Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What is wrong with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08?

Not much. Here's my review


I stood on the edge of immortality. It was a 32 yard putt, downhill breaking viciously to the right. On the other side of the hole lay doom, the ripple of the water serving as a counterpoint to my greedy eyes. Make no mistake, this was a toughie.

If I sunk it I would win my first tour championship, if I missed I would be sunk.

I looked around at the crowd, expectant of history on the 18th and the flag waving in the breeze. I refocused and drew my putter back. I paused for a slight moment, I drew the putter forward and the ball was on its way. It seemed the moment was almost cinematic.

The ball rolled its way down the slope. Damn...it had a chance! My hands gripped the controller as it rolled. Is it going to make it?

"Ooh...lipped out"...plop.

This ladies and gentlemen, is the story of how I broke my TV.

It all started one stormy day during a break at work, the local game store was just down the way and I had ten minutes before I had to get back to work. I decided to peruse the bargain section of the store; it was probably the giant red signs that did it.

I trawled my way through the titles I had no interest in, until I laid eyes on Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08. It was half price, making it $AU40. I would make that amount in the next two hours.

'Golf? I know nothing about golf! But still...$40 is pretty good.' I thought as I pawed at the case with my grubby hands, to the delight of the grubby sales clerk who took my money with glee.

I got home that evening, and almost forgot I had bought the game. I was halfway through Sports Tonight when a golf story came on and I realised I could actually be playing golf right now.

I loaded up the disc and waited for the monolithic EA-Sports logo to mock me for making an impulse buy and filling its coffers, therefore funding its attempt at world domination.

I got into the game and was pleasantly surprised by the catchy menu music provided by Gym Class Heroes. I guess I was expecting music from the twenties when golfers wore pants the size of their egos. The presentation was really quite nice, which is almost par for the course as far as EA Sports titles are concerned.

I browsed through the menu items and found a section called Golf 101. Yep, this is what I needed. As I made my way though the challenges presented by learning a new sport and constantly shanking my shots to the left, I couldn't help but notice that this game was gorgeous.

The trees swayed, the grass was realistic, the people were real and the water effects were stunning. Birds tweeted in the background and the crowd groaned as I missed the green yet again. I really felt as if I was out on a sunny afternoon rather than inside during a miserable evening.

There's a reason EA Sports rules the roost, it's because it gives the player great presentation to suck you into the game world.

Once I had completed the training, I felt that it was time to take off the training wheels and just learn by doing, so I decided on a career mode.

When I was asked to create a player, I presented with the option of using my Xbox camera to put myself in the game. Usually, I think this sort of thing is for sad, sad pandas but then again, I'm a sad, sad infant.

It asked me to pose front on, and then profile. It was surprisingly easy. The result was pretty good, it actually looked like me. As my friend commented: "Oh god! It's hideous!".

Once I had my golfer kitted out with the most ostentatious clothing I could manage, I decided to dive straight into the PGA tour. That...was a mistake.

You see, my stats at this stage were pathetic. An old man could out drive me (and did on several occasions), and Wayne Rooney could hit the target better than I could. The best I could ever manage was 6 over for the round.

I was about to give up on the game, egged on by the in-game commentators who mocked me like only the gentle observers of the manly game of golf can.

I went back, and realised there were two options I hadn't considered. Training and the Tiger challenge.

Training involves a bunch of mini-games like 'nearest to the pin' and driving contests. I was pitted with AI around my own ability, but just ahead of me to keep the greyhound interested in the bunny.

I soon found out that these challenges were quite fun, and at the end of them I had earned more potential for my golfer. This meant that my skills would grow as I played more golf, and I found it an effective way to keep the player interested in repetitive training.

Tiger challenge, was like training, but with a few twists to keep things interesting.

What it effectively amounted to was challenges to unlock golfers, courses, money, skills and ultimately a showdown with the great man himself. Rather than a linear structure though, you are free to take whatever path you want, and pursue challenges in any direction.

These ranged from skins challenges against AI, approach challenges that honed your game from the rough and devious putting challenges that placed you on Satan's own putting green.

As with the training portion of the career mode, these challenges were all quite fun, with distinct rewards for beating them.

As the hours passed and my golfer grew ever stronger, I felt it was time to get back on the tour, and see if I could do any better.

As it turns out, I could. My next round was only 2 over par, an improvement of four shots. All that training and all those challenges had paid off in a handsome way.

As I learned the intricacies of the game, I learned to appreciate the simple beauty of the controls.

The left analogue stick controls the swing, you keep it straight and the ball flies straight. Simple enough, but I found it quite hard to control it with my left thumb as is natural, and instead resorted to using my right thumb.

Normally, this would get a game ridiculed, but there's a whole stack of things you have to do before swinging the club, and once you've done those, it's all gravy.

A new feature this year is the ability to draw and fade. This is basically the ability to change the flight of the ball to go left or right. This is the key to unlocking those tough dog leg holes as you can start the ball out right, and fade it left.

The red button brings up your target zone. This is basically the area in which the ball is predicted to land if you give it 100% power. The beauty is, the you can move this to estimate how much power you need to hit a certain point.

For example, your target zone is off the green but you want to pitch your shot right next to the pin. You bring your target next to the pin and it'll tell you that you need around 50 5 power to pitch it there. Then, you just simply draw back your club less than you normally would and hey presto! You're on the green and the crowd is goin' nuts.

Once you're on the green, you're treated to all the bells and whistles.

A grid shows you the slope and the direction of the breaks, and once you've lined up your putt you can press the left bumper to bring up a putt preview. This shows you the line the ball will travel across the green and is invaluable for amateurs.

Of course, all of this can be turned off for the purists among you who want a real man's challenge.

It's taken me half a page to describe the mechanics involved, but once you learn these, it's deceptively simple to master.

I thought I'd finish this game within a week, boy was I wrong.

The thing about this game is that it demands your concentration for all 18 holes. You can't afford to let your concentration slip for even one hole, or you'll end up over even. The game gives you all the tools to succeed, but it can be a bitch sometimes.

There's no doubt this game is more than a challenge than your average sports sim (I'm looking at you Virtua Tennis 3), and is less forgiving. All of which makes sinking that perfect putt or pulling that great fading pitch shot from the rough to grab birdie all the more satisfying.

The true test of any sports sim is if will appease the fans and draw new people into the sport, and in this Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 succeeds. It's got lots of things to unlock, lots of game play and a ton of trouble if you slice from the tee.

The fact that I'm considering heading off for a round of real golf this weekend is testament to the game. It has superb presentation, superb visuals, great mechanics and is a challenge to all (even to my golf-familiar friend).

Multi player is an absolute hoot, with plenty of mini games and game modes to keep the sledging in the lounge room going long after you've controlled your controller in a fit of rage.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 has all the bells and whistles, but rather but feel overwhelmed by them, the player is invited into the world of golf through intuitive game play and easy to pick-up mechanics.

Now if you excuse me, I'm off to buy a new TV...and maybe a three wood for my friend. We'll see who's hideous.

Recommendation: Buy it for something different

No comments: