Par for the Course
Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 09 (TW 09) has released to anxious golf fans everywhere. Veterans of the series shouldn’t get their hopes up too high, however. Like all EA SPORTS’ titles, TW 09 is largely the same offering as last year. It seems as though EA is content to give gamers small amounts of polish and slightly increased content. After all, they are running a business.
Nevertheless, “planned obsolescence” of previous versions through the release of bigger, better, and varied must-have features doesn’t seem to be working all too well; there simply aren’t enough of them to warrant concurrent purchases. In fact, some of the new additions this year are actually a letdown. Still, TW 09 is an excellent golfing sim that touts unparalleled replayability, loads of game modes, tons of courses, and improved online multiplayer gameplay.
For those few of you new to Tiger Woods, the game boasts an incredibly varied set of traditional game modes. The single and multiplayer modes include Stroke Play, Match Play, Skins, Bingo Bango Bongo, Stableford, Alternate Shot, Best Ball, Four-Ball, Greensome, Bloodsome, Battle Golf, and Lance Armstrong’s favorite, One-Ball. All off-color jokes aside, these game types, along with excellent technical execution, are what make this title so fantastically rich and realistic.
However, because TW 09 is so similar to its predecessor, I’m simply not going to rehash what was already said about the title in last year’s review. Suffice it to say that the gameplay is awesome and this is the best golfing franchise out there; bar none! EA SPORTS has done an excellent job over the years developing a golfing simulator that is both utterly realistic and highly accessible. TW 09 is merely the latest game in a long line of exceptional sports entries. In other words, there are only a handful of new features this time around that help to mildly refine the series’ already excellent core play.
First of all, Tiger’s coach Hank Haney has been brought into the fold to incorporate the new Performance Coach feature; even pros need a little instruction. This is a nice addition to TW 09 because players are able to practice shots they had difficulty with after a round to help perfect their situational awareness and skills. Plus, these Custom Drills give your player a temporary boost heading into the next round. Additionally, the all-new Club Tuner helps to round out the new coaching mechanic. What the Club Tuner allows players to do is tweak their clubs to allow for greater consistency from round to round. For instance, by sacrificing sweet spot, players can adjust the way the ball flies off the club face, or they can adjust the degree of club face angularity to soften or tighten up wood play. This has the effect of tailoring the equipment directly to your swing path and general tactical bent. This feature, while helping to up the realistic ante, in the end, feels somewhat superfluous. That’s because players will eventually tear through TW 09 regardless of making a visit to the swing doctor or not. Nevertheless, it is a sound addition.
As interesting as these new coaching aspects are, Hank Haney is a bit of a drip. That guy’s about as lively and exciting as watching a full season of “The Big Break.” Seriously, he sounds like he could have been an alternate for Ben Stein’s character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Plus, the advice he gives typically is a conglomerate of canned phrases that don’t have more than obvious pearls of advice.
Along those same lines, perhaps the most disappointing new feature to TW 09 is that of the pairing of Kelly Tillman and Sam Torrance. This commentary team has as much chemistry and spark as the ’07 Dolphins in a monsoon. It’s not that they’re unprofessional; they are simply quite boring with very stilted delivery. I know; McCord and Faherty’s corny jokes from previous titles’ definitely began to wear thin, but their voiceover work far outpaced anything this “dynamic” duo has to offer.
Luckily, the graphics are as crisp and diverse as ever; the courses, backgrounds, animations, and lighting effects are great. The only problem I found was with the player creation tools. For some reason, the Photo Game Face feature seemed to function better last year. Plus, I was unable to transfer my ’08 visage to TW 09 from my console’s HDD.
Despite the game’s few faults, there are additions that have definitely improved the TW 09 experience. A sterling example is that of the new Dynamic Skills progression system that takes consistency into account. This means that simply dropping skill points into key attributes is only half the battle. Players will have to truly concentrate on consistently producing world class shots if they want to maintain their skill level. This feature makes every shot count. In that way, character progression is far more realistic and rewarding than it was in any other previous version. This is a mechanic that should definitely stay.
Also, there have been a couple great additions to online play and connectivity. These new features include simultaneous online Stroke Play and EA SPORTS GamerNet. Simultaneous online play, while limited to Stroke Play, has vastly decreased the amount of time it takes to play through a round while online. This new feature works flawlessly and is an absolute boon to the series. Perhaps no other single feature is as important as simultaneous online play.
As far as connectivity goes, GamerNet has been refined from last year and is incorporated into the mix in a very slick and interesting way. While playing through tournaments and matches, players from around the world will be able to save their shots and post them to the EA servers for others to try and best. Subsequently, the game will prompt you to take on online challenges at various points during the round. These challenges can either be accepted by the player or ignored altogether; they’re simply side tasks that are both difficult and rewarding. If you take on a challenge, you will then be given a score and world ranking for your performance. This is a great feature that does a wonderful job of expanding the online community.
Finally, new players and courses have been added to give gamers more options. International and domestic PGA TOUR players and official courses are well represented in TW 09. Players will have no trouble finding an abundance of pros and links from which to choose. Moreover, having such a varied list of professionals and courses is a joy for any player of any skill level. That’s because the diversity acts as a great handicapping device. For example, if your little brother wants to challenge you to a round of Match Play, you can let him take Tiger and you can use one of the many available scrubs.
Also, gamers can still choose to use either the analog stick or 3-click Swing controls while challenging friends or advancing through their own careers. However, players’ use of the 3-click Swing controls will be rightly curtailed on Hard or Tour difficulty levels. Both control styles are excellent, but the analog stick swing controls are certainly far more technical.
When all is said and done, Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 09 is another excellent addition to the storied franchise. However, without meaning to sound like a broken record, TW 09 is not a significant improvement over last year’s outing. In fact, the dull voiceover work is woefully worse, and that’s a real shame! However, if you like to play Tiger Woods with friends, the new, simultaneous online play feature for Stroke Play may be the one upgrade you shouldn’t do without. For everyone else, picking up a used copy of TW 08 won’t be much of a sacrifice. Of course, that’s not to say TW 09 isn’t great; it’s surely the best virtual golf experience around.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
The courses, pros, and animations are all incredibly lifelike. 4.5 Control
The analog stick and 3-click swing controls are a real treat! 3.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The background sounds and music are as good as ever, but the voiceover work is poor. 4.2 Play Value
The core golf mechanic remains excellent, and the addition of simultaneous online Stroke Play is a real boon to the series. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.