January 26, 2008
I’m standing on the 18th tee at St Andrews, one shot behind the leader sat in the Clubhouse. The sensible option is a good iron, approach and a short putt to force the play off. However, this isn’t about being sensible. This is about winning. I reach for the driver. I am Tiger Woods.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 is the ninth edition of the series, and the third released on the 360. This is the first outing from EA Tiburon, based out of Florida. They are the team responsible for bringing you other major sporting titles such as Madden, NCAA and NASCAR. So any sports fan will have played some of their work before, and know the high standard they set themselves. Will Tiger be able to step up to the challenge, or will it turn into a David Duval and fade away?
When booting up the game, the first thing you notice is the new look. Instead of just standing in front of a driving range like in the 07 version, you are now stood in a clubhouse with a nice big shiny screen behind you, showing you clips of the professionals featured in the game. The new menus are a lot sleeker, and it doesn’t feel as rushed as previous versions. You can quickly jump into any type of game you want, and there are also easy to follow tutorials guiding you though the new features to the game. Another positive thing is the lack of an irritating pop song while the game is starting. Certainly makes the menus a lot less annoying.
Well, lets take this onto the course. As soon as you step onto the first tee, you will be pleasantly surprised by the graphics. These have been given a major overhaul, and the game itself is looking nothing short of spectacular. The courses look amazing, with plenty of foliage on the trees, long wavy grass for rough and short grass on the fairways with shadows from clouds blowing round. The water features are shimmering away in the sunlight, and the only bad thing I can say about the graphics is the crowds. They are still blocky and don’t flow. They are also programmed as a group- I had 16 of them in a triangle doing a synchronized dance routine at one point. However, you can make them grab themselves in pain when you hit them with the ball, which is almost a benefit of missing the fairways.
There are 5 additional courses this year, bringing the total number up to 16. While still behind the previous generation console, this is a big step up for the 360. With the graphical differences between the two generations, it’s also to be expected. You will have to play a lot of golf before you are completely familiar with all the courses. The number of professional golfers has also increased this year, including members of the LPGA tour, which is a nice change – although they are only really challenging when your golfer is in the beginning stages of their career.
While you are out on the course, you will have the familiar banter of David Feherty and Gary McCord to guide you round. Their commentary has been re-recorded this year and is sounding crisp. While many of the phrases will be familiar to Tiger veterans, there are also plenty of new lines to stop you pulling your teeth out. They also give helpful insights into the hole you are playing, which can sometimes save you from a poor shot. The crowd noises have also been improved this year, with the crowd actually cheering for the correct professional when playing in the challenges. And just like in real life, the crowd gets louder the closer to the final hole and the end of tournament you get. The professionals have also been dragged into the studio and been recorded, giving their videos a more realistic feel to them.
The first major change in the gameplay is a trip down memory lane. For all you old school Links gamers like me, Tiger has brought back the 3-click swing. This is a nice touch, and will be welcomed by some as the analogue swing has become incredibly sensitive this year. On tour mode, gone are the days when you could feel your swing going left and the ball still went straight. It will be going left for you now! While this suits the better golfer, making the game more of a challenge, it can be a tad harsh on a new player. So the 3-click will be useful there. It is also very helpful for those awkward 40-80% power shots. Now you can achieve accurate results, as it even puts a little mark on where your desired power is. Does it make the game too easy? That’s another question!
The next main tweak to the system is the use of fade/draw system. It’s no longer a guessing feature used by swinging the analogue stick diagonally during the swing. Now you aim where you want the ball to start its flight path, and use the LB/RB buttons to move the marker left and right with various amounts of spin. This makes it a lot easier for new players to learn the skill, and your game will improve overall by the fact that you can start playing with the course rather than against it.
Next up on the ‘upgrades’ is the annual tweak to the putting system. This is the area most people struggle with, and unfortunately EA have bowed to pressure and have made putting even easier this year. Now, once a putt, you can have the computer show you how your ball will travel with its current line and power settings. While handy for a beginner, this basically means that you expect every putt to go in, as you can tweak your putt before and after seeing the line. Again, it looks like EA have brought this in for the more casual Tiger player, which many will see as a plus.
The last main change that is brought in is the confidence meter. This records all your scores on any particular hole, your percentages with individual clubs, and your skill level from distances as well. It then takes all this data, does some fancy calculations, and works out what your confidence level would be if you were out on the course in real life. This then directly affects the size of your aiming circle- the more confident you are, the smaller the circle. Then add the course into the equation- are you aiming over water, is there a bunker near where you’re aiming? If so, expect the circle to increase again. Now, this feature was always going to go one of two ways. After numerous hours of playing the game, I’m glad to say that it’s a success. It will benefit good players, and will make poor players play within their limits, or pay the penalty for it.
So, now that you know what’s been done differently this year, lets get down to business. The main part of the game is the single player. This is where you start your career as a young rookie, and get to build your skills up until you are challenging Tiger. As always, Tiger has a brilliant character creation mode, where you can create any look you want to go for. A nice touch this year is the use of the vision camera- allowing you to create a virtual you to play the game with. This can also be done by uploading photos on the EA website, good for people without the camera. Once you have created your clone, there are three game modes to use. You can jump into a PGA Tour season, complete Tiger Challenges, or try the Skill Challenges. The season will be an immense challenge until you have improved your skills, which is where the Tiger Challenge comes in. You will need to beat a selection of challenges in order for you to face a professional. Once you have beaten enough professionals, you can challenge Tiger. There are max level limiters on your characters stats, which only rise when you beat a pro. The challenges are of varying difficulty, and are mainly the same old as before. The new ones are Bingo, Bango, Bongo and One-Ball. In BBB, the first person on the green gets a point, the closest to the pin with their approach shot, and the lowest scorer on the hole. In One-Ball, both players use the same ball, and every shot must go at least half way to the hole. Whoever putts the ball, wins the hole. This is great fun and a good addition to the game. Whilst playing the tour and the challenges, you are always increasing your golfer’s skill levels. If these ever fall short and you’re not on the maximum available, you can always go and practice the skills on the range. This is the easiest way to boost your skills, and is good practice for the game.
The biggest gripe for Tiger players has always been the online section of the game. It has always suffered the dreaded ‘EA server’ curse. However, touch wood, so far it looks like EA have solved the problem. The games that I have played online have been fast and without lag. No more magic putts from the other side of the Atlantic! All the usual game types return, only in a much prettier and better to use system. Clearly some thought had been put into online game play, which is a good sign for the future. Hopefully EA will ensure that the servers keep running well for 08, but only time will tell. Another new feature that EA have introduced this year is GamerNet. This is one of the best online innovations I have come across on a sports game. The basic gist of it is that you play a great round offline, save it, and then upload it as a challenge for people to compete against. However, you can add conditions. Did you bounce toe ball off a specific rock at some point Did you hit a 475 yard drive? Well, you can select it so that the other person must do the same to get the win. When you are competing against other peoples challenges, you gain a differing number of points per challenge. Beat a 500 yard drive and you will pick up approx 500, beat an individual hole and you will get about 120, and beat someone’s 18 hole round and your looking at 950 plus. This means that there is now an unlimited supply of challenges online, giving huge replay value. It also truly lets you test your skills against any Tiger player in the world. A great add-on.
With an offline single player career taking upwards of 50 hours, and an unlimited amount of online play, Tiger 08 has something to keep you coming back to time and time again. Whether you just want to play through casually, or play through quickly to boost your player’s stats so you can go online and dominate the field, you will enjoy the game from start to finish. With 16 courses, lots of tee and pin placement combinations, and differing wind conditions (the lack of rain/fog still hasn’t been addressed), you will have to play a lot of golf before you play through everything. This really is the best golf sim so far, and for even those of you that aren’t a fan, it is worth a try. This is the exception to the rule.
The menu music is a huge improvement this year in the fact that it doesn’t exist. The main sounds in the game are all out on the course. The crowd noise is great, and gets louder the later in a tournament it is- and they even cheer the right player this time! The professionals have all been recorded well, and sound good. The commentators have returned, and sound cleared and sharper than before, although annoyingly tend to repeat what was said in previous games.
This game is a visual treat in the world of sports. The players look great, the courses are simply beautiful and the backgrounds are stunning. The only downside is the crowd, however seeing them drop to the floor in pain is enough to compensate.
The offline mode will keep you coming back for more. Tournaments can be set from one to four rounds, so the speed in which you progress is determined mainly by you. The challenges are fun and you won’t mind doing them over and over. Being able to improve your skills on the driving range is a nice touch as well, and makes playing tournaments that much easier.
This is the pinnacle of the sporting world. This is the standard that all sports games will be looking to in the feature in terms of looks, style and playability. The game has it all.
The majority of the achievements are earned offline, and they will get you exploring all of the Tiger Challenges as well as playing through the PGA season. The few that are online will get you playing against challenges that other people have set to earn points. It’s not necessarily a quick 1000, but you can get 900 relatively easily. Beating all the challenges on gold may be tricky for some.
Any golf fan must own this game. Any sports fan must own this game. In fact, any game fan should have this in their collection. This isn’t just a golf game, it’s a golfing experience. This is as close to being outdoors playing as you can get without leaving your house. EA Tiburon has done a great job with their first golf game, and if all future games add to the genre as much as this, I shall be a happy man. For those of you thinking of sticking to the 07 version, don’t. This is definitely worth the extra money. This game really is Tiger Woods.