Reviewed: April 11, 2011
Released: March 29, 2011
What better timing. I get to play Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters pretty much while watching the real event on TV. For the first time ever, EA has secured the rights for the Masters tournament as well as the Augusta Nation Golf Club. The results are as legendary as the iconic tournament itself, making PGA Tour 12 the absolute best golf game; dare I say “simulation” of all time. And on a personal note, I am glad to see EA is starting to steer the franchise away from celebrating just one man. Tiger’s name is now as small as his image on this year’s cover, even though he does represent a significant part of the game content.|
So what’s new this year? In the past we’ve been drawn in with specific tournaments like the Ryder Cup, or the chance to learn from Tiger’s own personal trainer. This year, in addition to the Masters, we now have the innovative use of caddies, and just in case you thought that caddies were nothing more than over-paid baggage handlers, just wait until you see how much they actually contribute to professional golf while remaining completely behind the scenes.
First and foremost, Caddies are optional in PGA Tour 12, so if you enjoy all the tedious club selection, shot alignment, grip and choke settings, and wind analysis, then by all means, dismiss the caddie with a tap of the B button. You can always summon him back if you change your mind. I was a bit resistant to the concept at first, but then it quickly grew on me. Prior to each shot your caddie will offer you two options, a safe shot and a risky shot, usually at the green or the flag stick. You can take his advice or override him with your own custom shot. The more you play and the more you master the various courses in the game, the better shot options your caddie will come up with, making his advice much more valuable 20-30 hours into the game.
Also new, or at least greatly enhanced, is the Sponsor feature that brings in name brand companies like Ping, Cobra, and Nike (just to name a few) who may want to sponsor you. You can participate in Sponsor Challenges that will unlock that company and their gear in the Pro Shop. If you choose to sign with a sponsor you will find a new set of additional ongoing challenges like winning a tournament using their clubs, or sinking a 25-foot putt with a certain putter. You are free to switch sponsors at any time, but there are also rewards for sticking with a sponsor for multiple events.
The Road to the Masters is the new career mode for PGA Tour 12. You’ll create your golfer either by using the Vision camera to capture your own face or make use of the advanced creation tools that would have an FBI sketch artist envious. For those who played PGA Tour 11 you will be pleased to know you can import your player XP from that game to get a jump on the game. Starting at amateur status you’ll need to work your way up through the ranks, earning the right to attend Q School and upon graduation, begin your career in the PGA Tour. From there, your goal is to ascend the ranks to become one of the top 100 golfers and earn your invitation to the Masters in Augusta. But even when that legendary event is complete you still have dozens of events and tournaments to participate in that will keep you busy for months to come.
The new Fast Golf feature allows you to play rounds of golf at record speeds. As always you can hold the Y button to speed up the ball, or you can now tap the button to advance instantly to the next shot without any of the traditional EA splash screens and fuss. You can literally knock back 18 holes in 20-30 minutes. You can also save your game in mid-round – a system that can also be abused since it will disregard any scores for an unfinished hole.
PGA Tour 12 blurs the lines of sports game and simulation with a statistically rich golfer profile page with multiple panels of attributes ranging from driving and control to putting accuracy. As you play the game you will be rewarded with various amounts of XP for winning matches, FIR, GIR, as well as eagles, birdies, and other feats of excellence. You can then spend this XP between rounds to enhance your attributes. You can also boost your stats by equipping specific items from the Pro Shop. While these stats don’t give your golfer any supernatural abilities, it does help to take the edge off any personal control issues you might have with the game system by giving you more precise target circles or widening your area of forgiveness when making a putt.
Those who like to collect or work toward in-game goals will delight in several areas of completion such as Course Mastery. Complete various goals to earn bronze, silver and gold awards for each course. In addition to a shiny medal for your golf bag your caddie becomes more skilled on choosing shots for that course. There are dozens of Pins to earn for completing all sorts of milestones, and you can assign these to your bag as well. And then we have the sponsors and their various levels of mastery that first require you to sign with them, then stick with them long enough to check off a lengthy lists of goals.
Other gameplay modes include Masters Moments; a series of historic challenges based on memorable events from past years. You get to replay those same holes and either Pass the challenge by equalling, or Master the challenge by doing better than the original golfer. Tiger at the Masters lets you relive each of Tiger’s four wins at the Masters by attempting to equal or beat his scores in each round of the Tournament.
Visually, PGA Tour 12 puts a few polished touches on what was already a photo-realistic and flawless experience. The new TV-style coverage and camera angles are perfect for any view or replay other than you actually making the shot. The new caddie-view and the ability to flick the stick up and down to see the target or the lie is brilliant. Clothing and hair blow in the breeze not to mention huge trees swaying back and forth in the stronger winds. Some nice grass (now modeled in 3D so it more much more realistically) and sand textures, and photo-realistic skies, clouds that reflect in the sparkling lakes, and lush backdrop scenery immerse you in these real world locations taking you to courses and clubs most of us could never afford to play including the legendary Augusta National Golf Club. Character animation is as smooth as ever and there are all sorts of new pre and post shot animations like knocking the sand off your shoe with the club.
To complement the visuals we have “the voice of golf”, Jim Nantz who teams up with David Feherty to lead the all-new broadcast presentation package. Their commentary is pure perfection with no crazy dialogue or forced attempts at humor or sarcasm. Each hole gets a brief introduction that you can skip if you wish, and then it’s just pure play-by-play like you would hear on TV. Your caddy has a pleasing voice as he politely makes his suggestions, and there is plenty of realistic crowd cheering and applause along with all the realistic environmental effects. The music, which blends a lot of piano solos with ESPN-style sports themes can best be described as "regal".
PGA Tour 12 will keep you busy for months to come with numerous events and tournaments, and you can always start a new year when you finish the current one. There are even special events for returning champs. You still have some great multiplayer modes for online and local play for 2-4 golfers and there is a cool new offline team mode, the Presidents Cup, where you take on the best from around the world as you compete in this new tournament featuring the U.S. team versus the top golfers outside of the Europe.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters is definitely taking the focus from the man and placing it on the event. While Tiger does still enjoy more than his fair share of attention, Augusta is the true star of this year’s installment. Every hole is legendary, rich in tradition and history. There is a sense of awe as you make your way around the Amen Corner holes – almost like walking on sacred ground. Gameplay is refined, the career mode is polished, the caddie assist is seamless and cool, and the multiplayer modes and DLC will keep you playing until next year’s inevitable sequel.
I don’t know how this game can possibly get any better, but I look forward to seeing EA try to best this almost-flawless installment, and what is arguably the best version of PGA Tour in the history of the franchise.