Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 Xbox 360
If you’re familiar with the world of golf, you’ll know that Tiger Woods’ goal this year is rather plain – regain the world number one status (which he hasn’t held in over two years) and prove to himself that he’s still the most dominant force the sport has ever seen. Thankfully, the fictional stakes aren’t nearly as high in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14, but by all accounts, EA must feel like it has something to prove too, based on this year’s version. Despite some technical and narrative bogeys, this is the best Tiger game yet.
The game’s presentation is the first place where you’ll notice significant improvement. The Tiger Woods series has always suffered from an identity crisis when compared to its brethren Madden and NHL, but TW 14 manages to create a look and feel that matches the atmosphere you might find at a major on a Sunday afternoon. The entire game has received a graphics overhaul, and the on-course presentation is the best we’ve seen yet from the series. You can now play a course at any time of the day, and (taking a hint from Madden) the game now features a dynamic system that matches the current conditions of a course to your playthrough. Want to play Augusta National at 3:00 am? Go for it. And see if you can avoid the thousand of flowers any better in the evening.
However, some of the character animations are still basic. Facial expressions are limited to either stoic or angry (seriously, Tiger looks fairly angry all the time), and, though certainly not as noticeable as last year, crowds lining the course manage their reactions in an odd manner. Perhaps the technical limitations of current-gen systems are showing their age, but there’s very little movement beyond the occasional head-turn from the crowd – a limitation that always reminds you how different a Sunday afternoon at a major championship should feel. Still, there are over 3,000 new camera angles in the game, and quite a few of them showcase the stunning beauty of courses without drawing too much attention to the lackadaisical crowd animations.
Some of the other new additions are rather large. The LPGA in now offered as a full-fledged career mode, and the game has added five more courses for a total of 20 on-disc courses, with an additional 22 available through DLC. That statement might initially offset you, but there’s just one option for navigating the unavailable courses: you can either directly purchase them or, unlike last year, you’ll never be able to play it at all. Tiger Woods 13 took a better approach – perform well on that purchased round, and you can eventually “earn” unlimited playthroughs on that particular course. While not nearly as time-investing as last year, these purchasable rounds still drain the enjoyment out of trying to unlock the complete game. I’m not against the idea of earning extra content in the game and wholeheartedly approve of having to earn unlockable content, but it’s still disconcerting that extra courses exist for me to buy that could ultimately equal more content than the game shipped with. This, however, is made far less noticeable by all four major championships (though nothing still beats Augusta) being available to play at the same time. It’s hard to believe, but the big four have never been simultaneously available until this year. Moreover, the downloadable content is less offensive when you consider the marked improvement of TW 14’s gameplay.
From swing mechanics to an improved country club feature, you’ll find that the game has finally created a balance of authenticity and community – two crucially important elements within the game of golf. While golf is a solitary sport of you against yourself, TW 14 improves your methods of interactions in the country club and creates an experience that feels like you’re part of an exclusive group competing for a title. For those of you who don’t know, a country club (which you’ll be automatically placed into after one round) allows players to join together to create a community of golfers to share in the TW 14 experience together. As you will more than likely spend most of your time in country clubs or the game’s career mode, you may not notice the improved precision and shaping mechanics that govern golfers on the course. For example, if you are a natural fade, you’ll need to plan accordingly with drives to avoid missing the fairway on what seemed like a simple shot. The same mechanism applies to chipping; you’ll immediately notice the improved sensitivity and revamped swing meter, and the advanced precision mechanism makes each great shot that much more rewarding. It’s worth noting that many of the features can be avoided through lower difficulty settings, which is a testament to the development’s team awareness of their audience. For those of you who enjoy scoring similarly to your real golf game, crank the game to the Simulation setting and have at it.
Nonetheless, take it from me – after showing the country club feature to my father-in-law (who plays golf like you might enjoy eating), he quickly proclaimed it the best idea in the game. And I’m inclined to agree. Like a real club, certain bonuses and extra features are only accessible when you belong to one. The membership limit has been raised from twenty-five members to one-hundred, and that single improvement ushers in a sense of community that’s never existed in any golf title. When you participate in a twenty-four person tournament with your country club via the new Connected Tournament mode, it’s as if you’re playing simultaneously with the entire field. As you hit your shot, the game will show shot-arcs for the other tournament members, making the tournament more than you playing a round against an ever-updating scoreboard. It’s a small change, but it certainly adds to the reasons you’ll want to keep playing.
The other major, major change to this year’s edition is the inclusion of Legends of the Majors, which, though better realized than last year’s Tiger mode, doesn’t add much to the game. The concept is fantastic: You travel through time to compete against the best golfers of each era and match them on the biggest stages of their careers. To be fair, this is a murderer’s row of golfers and well worth the invested time to unlock them for use on all courses; names like Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus all appear, each with his own set of equipment and statistics to better replicate their own careers. Sadly, the actual playthroughs of each of these experiences, well, feels lackluster. While a seemingly small point, the legendary Duel in the Sun from 1977 is slightly less historic when playing on a different course. No doubt this area suffered because of licensing limitations, but the dilemma of playing through a British Open at Royal Troon instead of Turnberry reminds of the untapped potential in the series.
However, let me be clear – this is the best golf game I’ve ever played. EA continues to make the look and feel of the Tiger Woods series distinct from any other franchise, and the marked improvements to the game allow me to confidently state that you’ll enjoy it more than other titles in the series. Like Tiger’s returning game and his win this past weekend at Bay Hill, you’ll want to hear this game roar. Have at it, and if the game’s improvements and swing mechanics make you weep, just remember that’s golf.