Reviewed: July 1, 2010
Released: June 8, 2010
Just like clockwork, summertime is slowly coming to an end and EA ships another Tiger Woods golf game. I have to wonder how much longer EA is going to rely on the dubious fame of Tiger for their PGA franchise. Personal issues aside (I could care less about his morals or his marriage), he just isn’t that good a golfer anymore. He’s not making cuts and you seldom see his name on page one of the leaderboards, but then again, the name Tiger Wood will be synonymous with golf for quite some time to come no matter how bad he gets.|
I almost feel the same way about this franchise. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 is just another installment in a lengthy line of golf games, much like all the other EA Sports franchises that get tweaked and retouched each year then regurgitated to the gaming community for a premium price. It’s about time EA came up with some sort of subscription program or at least a trade-in upgrade offer. Do I really need six copies of Tiger Woods on my shelf to track my ongoing golf obsession?
One of the reasons I love golf videogames is because my real golf game has turned to crap over the years. I used to play real golf every weekend but the sport has turned into something of an elitist diversion where one round of golf (with a cart) costs as much as this game that I can play for an entire summer, and play on courses that I could never afford to play on if I were even allowed past the gate. Year after year EA continually improves upon the realism and the difficulty until now where we have a game that I suck at nearly as much as the real thing (especially on the Wii) – but at least on my Xbox 360 I can afford to play until I get better.
The big bullets for this year’s release are the inclusion of the Ryder Cup Challenge, which in turn brings us The Celtic Manor Resort course in Wales, the home for this epic tourney. We also have the new 12 vs. 12 Online Team mode where 24 golfers can battle their way to the top of the online leaderboards. Other new additions are subtler, like the visual enhancements including shifting light as the sun moves across the course, or blowing hair and shirts and pants that flap in the breeze.
But those are mere surface changes. How about what’s under the hood. True-Aim makes this year’s PGA Tour 11 the most realistic golf simulation you can play, should you choose to implement this new control mode. You play the game from the perspective of the golfer. That means no more satellite views when plotting that delicate shot past the bunker to the green and no TV or ball cams when the ball is in flight. You use your knowledge of the course, your clubs, the wind, and good old physics to judge and strike the ball, and then you listen to the feedback from the crowd and the commentators to judge how well you did. Scary, but very realistic. At least you don't have to hunt down your ball.
Focus is the next new feature and this one almost ruined the game for me, at least until I came to the realization on just how much I had been “cheating” for the past few years. As anyone who has played the previous games know, you always had the ability to tweak your shots, adding more power, or putting unnatural spin on the ball in flight, or taking sneak peeks at your putting path. Well, you can still do all that but now your use is severely limited by the Focus meter that deplete with each tap of the shot enhancement button.
Playing the way I did last year emptied my meter halfway through the second hole – I was so used to putting extra power and spin on every shot I made. I seriously had to change the way I played golf. You are given extra Focus for each good shot you make, but the Focus you earn is miniscule compared to what you use. A sneak peek at your putt empties 25% of your meter while a shot in the fairway nets you only a sliver of red power.
I also got a wakeup call when I dove into the PGA Tour – something I have done every year since the franchise began – and found I was totally unable to compete with the golfers on the tour. In the past I had been able to tweak my shots and remain competitive, but now, with limited Focus, I needed to bulk-up my golfer attributes before the PGA Tour by going into the lengthy list of Challenges. These not only focus on various aspects of your golf game from Power and Accuracy, but they reward you with XP that you can use to slowly build up your stats and even purchase items in the Pro Shop.
As always, your options for creating an in-game alter ego are unlimited. You have billions of possible combinations using the varied assortment of body and facial sliders or you can use your Xbox Live Vision camera and snap your own mug shot and plaster it on your character. I’ve never had much luck with GameFace since the first year it was implemented. I wish there was a way to bring over my previous character photo because without studio-style lighting, my face map always makes my golfer look like a burn victim who snuck out of intensive care for a round of golf.
Visually, PGA Tour 11 only sees a few minor improvements to what was already a stunning realistic golf presentation; the aforementioned clothing and hair blowing, some nicer grass and sand textures, and photo-realistic skies, clouds, and backdrop scenery immerse you in these real world locations. Character animation is as smooth as ever and we still have the same stable of canned celebratory animations you can purchase for your golfer.
The audio presentation is solid with some good commentary by Kelly Tillman and Scott Van Pelt who offer some insightful play-by-play that is surprisingly accurate, although I did manage to fool Kelly a few times. I could have done with some more emotion at times, as their delivery doesn’t change whether you are on the first hole or the last. The cheers and claps from the crowd are always welcome and I love hearing my chosen nickname (Eagle Eye) called out from the gallery. There is some good narration for the flyovers on each hole and instructional videos. This is the second year ESPN radio has been absent, so I guess we have seen the last of that integrated feature. No great loss.
PGA Tour 11 will keep you busy long past the lengthy career mode with the Ryder Cup as well as some challenging online play for two, four, or 24 golfers in the new team mode. And you still have all those great multiplayer game modes and GamerNet Challenges you can tackle, or create your own and challenge your friends. I sort of wanted something new but I couldn’t tell you what. This all just seemed very familiar…good but familiar. New courses are already available for download, so you can take your game to new locales with DLC.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 is still the definitive golf game out there, mostly because it’s the only golf game out there, mini-golf not withstanding. EA continues to improve, tweak, and make each year’s installment prettier, tougher, and more realistic than the last. The Wii version is probably the best “playing” golf game when it comes to simulating the actual golfing experience, but Xbox 360 and PS3 offers the best next-gen experience, and once Kinect and PS Move get implemented into PGA Tour 12; well, you’ll never need to leave the house to play golf again.