, a game that's still going strong in my system after all of these years.

For review purposes, I decided to give the new Tiger a try, figuring that if EA still couldn't get their act together, then the series could be relegated to the trash bin, but if it worked, we could finally have an enjoyable golf title for a next generation system that Sony didn't make.

After giving it a lengthly play experience, I'd like to report that while Tiger is a good game, there are problems on the horizon, including one of the most infuriating things about a video game I've personally experienced in a long time.

The first thing the game does is give you a video introducing Tiger's swing coach, Hank Haney. He's implemented essentially as a figurehead in the game, to do voice-overs for things such as your initial ranking, your progress statistically, and your club tuning, which I'll discuss in a bit. The statistical changing is actually implemented well; as you get better, your stats go up, but if you have a crummy round, your stats get worse. Some stats are easier to keep up than others (such as power, which basically equates to "bomb Par 5s", being easier to keep up than the short game statistic), but overall, it's a great mechanic that works beautifully, and it's great to see your golfer improve - and decline - with your performance. However, it's not perfect, mainly because your score goes up or down anytime you shoot entire holes. That means if you're doing a minigame where you have to, for example, get a certain score on three holes, it tallies your stats, which is fine if you do well, but if you hit an approach shot into a bunker, it's going to hurt you. I think they should have kept it for full rounds, or full matches in match/Skin play. There's also a chance to do specific drills picked out by Hank after rounds, to improve your overall game, but the boosts you receive from them are temporary.

There's two ways to swing the club: there's the analogue swing that Tiger made famous, as well as the old-fashioned three-click style that's been around since NES Golf. They both have their advantages and disadvantages. The analogue swing is great for drives, and anything that you know you're going to use full power or close to it for, whereas the three-click swing goes absolutely nutter-butter if you go above 100% power. However, the three click swing is great on approach shots, where you want to use a specific amount of power. The analogue swing, on the other hand, can't seem to grasp half-power swings; if you go up, and then back down, even if the club's at your beltline on the backswing, you're going to end up hitting at 80% power, which is a great way to hit over the green on the many, many, many short approach shots that you will get that fall in between a full shot and a pitch. Personally, I prefer the analogue swing, but again, it's virtually impossible to properly gauge power.

Everything in this game relies on you creating a new character, and starting a career. Thankfully, the options in this regard are robust, as you can either use one of the pre-made faces the game supplies - of which there are a lot - or you can take your picture with the XBox Live camera, therefore going some ways of justifying that purchase (note to self: next time I buy a peripheral for testing purposes, I'm keeping the bloody receipt). The facemaker has you take a picture, then set points on your picture - both front and side - to try to get your facial features down. I've tried it a few times, and results have vaired; other people I've tried looked relatively close to what their faces look like in real life, but I continually look like one of the Geico cavemen. After you create your new person, Hank has you trying a few things, from drives to approaches to putts, and you get a starting rating from there. It's a nice way to start a career mode - something EA's been getting better at - and works better than the Madden Test.

From a gameplay standpoint, some ratings tend to go up easier than others, as I've mentioned; power is easy in that it's hard not to just bomb the ball, especially if you're playing from the harder tees. Putting, especially if you're on balanced mode, is easy as long as you can read greens - something made easier by a one-time putt preview, brought back from older versions of the game - but if there's one problem I had, it was on specific approach shots. The game seems to arbitrarily like to decide that my shots - no matter how good or bad they are - need to go 20 yards to the left or right, for no apparent reason. I have no reason why this happens - every time it's happened, I've been in the fairway on level ground - but every time, without failure, I've gone out of bounds, which is a stroke penalty, re-take the shot... and second verse, same as the first. I had a hole go +5 a couple of times because of this, and it completely destroys round scores, and worse, there seems to be no way to tell if an approach shot is going to behave or not; it just... happens. I have to write this off as a bug.

Thankfully, there's a way to see if your swing is going to be on or not by looking at the golf ball in the lower left hand corner of the screen; this is your "swing meter", and it works OK, especially on the backswing; I've stopped swings before because they're off-centre. It doesn't work as well on the actual swing, because by the time you realize you've made a mistake, the ball is off and joining Gidget for a bout of sand and surf. The controller even gives a helpful vibrate, severity depending on how badly you screwed up; the meter does tell you how badly you went left or right, and it's helpful to gauge where you tend to make mistakes; for instance, I make most of my mistakes going right, so I knew, for a long time, to mentally compensate for it and "aim" more left, until my swing essentially fixed itself. Also, the degree of play you have in your club is tunable in another major addition to this year's game, the Club Tuner.

Club Tuner deserves it's own paragraph, because for the first time that I can remember, buying clubs is no longer as easy as "more money better club"; there are three grades of club, beginner, intermediate, and expert, and you start with beginners. The higher you go up, the more power and draw you can add to your clubs, but the smaller the sweet spot - the room for error you have in your swing before shots lose control - you get as a result. In other words, it's not always a good idea to go with the top-notch, most expensive clubs. For example, on courses like Sheshan or Gary Player Country Club, expert clubs are a good option because you have some wiggle room on the fairways, but on a course such as Pebble Beach, or St. Andrews, where accuracy is more key, you might not want to go with the boomers, instead relying on shot placement and lay-ups. I personally usually go with advanced drivers and woods, but stick to the beginner irons and wedges.

For single player, you can have practise rounds, an entire PGA Tour season (limited to the courses that are in the game), or what's called the Tiger Challenge. The practise rounds range from whole rounds, to match play, skins, and some other relatively novel modes that I never even bother with in any version of the game (why do we need Stableford scoring?), and the PGA Tour season is your best way to play full rounds, and get purse money. The Tiger Challenge ostensibly lets you play match play against various PGA Tour professionals - male and female - as well as some token fantasy characters, but to get to the full match play part, you have to do tests beforehand, gaining enough points to be able to "unlock" the full match. This does little more than artificially lengthen the gameplay, and waste time, though it's a good source of income for the pro shop. Since these are the only two major single-player modes in this game, it can be said that the single-player aspect is a bit limited; it's not even as deep as what was in Tiger Woods '06. Furthermore, the list of golfers and courses - while maybe more diverse this time around (more LPGA pros) - is still a bit on the short side. While they look GORGEOUS - seriously, there's not much prettier than Pebble Beach, and the authentic feel of St. Andrews makes me smile - there's a large part of me that pines for the course selection from older games, including the fantasy courses that are noticeably absent.

Going back to the pro shop, you're going to need the dosh, because most of the items are unrealistically expensive. A lot of the items provide no stat boost, meaning they're useless purchases - at many thousands of dollars, in most cases - purely for aesthetic reasons. The ones that do give you a stat boost either are extremely expensive, require a lot to unlock, or both, and there's only one stat boost allowed (the most prominent); you can't go above a 2.0 stat boost, so even if you're wearing +2 power shoes, while using a +2 power ball and +2 power shafts for your clubs, you're only getting one boost, so purchasing items is nothing more than making sure you get the full 2.0 boost across the board, and with as expensive as most items are, that takes awhile. There are also items that max your stats out completely, but 1) they look stupid (it's a bunny suit, a "Vegas" suit - making you look like Elvis - or a space suit), and 2) your golfer's own stats don't get any better, but that doesn't really matter when you have max stats, does it? Of course, they're $5m in in-game money, so that's virtually impossible to achieve unless you happen to win a major.

But here's where EA "saves" the day! Does it take too long to unlock all these items? Well, no problem, you can buy them with MS points now! You can get the entire Power 2.0 set for the low cost of 180 points! The max item suits? Only 300 points!

I will let that sink in for a minute. Take your time, I'll be here.

OK, welcome back. Needless to say, under normal circumstances, this would make me VERY uncomfortable. These items are in the bloody game, but they've been made exceptionally hard to fully acquire, but EA is banking on players getting tired of this and buying the items through DLC. In the past, it would be as easy as using a Codebreaker or a Gameshark, but with those companies somehow being written out of the current console generation - and for good reason, I believe, that's not something you want to deal with when it comes to online games - now, EA has taken it upon themselves to peddle those same cheats to the player at a premium. They're not the only ones, as well; Tales of Vesperia allows you to purchase levels and money, though now I'm off on a tangent. Normally, while I'd be bothered at EA and the other companies making Godfather offers while making their in-game currency more and more useless, it can still be justified that it's the player's choice as to whether or not they want to spend more real-world money on a game that they've already spent $60 on, just to be able to improve their single-player campaign...

... But you can take these items online. All of them, including the max stat boosts.

Forgive me for a brief moment as I put on my Unbranding the Sheep pants for a paragraph, but this is, pardon my vulgarity, fucking bullshit; there is no other way to properly express this, as polite English doesn't convey how disgusting this is. It's bad enough that EA is making it so that purchasing stat boosting items with real money is an attractive option for gamers who don't have a tonne of time on their hands (like myself, though my purchases were for testing purposes; thanks, EA, to properly review your piece of shit game, I'm out a total of $50 OUTSIDE of the purchase price of the game. Note to self: ask Lucard how to use these purchases as a tax write-off), but when you're able to take these items online - I was literally able to play as a max-stat user, online, in a ranked match, less than an hour after unwrapping the game - you make an optional purchase virtually mandatory, unless someone wants to use a month getting their character up to the point where they're competitive online, unless they want to just use Tiger, which defeats the purpose of the adaptive ratings to begin with, and after a month, they're very far behind their peers in terms of level. This is dirty pool, it's the reason a lot of us freaked out about flimsy DLC to begin with, it's something we've been worried about for a while just in regards to EA, and I have to wonder where we're going from here; are we going to be charged for updates and patches, too? I sure hope not, because virtually every big-name release - including games like Madden, NCAA Football and NASCAR - has needed a fix-it-up patch days after initial release, with some games needing them on release day! Furthermore, I cannot believe no one seems to want to talk about this. Oh, that's right, I forgot, IGN, Gamespot and other sites are so far in EA's pocket at this point they might as well have the EA Sports logo branded on their asses. In conclusion, I'll speak for others that would surely get edited if they tried to sneak the following into their advertising-compromised reviews: fuck you, EA, for making a game that costs, all told, a good $110 to get the most out of it, and double-fuck you for holding competitive gamers hostage to bleed every last cent out of them you can. As long as you behave like this, you're a blight on the industry, though I guess I should be glad that it's paying customers you're abusing instead of your own workers.

It's actually a bit sad, because otherwise, online mode is an integral part of Tiger Woods '09, and for the majority of the time, it works outstandingly. Even in one-player mode, there are Gamernet challenges, which are player-uploaded, and allow you to test yourself in certain times against others; for example, on a Par 5, one challenge could be to hit a drive past another player, or on approach shots, hitting within X amount of inches to the cup. It's an excellent way to spruce up the single player experience, without getting in the way. There's also standard, online versus mode, and it actually works exceptionally well. The new mode is simultaneous stroke play, which means that all players - up to four - play at the same time, with their ball flights represented by a coloured arc, depending on the player. It moves exponentially faster than the former standard of one-at-a-time play, and is a welcome addition that works perfectly. However, the statistical bugbear rears it's ugly head again, by the fact that in my experience, even mere days after buying the game, most players I faced had their stats maxed, or close to it, with more than a few using their freshly-bought bunny suits; I refuse to believe all those players earned $5m in game-money two days after the game's release. One guy in particular proved just what it means for a regular player in this situation; I played him in a nine hole, simultaneous stroke match at Sawgrass, and used my normal player against his maxed-out Elvis wanna-be. I shot six under par on a nine hole course; at 72 par Sawgrass, that's a 60 on an 18 hole pace, at SAWGRASS of all places. And I lost by 5 - FIVE! - strokes, as Elvis routinely bombed par-4 drives onto the green, and sunk three eagles. While it's not fair to punish EA because the majority of the people I dealt with online were retarded - that's a societal problem - it IS fair to punish them because I played a nincompoop who bought his cheats straight from the company. If you can get past that - or are one of the retards that lets EA exploit you - then you'll completely love Tiger's online mode.

But if you aren't, then I can't justify the purchase price. One player mode is limited, and you HAVE to be online to get anything out of career mode (when I couldn't sign into EA's servers for whatever reason, my player became unavailable), which means you really HAVE to have a Gold membership to get the most out of this game. Should I add the cost of Gold membership to the total price one has to pay to get the most out of this game?

It's too bad, because on it's own merits, there's a good game here. Too bad it's covered in such massive amounts of bullshit that just playing the game makes me feel like a consumer whore.

The Scores
Game Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Classic
Sound: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Unparallelled
Balance: Bad
Originality: Awful
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Worthless
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME





Short Attention Span Summary

If you can get past a dry single player mode, and the dark path we're going down in terms of mandatory DLC purchases, then on it's own merits, Tiger Woods PGA Tour '09 is a good game of golf, and considering the competition is essentially arcade-style gaming such as Hot Shots, this is as good as you're going to get for realistic golf titles. However, the extra money that is required to get the most out of this title, as well as it's total reliance on being online, makes this a questionable purchase for all but the most dedicated. Those that decide to take the plunge will be playing continually until '10 comes out, but those that don't play well with others are recommended to pass on this year's game; after all, '06 actually has more one player options, plus it's about $50-$55 cheaper at this point.

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
burning_phoneix
Sep. 8th, 2008 09:52 am (UTC)
Is there any way to play an online game and turn off item stat boosts like most online games do? I mean, eve Gunbound let's you do that. If not, then EA are really being malovelent this gen.
superbus
Sep. 11th, 2008 03:56 am (UTC)
Nope.
butter_building
Sep. 8th, 2008 10:26 pm (UTC)
Ha, having read your other Livejournal post regarding the bonus content, I was afraid you were going to completely pan this. It's a perfectly fair review and a good read, though in terms of golf titles I don't go beyond Mario Golf Toadstool Tour, so you could say my mind was made up from the beginning...



It's like I can hear you scoffing.
superbus
Sep. 11th, 2008 03:56 am (UTC)
Scoffing? I feel that Mario Golf is an outstanding golf game.
butter_building
Sep. 11th, 2008 04:10 am (UTC)
Really. Somehow I'm surprised, but of course I say that being completely ignorant to other golf titles out there. I guess I would have just thought that most Mario sports titles were overshadowed and outdone by their more, er, professional competitors?
superbus
Sep. 11th, 2008 04:15 am (UTC)
The only Mario sports title that is truly outdone by other sports title is the Baseball one, and that's more because that game sucks.

Taken for what they're worth, the Mario sports titles are usually competent sports games, ranging from bad (Baseball) to decent (Strikers) to actually very good (Golf; Tennis is a notch below, but good)
hinata19
Sep. 10th, 2008 11:44 pm (UTC)
Today's Penny Arcade made me think of this review. XD Gotta love PA and their impeccable timing. 8D

This has been your daily dose of drive-by randomness. :P

Edited at 2008-09-10 11:45 pm (UTC)
superbus
Sep. 11th, 2008 03:57 am (UTC)
I saw that, and knew immediately that pain. I was either playing against Tiger, or some fag that maxed his character.

I also know that the team intentionally holds back features, so they can have something to put on the box the year after. I think I'm done with that series.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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