My last encounter with the Tiger Woods franchise was in 2005, when I traded in my 2004 copy for what was to be the penultimate release on that platform. I loved it, so being able to review an up-to-date version for a next-gen console I was a very happy Jenny.
The question is this: am I still a very happy Jenny after playing it?
There’s a lot to go at here. As well as a shedload of courses and a full PGA Tour there are plenty of mini-games, ranging from ‘target golf’ (as it sounds) to ‘Bingo Bango Bongo’ (nothing like it sounds). All are great fun and can be played on your own or in multiplayer. The pièce de resistance, however, is connecting up to Xbox Live and creating an EA Sports Gamernet account – as soon as you’ve done that you’re competing against the best shots from players all over the world.
As you go around the course, challenges set up by other players start appearing, and you get EA Gamernet points if you can beat them. I have no idea what Gamernet points are good for, but the feeling of smacking a drive past the little arrow placed by someone who probably thinks they’re ‘l33t’ is brilliant. Hit a particularly sweet shot yourself and it can be instantly posted online for others to achieve, along with video clips of your insane greatness.
The main game now involves a nod towards actual skill. Although it’s arguably still too easy, getting a par score whilst visiting every bunker and stretch of rough will result in your statistics decreasing, making it harder to do it again next time. Your coach, actual Mr Woods trainer Hank Haney, puts together exercises designed to help you improve again, and these are based on the current course you are playing. They’re completely optional; this is a blessing on a few of the tougher ones, since Hank is evil. However, if you want to recreate the many hours of practice which goes on behind the scenes in any major tournament, you can.
Much has been said about the graphics in this, but to be quite honest I still think they’re nowhere near as impressive as you could expect. There’s a certain stylisation going on which makes them somewhat sub-photorealistic, and water effects are still a bag of crap even when compared to things that came out five years ago.
You’ll also have great difficulty making a character that looks like you if you choose not to upload your photo to the EA Sports servers – for some reason they have abandoned the better-than-Oblivion face modeller and gone with a very sparse effort which made me look like either a bimbo or the sourest librarian on the planet.
But it’s the commentary which is the biggest let-down – Gary McCord and David Feherty have been replaced by Sam Torrance and some woman whose voice deeply irritated me (apparently her name is Kelly Tilghman) and there is no interplay between them whatsoever. If you enjoyed listening to the inane – admittedly repetitive – bantering, and having Feherty abuse you when you hit a crap shot, you will not be happy with this. I also have serious problems with the crowd, because although there at least IS one now (to go with the overly manic cheering), they look dreadful.
Also gone, it turns out, is the one feature which deeply enamoured me to the GameCube version. The ‘Trophy Room’ is now not a room, or indeed a whole pavilion, and doesn’t even have any trophies in it. I used to love wandering around looking at all the things I’d won. Now they’re barely worth scrolling through. Collecting trophy balls, once a main part of the game, seems to have faded into the background in the way that features do when EA think they’ve come up with a better gimmick.
We have, I fear, slipped back into what I regard as ‘sterile’ territory – as soon as there’s something that might inspire a little bit of emotion, get rid of it in favour of racking up silly points and beating 13-year-olds on the other side of the pond. In spite of all that, there is still nothing like taking a 9.5 degree driver and absolutely belting the ball into a tree, complete with bullet-time and sound effects.
For those who have never played a Tiger Woods game before: four stars
For everyone else, especially those who thought the 205 GameCube version was ZOMG AWESUM!!1!!!
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 for Xbox 360 is out now.