Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14
Developer: EA Tiburon
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3
Release Date: Out Now
Price: $49.99 (Available Here)
I haven’t played a golf game in many, many years. But I always enjoyed them when I did, although I never owned one myself. But this year’s iteration – Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 – has been touted by many as the best overall golf game yet, and so I thought it timely to re-enter the fray, find my old caddie, pick my clubs and play some holes. EA Tiburon is back, giving us more content than you can wave a putter at! (so bad) Boasting the highest number of courses and players in the franchise’s history, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 comes closer to being as authentic as the real deal than any previous title. But, is it that elusive hole in one, or does it disappoint like a long putt that you just can’t sink?…
Again, having played for the first time in ages with this review, I was happy to see such an increase in gameplay options among others. You can customise individual aspects of the game’s difficulty, such as the Swing and Shot Shaping accuracy requirements. In virtually every mode you choose to play within, you can customise options specifically for that session – for instance, I can choose to turn off Ball Spin in the quick match’s dedicated menu, but have it on as default in the general game settings of the main menu. And depending on how hard you make it for yourself, your XP attained from playing a game will be multiplied accordingly. I’ve found success with custom settings giving me (only) a 1.45x multiplier. I know, I suck, but I am getting better!
The basics of the gameplay will be familiar to fans as even I jumped right back into it, although I forgot how to add spin to the ball when in mid-air. Now you can swing and follow through with either the right or left analog stick (set in options). A larger emphasis has been placed on the drawback and follow-through of your swing with meters telling you if you’ve under or over-swung and the speed of the stroke. An arc materialises based on your chosen club once you “address the bell” and get ready to swing. Follow this arc as closely as possible and the swing should be perfect. Wind also plays a heavy role, especially for high shots which are affected much more heavily. At the end of the day though, it’s still just golf. As numerous the modes I will detail are, mechanically, golf games inherently lack a certain versatility. It’s just the nature of golf simulations.
But I digress…spawning from the want to make every golfer feel unique and play as close to their real life counterpoint as possible is the new fade/draw functionality. Moving your stance left or right will position yourself for a fade or draw respectively (directions naturally change if you are left-handed). These shots are more successfully pulled off by skilled players and are good choices to battle heavy winds and curve a shot around a tree that maybe a problem obstacle. It’s also just more realistic to have it as every golfer in real life does not hit the ball straight every time, or even chooses to. Speaking of skill, characters also specialise in being either power or control types. These attributes also apply to your gear, which will have different qualities based on those traits as well as accuracy, workability, spin, recovery and putting.
After customising everything to fit your play style/skill level, don’t forget that you can also play the game using Kinect. It will track your hands and body movement, measuring your real-life swing (attempt at one, more like it) and translating that to your character’s swing in-game. Now, the results are going to be much more varied and less accurate than with a controller, as seeing as I’ve never played a game of golf in real-life, I didn’t find much success – I’m certain my form was atrocious. I also encountered issues with its implementation; navigating menus and aiming shots was an unintuitive mess. I’d much rather use the controller for this game, and honestly don’t think I’ll use Kinect for it every again. I appreciate the team’s efforts in trying to make it work, but maybe next year fellas. To skip you must swipe your hand left to right, and sometimes when sitting and watching the A.I.’s turn (perfectly still I might add) it would skip and I realised I had the Kinect on and it somehow misread me as performing that action. So all around, it’s a nuisance.
There are modes a-plenty in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14: Career, Legends of the Majors, Quick Play, Connected Tournaments, Country Club and Xbox Live. Touching on Career mode, many fans may be pleased to discover that the LPGA has been integrated as an option. So female golfers/fans, you can now cease embodying a man in order to enjoy your golf games…and guys…don’t, just don’t. I started my career and was directed to choose between the British and U.S. Amateur Opens. From this point on you will enter different tourneys once you meet their qualifications. For the first time, all major championships are here: the Masters Tournament, the U.S. Open, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship. If you deem yourself not… up-to-par (one in every review folks), then you can skip an event. The returning Boost Pins will be of great help here, your collection of which can be viewed in the Extras sub-menu.
Legends of the Majors is the much-touted addition that gives you a timeline of golf history and allows you to relive all of the most important moments of each era, dating back to the late 19th century. Legendary golfers Seve Ballesteros, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Sam Snead and Lee Trevino are playable, alongside some less-than-legendary ones who also played a part in making golfing history. Their, as well as current players’ biographies can be read in the Extras sub-menu in the main screen. True fans will value this mode, and it may also help others gain a better appreciation for the sport. Quick Play is a familiar mode for sports gamers which allows you to partake in the weekly Featured Event, enter Practice and play a quick, final round from a myriad of tournaments.
Connected Tournaments, Country Club and Xbox Live are all part of the same online eco-system. You can challenge others around the world to every manner of match type previously mentioned. Connected Tournaments entails you seeing up to 24 other live golfer shot arcs out on the course with you as you compete in custom tourneys at the exact same time. That might sound distracting, but it really isn’t. Online country clubs are back, with your present club’s (you can only have one at a time) stats being weaved into everything you do. The member limit has been raised from 25 to 100 and you can take them all down to earn the title of club champion if you so wish. There is also a dedicated club text-chat interface that can be accessed in the Country Club sub-menu.
That all sounds amazing, but I did run into some hitches. Firstly, I still get agitated by the seemingly constant loading screens in EA Sports titles. The game also froze, at which point I restarted my Xbox and started up the game only for it to freeze once again at the splash screen (probably a good idea to install to your HDD). I disconnected Kinect and it hasn’t happened again, although I doubt that had any bearing. I withstood some terrible lag during the weekly Featured Event and also had one of my shots deflected in mid-air due to what seemed (and sounded) like an invisible rock/hard surface; a really odd glitch. And while the online experience was smooth in terms of connection and lag, barring the top left-hand status box, the visual while spectating would freeze until my turn was up. Whilst being a spectator and watching your competitor’s attempt, the camera is stuck to one position behind them and can only be titled and zoomed in, making it impossible to accurately gauge where their ball has landed. All of these things were fairly substantial annoyances for me.
For the most part, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 looks great, but this has been the case with every iteration. The courses look fantastic, the weather effects and lighting alterations caused by changes in the time of day are equally impressive. But then there are the same old visuals elements you’d expect to be improved, but still haven’t. Character models’ faces are nigh expressionless and extremely stiff. And try not to drive the ball out of bounds because you will catch a glimpse of the distorted, low quality textures of the sea-side rocks and fauna. The crowd looks just as bad as they’ve always been; being low-poly clones with rigid animations. It’s funny to see more time and detail put into something like a club’s grip then people.
Speaking of the clubs, because you can unlock and purchase new equipment, you are able to take a closer look at them in the appropriate menu and as I just mentioned, they are fairly detailed and realistic-looking. Presentation-wise, I had no real qualms with the U.I/menus’ looks. The sepia tone wash on the Legends of the Majors stages was not something I was expecting, not having looked at much promotional material for the mode beforehand. It’s an appreciated touch, as are the old clubs (although “the Jigger” made me do a double take) and period clothing the icons of the sport wear therein. I just wish there was some ragtime backing music during those levels…
With annual releases such as EA Sports titles, it’s common for the audio department to be the most neglected. If there’s nothing new that needs to be recorded in regards to sound effects (can the ball being struck sound any better?!), I can see how developers may not want to tinker with what they have just for the sake of it. The main issue every single gamer has is with the commentary however. Even in Fifa and other sports games, the commentary is repetitive, bland and at times downright poorly delivered. In Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14, it’s no different. You will hear the same lines over and over again – yet, there are a few rare gems - and I did encounter an isolated glitch where the commentary between shots was garbled. There are less character-specific phrases than you’d hope for also.
In fairness, narration has been given to the Legends of the Majors mode and new tournament introductions have been recorded, which is nice. Crowd reactions adapt as your ball position changes, which I found hilarious in some instances where the ball would roll off the green at the last second, met with a polite clap turned disappointed sigh. The main menu music is very chill, with a few tracks almost sounding like part of a score to a sad film… may be appropriate as Tiger destroys you and dashes your dreams of becoming a Grand Slam champion! They are part of the familiar EA Trax playlist, that can edited in the main menu. In general, and I know golf is a quiet game, I found the silence in specific situations to be quite unnatural. In certain modes even the usual transitional filler moments (showing stats, etc) are missing their audio/could do with some sonic accompaniment.
EA Tiburon have done their best to pay homage to the history of the sport and deepen the gameplay experience with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14. With so much new content, from the Legends of the Majors mode to the inclusion of the LPGA, 5 new courses, a day/night cycle, full Kinect integration (as frustratingly inaccurate as it might be) and much more, this entry in the series is the most robust and complete. Unfortunately, technical hiccups, an uneven, lacklustre presentation and frequent load screens put a significant damper on the experience.
And with as many options as are included, there are still a few key omissions such as the ability to restart a tournament from the pause menu instead of having to quit and return to the main menu and change cameras as a spectator in head-to-head online matches. If you’re a golf fanatic, you’ll (mostly) love this game. If you enjoy a golf game but are merely casually interested, maybe wait for the price to drop, or even next year’s edition. It’s always hard to flat-out recommend a yearly release to a casual fan…
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