Product Type: Electronic Arts Xbox 360 games
Newest Review: ... in HD, which makes a big difference to playing the game. The gameplay has been improved vastly from the previous version, as I found ... more
The Sinister Rise of The Magic Jumpers
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 (Xbox 360)
Member Name: dj981
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 (Xbox 360)
Advantages: Relaxing and often gratifying sports sim
Disadvantages: Buy anything using Microsoft Points and I will hunt you down
A confession: I'm crap at real golf. The only threat I pose on a typical round is to woodland animals and the odd carp, and sadly this constitutes a decent shot in that the ball actually left the ground.
Yet this really shouldn't be the case, as I've dabbled with and enjoyed golf simulations since PGA Tour on the Mega Drive, during the halcyon days of power bars and timed button presses. You would think this experience has imparted at least a working knowledge of swing mechanics into my tiny mind. It hasn't. All is not lost though, as I still get to unite my motor skills with the feeling of a long straight drive courtesy of Tiger Woods' latest annual outing.
Some of you will have to curb your suspicion in splashing out on yet another EA Sports title, which usually offer up 'improvements' in the way of yet more licences and some right-on features like more hats and novelty beards to adorn your sportspeople with. Well this update has bucked the trend with some sexy new - shock horror - *gameplay* features, so stick with me you cynical old sods.
"So what's new, Donkey?" I hear you bellow with the kind of enthusiastic anticipation usually reserved for sugar-hyped five year olds on Christmas Eve. First, don't get too excited; it ain't Christmas and you certainly ain't five. The improvements are subtle and technical, and the enjoyment added will vary depending on whether you prefer a simulation or arcade experience.
As an aside - I'm going to write this on the strict assumption you:-
a) Know what golf is
b) Understand the principles and objectives of a golfing videogame (see a)
Or, if you really want to be patronised I can re-write this with explanatory footnotes. Requests on a postcard please.
***End of Tangent***
Most successful of the new features is the statistical progression of your golfer. Previously all that was required to climb the world ranks was an RPG-like investment of time and tenacity, taking your golfer on a mysterious two-season journey from wimpy Sunday afternoon hack to an all-conquering Tiger worrier simply by virtue of playing vast quantities of bad golf. Bitter experience will tell most of us golfers that this simply doesn't happen in the real world. In '09 you begin as a vaguely competent player, and your form on the course dictates whether your core attributes improve or deteriorate. Hitting more fairways and greens and sinking more putts over the course of a round directly contributes to your levels of ability in each discipline moving forward; likewise having a shocker will set you back an equivalent amount of points.
The clever aspect is that over time you will find your natural level of ability based on performance, since the skill levels are dictated by your career average scoring. Shanking a drive into the skull of an innocent bystander won't destroy your driving attributes in your second or third season, but persist in lobotomising the spectators and eventually you'll find your maximum power and accuracy suffering.
Tiger's coach is on hand to offer some assistance throughout your career, and after each round gives you the chance to atone for your errors by practicing your worst shots of the round from identical positions. It's a nice touch, but kind of leaves you with the impression you're cheating the system.
Talking of cheating the system - this brings me nicely to my main gripe with the whole theory. EA, bless their money-grabbing chiffon socks, have found new and inventive ways to undermine the whole game whilst separating us from our cash. All that hard work on the course can be circumvented by, wait for it, buying clothing and equipment from the club shop.
Now ordinarily this would be a dubious if not wholly unfair method of progression. After all, if you earn cash in tournaments you can spend it on equipment, right? Yes and No. Enter the evil, immoral, greedy crock of sweaty horse bollocks that is the exploitation of Microsoft Points. See where this is going? If you're online via Xbox live, you the lucky punter can also use real money you have to get up and work for to quite literally buy the equipment. Those impatient and/or stupid and/or wealthy enough to splash out upwards of £1-2 a go for a performance enhancing jumper *that doesn't exist* to gain an extra accuracy point can avoid, y'know, actually playing the game. Now some would argue that in paying for the entire DVD, you'd expect to have some moral right to a jumper that's already on said DVD. Apparently EA want you to buy it all over again.
Yes I appreciate you don't have to use real money, but this sort of thing is the industry's experiment with our tolerance to aforementioned horse bollocks. Use this feature and expect to be chewing on more in the future. Remember, this isn't even downloadable content: YOU ALREADY OWN IT.
The Lord Giveth, and He Taketh Away.
One last thing - if there was an incredible range of jumpers which increased golfing performance, surely we'd all be out there winning real competitions in them?
***End of Tangent***
Another new tool for meddling with is the club customisation feature. The on course swing meter now maps the path of your analogue stick movements in real time onto a golf ball graphic on the HUD, allowing you to see whether you naturally hook or slice the ball. This feedback can be interpreted and used to tailor your clubs accordingly, such as closing or opening the face for example. Unless you have the hand-eye co-ordination of an infant it's not really of enormous benefit, but enthusiasts will have a blast playing with the all the optionzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.... sorry where was I?
Another smart idea is weaving the Live experience into solo play. Throughout the career mode you'll notice little flags springing up ahead of you. These represent a selected shot from another Xbox Live player for you to try and better. If you do, you'll receive a little points bonus. It's a nice touch, and you get the option to upload your most outrageous achievements to the EA servers for somebody else to try and crack. Similarly, you can upload entire rounds of golf for people to try and better. You can choose the parameters to adjust the difficulty, such as 'beat my back nine score on St Andrews, or hit six eagles', or 'hole out from 120 yards on the 15th and hit the pin'. You can then check back to see if/when your challenge was busted and by who. You can choose these challenges from the main menu, ranked by difficulty or chronology, to have a crack at.
Alas, as is so often the case with Live games, the mixture of a competitive environment and the lure of geek prestige results in ridiculous achievements heading the scoreboards, which are clearly either the result of cheating or an abundance of spare time. But EA won't mind; I'm sure the very existence of these leaderboards has inspired an avalanche of jumper sales in the club shop. The thieving b*stards.
The best inclusion on the Live front is undoubtedly the custom matchplay options, allowing you to play simultaneously against up to three other golfers from across the world. Rather than the painful experience of waiting for each other to play, you all hack away together, your opponents' ball flights represented by coloured tracers. It's a great touch, which frequently turns out comedy moments as your friends hack ball after ball into the ocean while you hurl encouraging abuse at them over the interweb. Fried Gold.
"But Donkey, what about the graphix and soundz?"
It's golf. I give them 8.14/10. Satisfied?
Alright, some of you were probably expecting more in depth analysis. The courses are still reasonable if sketchy in places (i.e. the trees); the commentary of Sam Torrence and an equally irritating, masculine sounding American woman whose name escapes me is as nonsensical and atmosphere-crushing as ever; the spectators look like a gathering of robotic scarecrows moving their arms in perfect unison with each and every shot as if controlled from afar by some manic robotic scarecrow building professor. As ever, the crowds also have no sense of occasion, whooping and cheering deliriously at even the most procedural birdie putt on the 2nd green. Similarly, your golfer has a comparable ineptitude for judging the importance of his own actions, jumping wildly around the green like a Masters winner after scraping par on the first hole of a minor tour event.
Bottom line - the genre leading sports games look good, but still can't seem to successfully recreate the tension and atmosphere of their real life counterparts. What about including T.V. crews? What about building the crowd noise and involvement as you reach the back nine level with the leaders, but scaling this down if you're off the pace? What about caddies for pity's sake? Just a brain dump guys, feel free to plagiarise. I feel yet again that ADHD adolescents and low IQ numbnuts among us gamers are being sated here, in that if something isn't straining under the weight of its own self-conscious bling and testosterone, it's 'boring'.
In summary, Tiger Woods '09 is definitely the best the series has produced, and in terms of game mechanics is probably the biggest stride toward authenticity I can remember for several years. The inventive and positive additions are overshadowed somewhat by the spectre of corporate greed which is the club shop, but hey, this is EA - what did you expect? The designers create, the suits exploit.
Remember, no jumpers people.
Summary: A worthy purchase even for owners of previous games in the series