It couldn’t set up much better for EA’s Tiger Woods franchise. A mere 24 hours before the latest game goes on sale, the real Tiger Woods wins the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the eighth time and returns to the number one ranking in the world golf rankings. Unfortunately, with few meaningful improvements over the past year or two’s versions Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 the game doesn’t measure up to real Tiger’s current success.
Golf ranks right up there with hockey as one of my favorite sports. A 12 handicapper, I watch and play whenever I can (which isn’t enough these days with a two year old). So, what new things does Tiger 14 bring? The biggest, newest feature compared to previous years is a new Legends of the Majors mode which is a series of challenges where you can play as or against historic pros in situations that made them notable. For fans this can be an interesting historic journey. For others it is simply a means of unlocking the historic pros such as Nicklaus, Palmer and Snead for play on the rest of the courses in the game. Also, for the first time ever, proper branding and representation of each of golf’s four majors is included.
EA has also expanded on the Country Clubs, which were introduced last year. Just like your XBL friends list, Country Clubs can now support 100 members and come with their own private club chat. Five new courses make it on to the game disc bringing the total number of courses to twenty. I found it misleading as to how many courses were physically included with the game a couple of years ago. I’m glad this is cleared up. 22 courses are available via DLC, for a price of course. Two new golfers are added to both of the male and female pro rosters as well as the ability to play on the LPGA tour for the first time ever. In the online realm, new Connected Tournaments allow you to play alongside 23 other players at the same time. That’s a lot of shot arcs on-screen, believe me. While these things are all nice, nothing really represents true innovations in how the game is played and this results in Tiger 14 feeling the same as previous games.
Perhaps the reason little has changed in terms of the gameplay is what Tiger 14 really gets right, and that is how the controls can replicate the intricacies of a real golf swing. Forget the Kinect functionality, it’s silly. With five difficulty levels, including a new ultra-hardcore simulation mode, there’s plenty of customizability. Players can easily find settings that best fits their ability. As in real golf, the swing is all about tempo. Feathering the thumb stick back to hit a specific power level and then slamming it forward for max power doesn’t work. Good tempo breeds good shots. The same goes for keeping your swing on plane whether that’s straight back and up on the thumb stick or using diagonals for hitting draws and fades, that latter (diagonal) I have to admit isn’t at all easy. Accessibility here is good and it takes a bit of time but players can dig deeply in to details should they choose and if so they will find they can hit like the pros do.
Tiger 14’s AI is surprisingly unforgiving and ends up negating the difficulty customizability I just mentioned. Even in early pre-tournament events you must be able to birdie consistently to win the match conditions. This forces you to play at a difficulty level where it is possible. As much as I want to play this game on the Simulation difficulty and replicate what I might actually shoot in real life, or far worse, doing so is going to get me nowhere in this game. In one match play event I was playing I was one down with one hole to play. I beat my opponent on the final hole to tie the match, but instead of going to an extra hole the game simply awarded the win to the AI opponent. Regardless of what the win conditions are, having to replay entire matches because of something like this is frustrating to say the least.
There also appears to be a few oddities present which certainly don’t break the game but left me wondering about the attention to detail. I somehow missed an explanation that the statistics shown for the first US Open you play in are only those of the amateurs and was left wondering where the rest of the field was. I must offer my thanks to Lead Producer Sean Wilson for taking the time to clarify this for us. I saw some incorrect statistics such as having an eagle when I hadn’t yet (I did jar one on my second shot on a par 4 a few rounds later so maybe there’s something prophetic going on). I also saw incorrect tournament names when displaying previous tournament results. Perhaps this is a result of my playtime being in a pre-retail release environment. There’s the possibility this could be fixed and I feel somewhat inclined to give EA the benefit of the doubt here. I also don’t remember load times being this long in previous games. 15-20 seconds between holes is the norm here. That’s too long.
The visuals in Tiger 14 are virtually unchanged from previous years. The new option of playing at night is interesting at first but it’s merely a novelty that one may only use from time to time. EA touts improved broadcast presentation and branding for all four major events. This is cool for fans like myself but several other issues bring this right back down to earth. Perhaps the most irritating thing visually is that spectator crowds are made up from very few character models. Despite wearing different color outfits, character models animate exactly the same way at exactly the same time. This is especially noticeable when you are on the green and it looks like a really bad line dance at a country bar. Not only is it distracting, it is an indication of a lack of attention to detail. The old school sepia tones added to the more historic Legends of the Masters events are a nice touch and the pro golfers included in the game all look and animate well. I have to note that my Photo Game Face character looked horribly artificial. It was so bad I ended up bailing on the Photo Game Face all together and just building a new character from scratch.
I have a massive amount of respect for David Feherty. Not only is he the most colourful broadcaster in golf, he is incredibly talented. If you haven’t seen his show Feherty on the Golf Channel I recommend it. Even my non-golf-playing wife enjoys it. Feherty’s wit plays the perfect complement to host Jim Nantz. The problem is that there’s not nearly enough of them. The new broadcast presentation improvements are more visual than they are audible. I’d love to hear expanded commentary and conversation between the two. The game’s soundtrack is your typical elevator music fare taking straight from a TV broadcast. In other words it is boring, un-intrusive and fits perfectly with the broadcast style presentation. This is probably the only time I think the term boring is a compliment. My only complaint about how Tiger 14 sounds? The birds. Yup. Birds. Golf is a quiet sport to begin with. Ambient sounds are key to authenticity but I feel like I’m in the middle of a bird sanctuary or something.
It is obvious we are at the end of the current generation of consoles and developers are turning their focus to the next generation. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 isn’t a bad game but what seems to be a lack of attention to detail and several inconsistencies temper what marginal improvements there are over previous versions. The new features that are here are the typical EA “fresh coat of paint” that many of their sports games receive. For example, the Legends mode is simply the challenge mode from year’s past with a new historic angle. This “fresh paint” ends up resulting in Tiger 14 not making any significant steps forward for the series. Here’s hoping for some new innovation next year on a new set of consoles.