Having practically been airbrushed out of his own game last year – which nevertheless went on to achieve record sales – the disgraced/redeemed/washed-up Tiger returns to front and centre this time round, sharing the cover with fellow Masters flop Rory McIlroy. In the US that timely honour falls to winner Bubba Watson, a man whose ardour for Jesus is matched only by his enthusiasm for The Dukes of Hazard, being the proud owner of the original General Lee (although presumably there was more than one).
Tiger’s own car collection is understandably glossed over here, although for once he is an integral part of the game, as opposed to merely turning up to flash his impossibly white teeth on the box. This integration comes about via the so-called Tiger Legacy Challenge, whereby you play out key moments of his golfing life, or as it says in-game, "Relive the storied career of Tiger Woods", which we initially read as "sordid career".
Unsurprisingly his antics with a waitress in a church car park are not part of this story, although it is a comprehensive affair, beginning with his TV debut as a precocious two-year-old. Progressing through the early years to the amateur years to the glory years, and even to a hypothetical future where he overhauls hero Jack Nicklaus’s 18 majors, it’s more than a token add-on, spanning four decades and providing an intriguing and frequently challenging insight into the eye of the Tiger.
Elsewhere it’s the same old stuff, with 22 PGA Tour Golfers and a slew of accurately rendered courses. The kick in the teeth is that most of these courses have to be bought separately for extra cash on top of the fifty quid you’ve already shelled out for the game. It’s this kind of practice that recently led to EA being voted the worst company in America - an outpouring of nerd-rage that arguably overlooked the bigger picture.
Eye Of The Tiger
Whether you opt to buy the extra courses or not, the meat of the game is the career mode where you create your own golfer and set out on the rocky road to brightly trousered success. Using the PlayStation Eye you can even scan your own face in, and a full 20 minutes later a terrifying zombified apparition of yourself appears.
The career is a gruelling affair, and you’re forever being rewarded with arbitrary XP, which you can then of course use to buy yourself a new pair of pink gloves. The online aspect has been rebranded as an exclusive country club, with tier points granting you access to various privileges, perhaps in a nod to the elitist boys' club that is professional golf. Although in a step towards progress - unlike Augusta - being of the female gender presents no automatic barrier.
Ultimately, for all the periphery, authenticity and stripy kecks, it all comes down to the swing mechanics, which have allegedly taken their "most significant leap forward in over a decade". Apparently revolutionised, to the untrained thumb it appears to be a time-honoured case of smoothly pulling back and then pushing forward the analogue stick. Or, for the more energetic pretend golfers, there are of course motion control options. We played a few rounds using the PlayStation’s Move controller, and while driving felt fairly natural, the putting was an extremely twitchy affair, showing scarcely any progress from Wii Golf. Whereas there is some satisfaction at hitting a good shot, it’s tempered by the suspicion that it was more down to luck than judgment.
As for the Xbox’s controller-free Kinect, it seemed slightly more accurate, despite the humiliation of swinging with nothing in your hands. Although if you have the room there’s nothing to stop you utilising an actual golf club – just don’t send us your double glazing bill.
For all the futuristic motion-control twattery, the best method of control was perfected years ago, and beyond the odd ill-judged social gathering, the serious player will inevitably return to the joypad, and crucially, the sofa. This is not a game to be played on your feet, and like televised golf the whole thing is geared towards relaxation, with the occasional intrusion of momentary excitement.
For further proof, note that one of the in-game music tracks is called Chillax Time - worryingly, there is also one called Skinny Dipper. A world away from the bombs and the guns and the shouting, this is laidback gaming - dare we say old man gaming - and should be appreciated thus.
The trouble with slinging out essentially the same game every year is whether there’s enough new stuff to make it an essential annual purchase. Obviously FIFA seems to manage it, but the world of golf moves at a glacial pace, with players eking out 50-year careers and courses remaining unaltered for centuries.
The Tiger Legacy stuff is a welcome addition, but in all honesty, unless you’re a massive motion control fan, you’d have as much or as little fun with any of the previous five incarnations.