Ah, the game of golf. Some consider the sport to be nothing more than badly dressed men walking through the park with sticks, but for hundreds of thousands of gamers it's actually about controlling badly dressed men walking through the park with sticks. I've actually always been attracted to the sport, but my particular build doesn't lend itself well to putting my hands together in front of my body and then moving them with any sort of grace, so video games are all I have. For years now EA's Tiger Woods series has been the go-to franchise for realistic golf, and now that the 2009 version of the game is upon us it's time for the critics to chime in on Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09. Is it a hole in one, or does it get lost in the deep rough? Softly whispered verdicts after the jump.
Tiger Woods 09's controls aren't vastly different from TW 08, but they're much more forgiving. You start your swing by pulling back on the analogue stick and then strike the ball by moving the stick forward. A more traditional three-button-press option is available at any time by clicking the right analogue stick. Last year, the slightest deviation left or right during your swing would result in a terrible shot, particularly if you were using a golfer with low skill attributes. This year, not only are you punished less severely if your swing isn't perfect, but you also get instant feedback via an onscreen meter that shows exactly how you moved the stick. By monitoring this feedback, you can learn how to straighten your swing or compensate for your natural swing by adjusting your aim or by adding a draw or fade to the ball with the press of a button.
(The) Tour Pro setting, along with the new Presentation Camera, is something that hardcore golf fans will definitely appreciate. This difficulty setting disables the after-touch spin control, power boost, and the Putt-Preview, therefore leaving the golfer with only skill to rely on. The ball's overall sweet spot is greatly reduced as well, and there's much less forgiveness in the left analogue stick, therefore resulting in more frequent hooks and slices. Combine this with the aforementioned Presentation Camera - a television-style camera that offers multiple perspective changes - and you're left with a much more realistic game of golf.
The Tiger Challenge mode, like in years past, gives you a series of minigames and situational scenarios that earn you points you then use to unlock challenges against other famous golfers. Stages that require things like, "hit three balls at a pin and have the total distance from the hole add up to less than 45 yards." Or win three skins off of this character. Or win a game of Bingo Bango Bongo. Things like that all help you improve your skills, especially when you follow them up with one of your coaching drills starring Tiger's real life performance coach Hank Haney.
On the "most improved" front, I need to give a shout-out to one major change to multiplayer: simultaneous play, where all four players take shots at the same time, with opponents' shots indicated by coloured trails. This works surprisingly well, making it possible to polish off a full 18-hole game without committing an entire evening to the enterprise, which magically turns work back into fun.
As consistent as the money rolling into Tiger's bank account.