On the Tee with The Masters: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 Impressions
3/30/2011 2:44:00 PM
Augusta National is one of the most recognized-- but sacred-- golf courses in the world. Only a handful of golfers ever get the chance to play there, and fewer still are extended the opportunity to participate in one of golf's most celebrated tournaments in The Masters. Now, for the first time ever, virtual golfers can experience Augusta National and The Masters with The Masters: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12. This year's game features many improvements over past years, and that's before even qualifying to play in The Masters event.
The addition of a caddie is significant. Professional golfers and caddies have important relationships, and both must work together to have success on the course. A caddie can help with shot selection and with reading the greens, and it's up to the golfer to take that advice and execute it or to choose his or her own path to the hole. As with real golf, the caddie isn't always right, and it will take players some time to learn that balance. Caddies can read greens incorrectly or sometimes choose shots that don't always make the most sense. As you play on each course, caddies gain levels of experience as certain objectives are met; this leads to better decisions and reads. There's a fair amount of banter from the caddie, and some of it is painfully obvious. "Let's keep this in the fairway." Ummm... yeah. That's the idea.
The Career mode has been completely reworked in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12. Coined Road to the Masters, this mode takes a new golfer through an Amateur Tour, the Nationwide Tour, Q-School, and through a full career on the PGA Tour with the ultimate goals of being the best player in the world as well as qualifying for-- and winning-- The Masters. The career progression is fairly rapid early on, but really gets intense once you hit Q-School to earn your PGA Tour card and then hit the tour with the best golfers on the planet. This mode is very addictive, and with various Sponsor and Training challenges to complete, it's easy to spend tons of time playing solo without exploring the other features of the game.
There are 15 courses included with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12. Some are familiar, like TPC Sawgrass and St. Andrews. Others are completely new, such as the addition of TPC San Antonio to this year's game. Unfortunately, there are many more DLC courses-- and some of them are actually built into the Road to the Masters mode. The bottom line is that, if you don't buy the courses, you're forced to sit out of that week's event on the PGA Tour. While the idea of implementing DLC courses into the Career mode is a good one, it would be better if a random course could be substituted for weeks when a DLC course is used but not on the hard drive. DLC prices run from $3 (240 Microsoft Points) for familiar courses to $7 (560 Microsoft Points) for new ones.
Visuals and sound in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 are quite good. Augusta National looks as majestic in this game as it does in high-definition on TV. Golfer models are very good, too... and seeing Rickie Fowler sporting that Oklahoma State neon orange is a sight to behold. The visual presentation is kicked up a notch over previous years, with a more television-style presentation including better-looking leaderboards and great replays. There's not a lot for stat overlays, such as driving accuracy or previous hole performances, but what is here is pretty convincing. The music is heavy on piano; it all sounds like stuff you'd hear on a telecast of The Masters, minus the theme that CBS uses every year. Commentary is legitimized by the addition of Jim Nantz to the broadcast booth; while his commentary is light, hearing him praise your skills is pretty amazing. David Feherty returns to the Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchise for the first time in four years. His on-course analysis is very short and hollow, and has no humor or emotion as it had in previous games. There are more than a few lines of commentary that were lifted from last year's game by Scott Van Pelt and Kelly Tilghman and re-recorded by Nantz and Feherty. That's a little lazy.
The gameplay is fantastic. The option to play without Focus is a welcome addition, choking up on a golf club to shorten distance is an asset, and the analog swing mechanic is tight and responsive. Some shots feel a little easier this year; I've already had more than my fair share of approach shots to the green that found their way into the cup for eagles. It seems easier to get the feel of shots that require less than a full swing, but that could be attributed to my experience with past games in the series. Putting can be a shade inconsistent, especially early on before being able to dedicate XP to improving in that area. Even reading the proper putting line can lead to putts that skim just by the lip or zoom past the hole. We'll see if this continues when I post the final review.
There's a lot to like about The Masters: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 already. Is it the best golf game for the Xbox 360? The jury is out on that question, but my final review will tell all. In the meantime, I have a tee time at Waialae Country Club for my first PGA Tour event as a professional, so check back soon.