"While any one of these new features could be the reason players come to Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, most will stay because of the impressive balance between fun and realism. "
At a time when most publishers are looking for ways to simplify their games in search of mainstream acceptance, it was somewhat surprising to learn that Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 would be doing the opposite. Unlike the previous iterations, which were designed to serve a market that is fairly casual, EA is using the latest edition to target people who are as serious about golf as they are video games.
The resulting product is easily the best Tiger Woods game released in the last several years, minus the “wow” factor many experienced when the dual-stick controls were unveiled. This is a game that will appeal to the returning (and perhaps more casual) fans by adding a couple of new features to the series’ renowned gameplay. At the same time, it may very well penetrate a new market by introducing True Aim, a feature that was developed not for hardcore gamers but for hardcore golfers.
True Aim is a mode that’s true to its name. Once activated, this mode will prevent the camera from following the ball as it soars through the air. Players will no longer have the option to push the camera forward, take a peek at the current hole and plan the perfect swing. In short, this mode eliminates everything that we’ve come to expect from golf video games except for the putting grid.
If this were the only gameplay mode available, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 would probably fail. True Aim’s learning curve is pretty steep; at times you might feel like you’re playing the game blindfolded. But it works well as an optional feature. Players will appreciate the differences between the standard and True Aim gameplay modes, most notably the raw skill that the latter requires. This is not a mode that can be mastered overnight. Series veterans may not have an advantage over Tiger Woods newcomers if their knowledge of the sport is limited to what has been featured in video games. Those who hit the course for real, however, will feel right at home.
Despite the emphasis on realism, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 does not entirely run away from arcade-style features. In fact, this game offers a new one: Focus. Created as a way to empower golfers with extra (but familiar) abilities, Focus determines how often the game’s advanced maneuvers can be performed. That means that the Putt Preview feature, which was once limited to only one use per hole, can now be used as much as the player wants – so long as there is enough Focus to go around. Likewise, the Spin maneuver (which was once unlimited) is now tied to the Focus meter.
Though it might seem counterproductive for this feature to expand some components while constricting others, Focus is overall a positive edition to the series. The trade-off is more than worth it: when one Putt Preview isn’t enough to save par, you’ll be thanking your lucky stars for the new system. After a couple of hours, players will have learned to think more carefully about each swing, which will ultimately improve their game.
In addition to the Focus feature, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 contains an XP system that rewards the player for winning games and challenges. There are a few dozen challenges available, and most of them are fairly straightforward; score four holes in 11 strokes or less, play five pars in -1 or better, match Boo Weekly’s short game accuracy on three holes, and so on. Aside from the benefit of earning XP – which can be spent on improving your homemade golfer’s power, accuracy, control and putting statistics – the challenges are a fun alternative to the old career mode.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 is one of the first games to include EA’s online activation system that requires the player to enter a single-use registration code (located on the back of the instruction booklet) to access the multiplayer features. Registration is fast and simple: enter an e-mail address, make up a password, enter the code, download a small file and you’re good to go. If you don’t have the code – because you purchased the game used, for example – you’ll have to pay $10 to purchase one online, hence the unofficial moniker, “Project Ten Dollar.”
It stands to reason that if EA is going to implement this anti-used game measure, there must be a good reason. And there is, at least on paper: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 includes a brand-new Online Team Play mode that allows players to join one of two teams (12 players on each) for the biggest online competition the sport has ever seen. Unfortunately, no one seems to care. The online lobby is a dead zone, even during peak hours (6pm to 10pm for most games). With only a handful of people logged on, it’s not easy to find a competitor – let alone the 24 needed to play a full team game.
The matchmaking feature proved to be the most effective way to score some action. Online, battles are refreshingly quick. Load times are just as short as they are during offline play (about five seconds). Most significantly, the nonsense of the Ryder Cup – in which the player must wait for the AI-controlled golfers to take their turns – is nowhere to be found. Every player can attack the hole at the same time without getting confused, thanks to a color-coded system that marks the path of each ball.
While any one of these new features could be the reason players come to Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, most will stay because of the impressive balance between fun and realism. Regardless of which play mode is selected, there are a handful of elements – wind, rain, the formation of the course (flat versus rugged terrain) and the speed and power at which you hit the ball – that remain constant. There will surely be times when gamers will hate playing in the rain (it makes the ball extra slippery), or feel the urge to curse at the wind (golf balls are no match for a 10 mile-per-hour gust). But as they begin to deal with – and overcome – these issues, they will be enveloped in one of the finest golf experiences of this console generation.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 won’t achieve “must-own” status among the average gamer, but it is very much a game that anyone interested in the sport should play. The Focus feature is a great addition, the real-world elements are intense (even more so when True Aim is turned on), and the Skills Challenges are too fun to resist.
Freelance review by Louis Bedigian (July 12, 2010)
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