I haven't played with Tiger for a few years now, but it seems I'm the only one! HA! Okay, I swear, that's the last joke I'll make about his... proclivities. Anyway, the Tiger Woods franchise by EA Sports has always been the pinnacle of the golfing video game, and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters may be the best one to date. It's about as close as you're gonna get short of actually putting on your spikes, grabbing your clubs, and, you know, actually heading outside and getting some sun.
Having said that, it can be every bit as frustrating as real golf. I've never been a big fan of using analog swing sticks. I don't have any of the motion peripherals, in this case a PlayStation Move (although I've heard it works quite well), so I'm just using a normal controller here. But to be honest it just takes a bit of practice. In fact, I highly recommend playing a practice round when you first pop the game in... it will make things easier in the long run.
You've really just got to be able to move the swing stick back and forth on a level plane. The tricky stuff comes in when you have to hit partial shots as opposed to a full swing. Of course, that's a lot like how it is when you're actually out playing for real. What's not terribly realistic is that you can apply spin to the ball while it is in the air, thus correcting any mistakes you might have made or guiding it closer to the pin. What's also weird is it seems inordinately easy to hit the fairways while putting can be a real challenge, especially once you get to tournaments where the greens get faster. Mind you, that's pretty realistic too... I guess it's a mixed bag.
Fortunately, this time around you actually have a caddie out on the course with you to help you out. Your non-descript caddie will give you a couple of different shot choices depending on the conditions and lie. While he can be really helpful in letting you know the lay of the land, he won't always necessarily be right. It's clever that he can be flawed. You need to pay attention and trust your instincts rather than blindly follow all his tips. But what I really like is the more you play a course, the more efficient he will become. Again, this is impressively realistic. It stands to reason that a caddie needs experience on a particular course to know what is the best play to suggest given the situation.
However, your caddie can also be a bit weird. All of a sudden you won't get his help. It's... odd and surprisingly discomforting when he doesn't have any advice to give. It can also be frustrating, especially on the green. When he does desert you, you really have to know how to read greens. Of course, you do have the option to turn him off all together if you'd rather do it yourself. Personally, I liked the companionship...
Fortunately, the career mode, now dubbed "Road to the Masters," seems a lot more structured than some of the previous entries, mostly because it actually has a goal now... to qualify for the illustrious Master's tournament. I'm glad the good people (?) at the Augusta National Golf Club finally buckled and allowed themselves to be included. Of course, now it's the UK Open instead of The Open Championship... sighs. Still, like most sports titles where licensing rights become an issue, the Tiger Woods games never felt right without being out there amongst the azaleas on golf's most dramatic stage.
When you finally get to Augusta National you'll be stunned by just how beautiful it looks... just like on TV. If you follow golf, or are even a casual fan, you'll know all about Amen Corner and the fabled bridge leading over the water to the par 3. It's just gorgeous. But at the same time, the greens are just as vicious as they look when watching the pros. They are brutal- it's like putting on an ice skating rink! This course will really punish you if you get careless. After qualifying for the most illustrious of golfs many challenges, I have to say, as cliche as it may be, I have a new appreciation for just how awesome these guys and girls really are who do this for a living... this ain't easy. Having said that, I was disappointed they didn't actually animate it so I could see the coveted green jacket draped over my shoulders after I won.
It's not just Augusta National that looks impressive. All the courses are visually stunning. The player animations, while a little limited, look good too. I really like the realistic ball physics as well. If you play golf you know all about the funny ways the ball can bounce, how it can be effected by the wind and the path of your club to the ball. The shots do react as you would expect.
You have a wide range of character customization and clothing options. I was actually able to create a reasonable looking avatar this time! I spent a fair amount of time going through my clubs, which can be customized from several major brand names (Nike, TaylorMade, Calloway, Ping, etc) down to the different shafts and grips. There are a ton of different clothing options, you can even wear a tartan kilt if you want... show off those legs!
But to unlock all of these goodies you need to complete challenges... and there are a lot of them. Sponsor challenges unlock stuff in the pro shop. I like this change in some ways, but at the same time it does force you to play the game a certain way, which I've always found oddly unrealistic. To be honest, it's best not to think about them and just play naturally. You should be rewarded for playing well, that's the key. And to a point you do; gaining XP for your accomplishments in a round and completing specific tasks on the course in question. You can then spend these points on various attributes. It's all pretty standard, but seems much more focused this time around which is nice. While the early levels to the ladder go by quick, to really max out your golfer would take a lot of time and effort... again, just like real golf!
I only have a couple of complaints about Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters. The first, and easily most glaring, is the long load times. It does take its sweet time. The game can also be too easy once you get used to using the analog controls. I smashed the competition, and after a while upped the difficulty level. And while Jim Nance and David Feherty make great commentators, their lines do get recycled. But they are nowhere near as bad as your caddie, who runs out of new stuff to say pretty early on.
You may have noticed one phrase was often repeated over the course of this review... and that is Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters is pretty darn realistic. The highs and lows of actually being out there on the course are mirrored pretty well, easily hit fairways notwithstanding. When you hit that sweet putt and watch it curve into the cup... well, I was fist pumping right along with my digital self. While it's been a while since I've put on my spikes and grabbed my clubs, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2012: The Masters is the best golf game I've ever played. Elin probably wishes the same could be said of ol' Tiger himself... sorry, couldn't resist!
Score = 9.0 / 10