Game Rant's Andrew Dyce reviews Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters
EA Sports has made a habit in recent years of gaining repeat customers with their numerous sport franchises, from football and hockey to soccer and golf. With Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters, the name says everything that fans need to know. While the past few games may have been criticized for adding little to the game's formula, there is no mistaking the fact that Tiger Woods 12 represents a major shift in the franchise's direction. But is the move one that will bring in new fans at the cost of current customers?
If you consider yourself a fan of golf or golf video games, then the fact is that Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters simply can not be missed. Some may have seen the addition of the Masters Tournament and Augusta National as a way to take attention off of Tiger Woods' recent indiscretions, but the inclusion of the legendary course is far more important to the overall project.
From the game's opening -- which could easily be broadcast on network television for the tournament itself -- to the artwork and backdrops, EA is making the overall message of the game one of tradition and maturity.
The publisher may claim to still value their relationship with the face of the franchise as much as ever, but long-time fans will immediately notice the obvious absence of Tiger in favor of a tone more befitting that of "the gentleman's game."
Whether EA will admit it or not, this game should much more accurately be referred to as The Masters, since the tournament and course are undeniably the star of the game. If you are one of the many golf fans who have been impatiently waiting for a digital copy of the hallowed links of Augusta National to be made available, then you can take the opportunity to jump onto the course as Woods himself. But for those who wish to experience the tournament for themselves, The Masters has plenty more in store.
Masters Moments challenges players to reenact some of the tournament's most memorable shots and plays, from Arnold Palmer down to Phil Mickelson. Traveling back in time to bring the tournament's greatest moments to life is a fitting way to experience Amen Corner, but for many players, their golf experiences begin and end with Tiger. The Tiger at the Masters mode takes a page out of NBA 2K11' s book, requiring players to replicate all of Tiger's winning performances over the years. No small task, and sure to give many a walk down memory lane.
The heart of these games, however, has always been the player creation and career. Following the trend of maturity and realism, almost all of the false or artificial challenges and systems of the past have been removed. Created players enter the game as amateurs, faced with the monumental task of proving themselves to sponsors, making their way onto the PGA Tour, and qualifying for the Masters.
The artificial celebrity face-offs have been removed for a more realistic approach to progression, as simply playing more and more golf is the best way to prove your progress, not going head-to-head with the computer. In addition, the day before each event carries a challenge from a fellow Tour golfer, giving completionists a chance to earn a little extra XP on their way through the season.
Instead of using currency to unlock new equipment and clothing, players work their way up the chain of sponsors -- Oakley, Adidas, PING, Callaway -- without needing to worry about footing the bill for their newest gear.
The path to the majors isn't an easy one, but players won't have to go it alone this time around. Accompanying the player in their quest is the better half of every golfer: the caddie. The caddie is by far the largest change to the game's systems, and could open the door for a brand new army of beginners.
Before taking any shot, the caddie begins the routine by informing the player of all pertinent information on the course and current lie, and suggests a few possible shots of varying risk and difficulty. While the assistant can be disabled for seasoned players who don't wish to be pestered, having an AI character hold the player's hand as they learn the various systems of the game is an inspired way of welcoming the unfamiliar. After all, it's still the player who has to take the shot.
It's not enough that the caddie's facts and advice are normally spot-on, but the voice and demeanor of the player's guide simply oozes encouragement. The mind-numbing narration of Hank Haney has been tossed aside in favor of a calm, reassuring, and permanently optimistic partner who doesn't mind when his safe shots are passed up in favor of a more gutsy approach.
Completing rounds awards players XP to use in purchasing stat upgrades, with the caddie improving his knowledge of a given course with every new challenge completed. These changes may be subtle and disregarded as hand-holding by some, but the overall tone of the game is meant to appeal to far more than the hardcore, so a gentler learning curve is understandable.
Perhaps the most startling change made to The Masters is the fact that EA Sports has simultaneously made the game more approachable and far more punishing to those who underestimate the dedication and skill required to master the various aspects of their game. The driving and short game haven't seen a great deal of change, but the putting is likely to be the greatest epiphany and the most frustrating change made for faithful fans.
With putting systems and green-reading being given significant re-designs nearly every year, it's clear that this particular area of the game is a nagging issue for the developers. The shift towards realism rears its ugly head where greens are concerned, with little to no flat spots, unpredictable speeds, mind-boggling three-foot misses, and simple strokes all but extinct.
While other areas of the game have large margins of error, putting combines distance, breaks, strength, and alignment of the club head during the stroke to create a perfect storm of frustration. For whatever reason, players are just as likely to make a putt by flipping a coin as following their caddie's advice, with a relatively tiny sweet spot and numerous errors to make.
Being put into the shoes of Happy Gilmore missing two-foot putts left and right may sound funny, but constantly missing putts without any explanation as to why may be enough to have some players slamming their controllers down for good. The system is without a doubt challenging, but there is no question that it can be substantially mastered with time and patience.
It stands to reason that the Wii and PlayStation Move functionality may expand upon those frustrations exponentially, but softening of the controls could help ease the tension. The putting may be unquestionably the largest source of annoyance within the game, but it truly is the exception.
With Augusta National's most famous landmarks not only made playable, but accompanied by pro tips from Bobby Jones, the course's creator, The Masters simply strives to be more than past titles. With the President's Cup also included for those who favor cross-pond rivalries, buyers will be hard-pressed to find an aspect of golf that isn't given attention by the game.
The less-than-perfected putting system is something that players will need to prepare themselves for, and the game has yet to make the leap into top-level graphics. Players still move in odd ways, have unrealistic skeletal structures, and waxy complexions, which only seems uglier when placed alongside the game's stunning environments and brand new 3D grass.
So while the game may not be without a few faults, it's hard to think of someone who may have interest in The Masters that wouldn't get their money's worth with a purchase. Fans of golf in general will appreciate the dedication and integrity with which the new broadcasters Jim Nantz and David Feherty speak about the game, and can also try their hand at the least intimidating title to date.
For those who buy the game's latest installment every year, enough changes, improvements, and challenges have been implemented to make the purchase a no-brainer. The fourteen additional courses available as DLC will be a treat for the die-hard fans, and only add to the game's longevity should next year's entry fall somewhat short.
It truly seems that the days of marginal tweaks and advances from year to year are behind us, at least until Tiger Woods 13 is released. Simply put, The Masters is the new standard in golf video gaming. After hours and hours with the game, one thing becomes abundantly clear: if you have a real passion, a real affection for the game of golf, then you will love this game.
Seriously though, we've warned you about the putting.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters is available now for the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii.