For the first time in Pocket-lint’s memory, Electronic Arts has removed Tiger Woods’ image from the front of the latest in its PGA Tour golf game franchise, opting instead to make a tournament the star. But then, there’s no better golf tournament in world than the Masters, so the move makes perfect sense to us. And, of course, the aptly named Mr Woods did dip his wick in a bevvy of beauties, was universally described as a “love rat”, drove into a tree, divorced his wife, and went into rehab for sex addiction. So, maybe that’s got something to do with it too.
For us though, we’re pleased that EA has merely dropped him from the cover, and not, like most of his other former sponsors, entirely. Let’s face it, Tiger Woods may not be the world’s number one anymore, but he’s still, arguably, the greatest golfer that ever lived. And thanks to its new cover star, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters is very nearly the greatest golf game too - even though the actual game mechanics haven’t changed that much. Admittedly, gameplay is so close to last year’s edition that you’d be excused for thinking that, if you already own it, you needn’t bother upgrading. But, you’d be wrong.
The art and action of actually stroking a ball may be nigh-on identical, but the pomp, majesty and details that surround it have not only been tweaked, they’ve been prodded, pinched, poked and moulded into a mighty experience. The end result is a Tiger Woods game that makes you feel like you’re a genuine golfer more than ever before.
For starters, the PGA Tour mode that has been part of the franchise for donkey’s years is on a hiatus, replaced by Road to the Masters - a new career mode that seems more structured and thematic than ever before. In it, your created golfer must progress from amateur tournaments and matches, up to the Masters showpiece itself, unlocking items and sponsorship deals along the way. And, unlike the generic PGA Tour Season mode of yore, it doesn’t just require you to play match after match in 4-day events.
- HP's new Omen gaming PCs explored: We tear down these gaming beasts to see what's under the hood (promo)
While these kind of tournaments are all still represented, there are also individual spot challenges with Tour professionals and Sponsor-led trials. Plus, certain requirements are set to progress through the levels, meaning experienced players can breeze through the easier stages by simply winning one tournament or placing highly in several, rather than having to wade through them all.
The mode feels much more like a storyline, and is extremely rewarding. You genuinely feel like your golfer is gaining experience away from just adding extra points onto numeric skill sets. By the time you reach the Masters, you feel like you’ve earned it.
Even über-experienced players are catered for, with EA allowing them to unlock the chance to win the coveted Masters Green Jacket by completing Masters Moments - a challenging series of former shots that professionals made in its history - so even this new career mode doesn’t punish Tiger Woods aficionados.
Beyond the career mode, there’s still plenty of Masters-based action. Indeed, the game is steeped in its aura, from the look of the menu system and pop-up graphics to additional quick play game modes, including Tiger at the Masters. This allows you to re-enact Woods’ marches to victory in each of his title-winning years; including the correct score boards as posted by the genuine competition at the time. And there’s also talk-throughs of each hole of Augusta National (the Masters’ golf course), and plenty of other content. Indeed, you will come away from the game with better knowledge of the Masters than even some professional golfers who’ve played there. Probably.
However, that’s not to say you’re completely limited to Masters-themed mayhem. As well as one-off exhibition matches, you can even take part in The Presidents Cup - a real life US versus the Rest of the World team tournament that takes over from the Ryder Cup centrepiece in last year’s edition. And there’s all the online shenanigans that last year’s offering was famed for. Plus, a stack of DLC, including another 20 courses to add to the game’s existing 16. Phew.
In short, there’s so much choice and variety in gameplay styles that you’ll forgive familiarity in the control methods and basic gameplay, including Move and Wiimote options for PS3 and Wii respectively (and Kinect support is missing this time around too). However, there is one thing…
Another massive new addition to the Tiger Woods franchise this year is the appearance of on-screen (very vocal) caddies, who offer shot suggestions and give you tips all the way through, regardless of your skill level. Often, they’ll give you two choices of shot, one easy and one more difficult. Take the latter and you could find yourself in a better position to set yourself up for a birdie or eagle, but then, you might just end up in a bunker. Of course, you can still completely ignore the help, or even turn him off entirely, but it does add a further sense of realism. After all, the professionals couldn’t live without their wingmen.
And that’s essentially the point. This year, EA has tried, and succeeded, in crafting a game that feels closer to the real thing than ever before. The graphics are slightly sharper (although still a little too colourful and garish to look photographic), and the player models are more defined.
But, it is because of its overall presentation, enormous depth and welcoming career mode, that Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters is an unmissable update to the series; one that golf gamers new and old will find captivating, challenging and seemingly fresh. At least until next year, anyway.
It is, for want of a better word, a Masters-piece…