Links to the Past and Future: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
It’s said that you shouldn’t wish your life away. Live for the moment, enjoy the present, don’t dwell too much on the past or the future. Every year, the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series disregards these sentiments by releasing a product labelled for the following year, when the current year has only just begun. The 2014 edition is no different, releasing with barely a quarter of 2013 having passed, but it also looks to the past, a fact which is shown by a vintage Arnold Palmer gracing the cover of the game alongside Tiger Woods, in the place of any number of today’s golfing superstars. The reason for this is the new ‘Legends of the Masters’ mode, a mixed bag of tricks that gives players the opportunity to play their way through golfing history.
The reason for Legends of the Masters coming across as a mixed bag is that although it is presented as a fairly fascinating look into the evolution of golf as a competitive sport, the actual execution of such is lacking, particularly in terms of historical accuracy. Though some of the more compelling events do give you the chance to play as golfers from a particular era, on more than one occasion I was pitted against modern-day golfers, or was tasked with playing as golfers such as Rory McIlroy in an event that was supposed to take place in the 1920s, which ruins the illusion a little. What’s more, with 62 different events (broken down into six sections) spread throughout the mode, and 140 years of golfing history, EA Tiburon has decided to only include nine ‘Legends’, which obviously leaves more than a little space between golfers, and makes you question their commitment to the history of the sport a little.
Unfortunately, the hit-and-miss aspect of the Legends of the Masters mode continues to the presentation as well. Though the commentary and clothing of the spectators does change in an attempt to either represent the particular era you’re playing in, or give you a little more information on who you’re playing as, where you’re playing and why, the sepia tone overlay and grainy film effect comes across as a little tacky. The fact that the mode still uses the modern-day power and direction indicators of the main game also serves to destroy any element of historical immersion, as they look far too out of place, almost like seeing a GPS in a Ford Model-T.
Thankfully, the other new additions to the Tiger Woods franchise focus a little more on the future of the series, and by doing so, they actually add a new socially competitive streak to what used to be a fairly solitary experience. The first change, though not a new addition, is one that perhaps permeates the game the most. The Country Club concept appeared for the first time in the 2013 edition of the series, but this year it has been expanded from the previous level of 25 members up to a total of 100. The aim of these Country Clubs is to create friendly rivalries, and drive players to compete and work together to make their particular Club the best. The main way that this is done is through the loading screens, where players are regularly updated on the leaderboards within their particular Club, with feats such as birdies, eagles and bogeys all compared. Some of these leaderboards are updated weekly, others are kept as lifetime tallies, and it’s a nice touch as it can either provoke rivalries between friends, if you’re in the same Country Club as someone you know, or create new rivalries, as you constantly notice the same names edging just slightly ahead of you each week.
Perhaps the best look towards the future of the Tiger Woods series is in the new Connected Tournaments mode. In this, up to 24 golfers take on a round of golf together, and rather than having to watch each and every player take their shots, instead, once you’ve taken your shot, you see the flight path and trajectories of your fellow players if they’re on the same hole, much in the same way as a ghost car works in racing games. It’s a fine way to play against other golfers without a round taking an unreasonable amount of time, and the mode is also useful for picking up a few tips and tricks from the pros.
Career Mode also returns for Tiger Woods 14, and though it’s mostly the same mode that people familiar with the series have played before, it has some elements that are worthy of note. Firstly, and not just limited to the Career Mode, is experience. If you decide to create your own golfer, most of your time spent with Tiger Woods will be focused on levelling him or her up, granting him/her more powerful abilities and new equipment. If that sounds like an RPG, that’s because it’s pretty much the same thing. New levels yield more powerful equipment, some of which even come with stat modifiers, and each level gives players the chance to assign increased attributes to their golfers as well. What’s useful, particularly in the Career Mode, is that each time you level up, your home screen will provide you with the chance to view a screen that presents you with what you’ve just unlocked, saving you the hassle of searching through multiple screens in the hopes of finding your new items.
There is a downside to Career Mode, and this spreads throughout the game, although the instance in Career Mode itself left a particularly sour taste in my mouth. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 comes with the largest number of golf courses on-disc of any Tiger Woods game so far, with 20 courses available from the get-go. That’s a fairly decent figure – there’s no argument from me about that. What’s more, I have no argument with the fact that EA has decided, from launch, to offer over 15 more courses as downloadable content, for those who want more variety in their virtual golfing experiences. Instead, what left such a bad taste in my mouth is that, throughout Career Mode, your main objective is to reach the PGA Tour, essentially becoming one of the ‘names’ of the golfing world. Doing so is supposed to be a big achievement, allowing you to play with the big boys and make your mark on the game. So, excited as I was to start playing against the crème de la crème of the sport, I selected the first course, Shanghai, ready to show off my skills. Instead of being taken to the course, I am presented with a pop-up stating words to the effect that I do not yet own this course and therefore cannot play it; however, I can purchase it from the game’s store if I want to. As I said, it’s not the fact that there’s DLC for this game (from launch) that upsets me, it’s that golf fans will come into the Career Mode expecting to play the entirety of the PGA Tour, and the first course that you select is unavailable. This can certainly lead to a feeling of deflation, particularly if you’ve worked hard to get to that point. It is possible to skip the event and carry on with the rest of the PGA Tour, but the fact that this happens on the very first course you select makes it a little more painful to bear.
Aesthetically, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 is pretty much what we’ve come to expect from the Tiger Woods series, in that the courses, players, and crowds are fairly strong visually, even if the environments are (understandably) a little sparse and some of the camera angles are a little strange (usually they’re a little too far away, but I also had instances of replays showing through trees, or a loading screen focusing on the back of my golfer’s knee). The audio is soothing and matches the preconceptions of the golfing world, even if the menu music does occasionally stray a little too close to the realm of muzak for some. Bird song, animal noises and even the sounds of distant planes flying overhead serenade you while you’re playing your round, and on a couple of occasions I found myself slipping deeper and deeper into my chair and my eyelids feeling a little too heavy. It’s a nice break from the norm to be able to play a game without being on the edge of my seat with adrenaline coursing through my veins, and I certainly came away from Tiger Woods feeling more relaxed than I usually do after a gaming session, even after a particularly bad round. The one downside that I did find to the audio was in the commentary, which, like in many sports games, does get a bit repetitive. If I hear one of the commentators tell me again about how the shot I just took could have lengthened his career considerably, I may be forced to shorten my time with the game considerably.
One of the more subtle, but still impressive, additions to PGA Tour 14 is the inclusion of live tee times, which can be enabled from the Settings menu, or before you start a tour in Career Mode. This setting is fairly self-explanatory, but changes up the game quite nicely, in that it causes the game’s time and weather settings to fairly accurately reflect the real-world conditions of the course that you’re playing in the game, in real time. Say, for example, you’re playing Tiger Woods at 7pm Eastern Time. If you choose a course based in New York, you’ll be playing at night time (with a glowing ball, another new addition with a pretty cool effect), but if you decide to play in California, because of the time difference, you’ll be playing in daylight. Again, if (real) New York is windy, you’ll need to compensate for that in your shots in-game, whereas if it’s raining in California, that’ll be reflected. It’s not a mandatory setting to have on by any means, and the random weather and time settings mean that you’ll still get a fair selection of course conditions, but looking out your window and seeing that it’s dark, and having it be dark on a nearby course in-game as well is a pretty cool touch.
I was quite impressed as well with how much feedback the game gives you on your golfing technique, even if it doesn’t necessarily improve your abilities in the real-world. Upon starting the game for the first time, you’re given the choice of playing through a fairly comprehensive tutorial, which not only gives you instructions on how to perform certain swings that create Draw or Fade on the ball, but also informs you of what the terms mean and what effect they can have on your game. What’s more, throughout the game, you’re given an illustration of your swing with every stroke, in the form of a drawn line in the bottom corner of the screen, and you’re also informed of whether you’re hitting the ball too hard or too softly, and if you’re swinging too quickly or too slowly. Even the commentators get in on the act, offering up small portions of insight about where you’re going wrong, particularly in terms of putting. For those new to golf, or for those finding the game a little too difficult and not being sure how to make it easier, Tiger Woods 14 does a great job of trying to give you a nudge in the right direction, and for that it should be commended.
I did find though, that on multiple occasions, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 would freeze on me, particularly on loading screens going between menus, or while the next hole on a course was loading. The problem is particularly frustrating as there is no predictable manner of causing the freeze to occur, meaning it is difficult to avoid. As it occurs on a loading screen as well, there’s nothing you can do but exit the game and restart it, which is particularly annoying when you’re in the middle of a round of golf.
Overall, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 doesn’t really shake up the series’ formula that much, but some of the smaller additions are welcome and can provide a decent amount of life to the game. The Live Tee setting is particularly impressive, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see it make its way throughout the entire range of EA Sports titles, particularly with the increasing focus on online games, if not online gaming. There are some issues with the game, which are all the more frustrating seeing as they’re mostly niggling issues that could have been removed with a little more fine-tuning, and the DLC tactic employed by the game won’t win over any already existing detractors of EA’s marketing tactics, and may in fact create some more. Despite this, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 plays a solid round of golf, and if you get together with a few friends and hit up some links, you’re almost guaranteed to have a good time.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 scores a 3.5 out of 5.
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