How to Properly Utilize a License
I like golf. I know...crazy, right? I cannot remember a time where I did not have a set of golf clubs. I've been playing golf video games for almost as long too. It started with Golf on the NES and followed with others such as Links, Mario Golf, Skins Game, Hot Shots Golf, and of course Tiger Woods PGA Tour. The 06 entry version on Xbox 360 was a mess. It only had six courses, had less features than its PS2 counterpart, was plagued with online problems, and even had several broken achievements. I chalked it up to being a launch title and cautiously purchased the 07 model less than a year later. Many of the same problems remained, especially concerning online play, and EA showed no effort to fix it. So, I gave up on the series.
Fast forward five years and EA announces that Tiger 12 will feature Augusta National Golf Club, better known to most people simply as The Masters. This is a huge deal for the franchise and for fans of golf. Being from Georgia and having been lucky enough to attend The Masters tournament before, there was no way to avoid this game. They got me back. So, have my issues with the franchise been resolved over the last few years?
Of course the major selling point of this year's installment is The Masters. Luckily, EA didn't just license the course to throw it in with the other fourteen courses that come with the game and be done with it. It is clear that a sizable amount of care and effort went into making sure that they did this historic venue justice. In terms of recreating the course, they are spot on, but this is mostly expected from the people who have already done the same with so many other famous golf courses. The surrounding features of the game involving The Masters are equally well done. The career mode is set up with earning for an invitation to the tournament and winning a green jacket as the ultimate goal. While still progressing from the amateur ranks to the Nationwide Tour to Q School to the PGA Tour, this gives your career a more defined goal than in previous years. Similar to most shooters of recent years, almost everything you do earns you XP. Rather than earning money to buy skills and equipment, you use the XP you earn to incrementally increase your golfers abilities in power, swing control, reading greens, etc. As for equipment, that is earned either through sponsorships or special events before each week's tournament. Major sponsors (Cleveland Golf, Taylor Made, Callaway, Ping, and Nike) each have four tiers of sponsorship that are earned by completing certain goals that involve overall good performance as well as specific tasks such as making a 30 foot putt using one of their putters, wearing their gear at a major tournament, or making a chip-in using one of their balls. Before each week's tournament, you'll be presented with two optional challenges. One comes from another tour pro challenging you to a short minigame, which will earn you some XP. One comes from one of the many lower level sponsors in the game, which typically involves competitions like closest to the pin or longest drive and earns you XP and new gear. Overall, it's a much more realistic and rewarding way of progression than just issuing money and buying everything.
Aside from the career mode, several other modes have been given the green jacket treatment. The Masters Moments feature allows you to relive and recreate many of the tournament’s most famous highlights from Arnold Palmer's 1958 legendary performance to Tiger Woods' 2005 miraculous chip-in on the 16th green. Each "moment" provides quite a challenge to pass (silver), and an even higher difficulty to master (gold). The game also features a mode completely dedicated to Tiger Woods at The Masters, where you must match or beat Tiger's scores in all four rounds of each of the four tournaments he's won. It's quite reminiscent of the Jordan challenges in NBA 2K11. EA went the extra mile by including video interviews with the man himself discussing each year's special moments that you can watch before tackling each task. Another pleasant surprise involving Augusta National is the inclusion of the par 3 course, which is where legends and current stars come together on the Wednesday before The Masters to have some fun. The entire presentation of the game from the menus to the inclusion of Jim Nantz is tailored to the most prestigious golf tournament in the world. EA clearly did not take this new license lightly.
The second biggest addition to the game is the caddy. Now, prior to every shot you take, you'll get commentary and suggestions from your on-screen caddy. For anyone who's played the series extensively in the past, this can be a bit jarring since it slows down your normal playing speed. The purpose of the caddy is presumably to ease new players into the mechanics of the franchise, which is understandable because, like most sports games, the controls have become incrementally more complex over the years. But, here's the problem with the notion that this helps new players. First off, your created golfer has terrible stats when you begin your career. This is to be expected. What this means though, is that even if you follow your caddy's suggestions perfectly, there is no guarantee that the outcome will be what you expected. And secondly, one of the features of the caddy in the game is that the more you play any particular course, the better his suggestions become, which is a truly great feature. It is tied into your Course Mastery ratings on each course, which are essentially a series of checklists of goals (bronze, silver, and gold) for you to accomplish. So, to make a long story short, your created golfer has very low skills, and your caddy is as much of a rookie as you are in a sense, so it's not clear if this is helping new players at all.
After several hours of playing, you and your caddy become better to the point that his suggestions do genuinely help the majority of the time. He does a good job offering you a challenging shot selection as well as a safer one depending on your own confidence in yourself. As a player of the game though, the longer you play, the less you'll likely need his help. The real challenge of the controls is the short game (chip shots, lobs, lofts, pitching the ball, etc.) Often you'll be required to use half wings or three quarters swings, which can be quite difficult to master with the analog stick. Luckily, clicking in the left stick allows you freely practice you're swing and provides a slight rumble of force feedback when you hit the sweet spot in your backswing. This allows you to get a feel for what you need to do before performing it when it counts. And putting can be equally difficult to master, but in such a way that when you make a twenty foot putt, you feel a real sense of accomplishment. You can turn off the physical representation of the caddy, but his suggestions still appear at the bottom of the screen. This can be a major turn-off for dedicated fans of the franchise, because many feel that each player should be figuring out their own shot selection based on skill, especially when competing online.
Speaking of online, once you're finished gawking at the majesty and difficulty of Augusta National, EA Tiburon has provided a robust feature set of online modes. Up to four players can compete against each other or in teams in various traditional golf competitions or mini-games such as Skins, Battle Golf, or Bingo Bango Bongo. The real highlight though is the daily tournaments. This was the feature that hooked me on the series back in 2003, but now it's better than ever. Every single day there are four or five new online tournaments at your disposal. Each have their own various ground rules and objectives, but you can only submit a score once within the 24 hour window. On top of that, there are live tournaments that sync up with real-world PGA tournaments. During The Masters tournament starting on April 7, you can play along while the real-life leader boards are updated in real-time.
The only truly irksome thing about Tiger Woods 12 is the way the DLC is presented. The game features fifteen real world courses right out of the box. That's plenty considering the 06 version on Xbox 360 only has six courses. But, on the day the game released, there are already eighteen courses available for purchase at $4 apiece. You can buy them in two separate bundles to save a bit, but that's almost the price of a whole second game just to get all the available courses. It wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that, if you don't have these extra courses, it's constantly in your face in the career mode. You will often get to a tournament in the career mode that you qualify for, but cannot play because you do not have the course. Your only option is to skip that week's events of your career. Somehow it would not have been as bad if these extra courses were doled out over several weeks. If EA would have announced they were releasing one or two courses every week for the next couple months, that would've been more acceptable. I can confirm though that these additional courses are not on the disc, as the larger of the two bundles is 1.9 GB. So, it is unlikely that all of these courses could've been put on the disc even if EA wanted to do so.
Despite this debacle involving DLC courses, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters is a very good edition of the franchise. If you enjoy golf at all, you will most certainly enjoy this game extensive career and online modes, as well as the effort EA has put into replicating and presenting the pageantry and prestige that is The Masters.