First, let's start with the bad news. On the Xbox 360 and PS3, the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series appears to have hit an impasse. In most respects, it's pretty difficult to tell this year's version from last year's effort, and while there are some major new game options and a few tweaks going on behind the scenes, this isn't anywhere near as convincing an update as Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10, which itself wasn't as convincing an update as Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09.
It was with the 09 version that the series really found its feet on what we used to call the next-generation consoles, getting the analogue swing system and the game structure right, and producing golfers and landscapes that, well, kind-of looked like the real thing. Last year's model upped the atmosphere, changed the putting system improved the TV-style presentation and added a few new game modes to the mix, replacing the old Tiger Challenge with a historical Tournament Challenge, and throwing in the US Open.
So what do we get this year? Well, there's no need to hold onto your hats, because the principal changes aren't actually all that exciting. The big ones are the addition of The Ryder Cup to the play modes roster, a 24-player online team mode, the replacement of the Tournament Challenge mode with a Skills Challenge mode, a new True-Aim mode for a more realistic experience, five new courses, and a new Focus mechanic.
Of these, it's The Ryder Cup mode and the Focus mechanic that will be of most interest to the average player. The Ryder Cup gives you the Celtic Manor Twenty-Ten course being used in September's US vs. Europe extravaganza, and the chance to team up with Rory McIlroy, Colin Rose, Monty and the rest to thrash Tiger, Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson and their Yankee cohorts. The course is great, and the gameplay - particularly the Foursomes where you take turns with a team-mate to play each shot - is very entertaining.
Focus, meanwhile, is a new gauge that limits how often you can use power boosts, accuracy boosts and putt previews to guarantee success. Using the perks runs down your focus gauge, while playing shots without them boosts it up again. This adds a new tactical dimension to the game; do you use a power boost now to get an advantage from the tee, or save Focus for accuracy boost and putt previews when you might desperately need them? It's up to you.
We're not so sure about True-Aim. It seems to have been designed for those weird souls who complain that Tiger Woods isn't enough like real golf, as it effectively removes all the targeting views that let you judge where the ball will land if hit well with a given club. Instead, True-Aim gives you a more straightforward third-person view that - with a "GPS-enabled" overhead view - is a closer approximation to what golfers have to work with in real life. In a way, it reminds us of the old-school PGA and Links games, and it means that, just as in real golf, you have to have some idea of clubs and distances to get anywhere. On the other hand, it also makes the game more difficult, less showy and - in our mind - less entertaining, which is probably why EA gives you the option to switch it off straight after the tutorial.
Don't get too excited about the Skills Challenge mode, either, as it's effectively the old Tiger Challenge mode, where various pro golfers challenge you to hit a tee shot harder than they can or complete 5 holes in fewer shots (or that sort of thing). It's worth playing because it's an accessible way of improving your golfer's experience and upping their RPG-style skills to give you an easier game, but it's hardly a revolution for the series.
And in general that's the problem with Tiger Woods 11 - it looks and feels too much like Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10. EA has made bold claims about graphical improvements, but these pretty much come down to some admittedly nice physics simulations for clothes and hair - making Rory McIlroy a vision of rippling trousers and flowing locks - rather than the more pervasive graphical enhancements that the series desperately needs. Why machines capable of running Assassin's Creed 2 and Crysis 2 can't produce photorealistic courses and golfers is anyone's guess, but it's getting a bit embarrassing for EA that the best-looking golf game on a console is still Sony's fabulous, cartoon-styled Everybody's Golf: World Tour.
In short, while Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 is undoubtedly the best realistic golf game of the moment, it's not really one that players of Tiger Woods 10 or even Tiger Woods 09 should necessarily feel the need to rush out and buy. There is one caveat to this statement on the PS3 version, however; the addition of Move controls with a patch in September might turn this situation around completely and turn that version into the best golf game ever. Without having tried it, we'll just have to wait and see.
Now for the good news. The Wii version is fantastic. With last year's first MotionPlus-compatible instalment, EA finally produced a motion-controlled golf game that felt - as much as possible - like Golf. Now it's even better. A range of tweaks to the control system make the experience close to uncanny, and there's even a cool first-person view where you get a view of the club-head against the ball and can line-up your swing accordingly. It's as attractive a golf game as you're likely to see on the format, and - in terms of modes and features - it's pretty close to the "grown-up" console versions.
In fact, as a more casual, family-friendly game it outdoes them. Tiger Woods 10 already had disk golf and some different control modes to make the basic game more accessible, and now Tiger Woods throws in mini-golf, with four fantasy courses based around silly themes like racetracks, icy mountains and tropical islands. It's silly stuff, but great fun with the family, and pretty much ensures that Tiger Woods Wii has the "something for everyone" nut cracked.
If you have the choice, then, the Wii version is the Tiger to go for. It's SD, of course, but it doesn't look hugely worse than the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, and, while serious real-life golfers will doubtless have their moans, we'd say that it's both the most authentic and the most entertaining version of the game. As we said, this might change when the PS3 Move patch arrives, but it's enough to boost the Wii version's score above the PS3 by a couple of points, and put it in award-winning territory.