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TVG heads off to Bethpage as EA's Tiger Woods series gets set to take on a major...
- Good Putting Precision system.
- Real-time weather adds realism.
- Live Tournaments add online content.
- Gameplay still lacks innovation.
- Could do with more major tournaments.
- Season mode is largely the same.
Without a doubt, the biggest hole in EA Sports' seemingly all-encompassing net of official licenses has been the Tiger Woods series' lack of any major tournaments. All four of the coveted competitions (The Open, US Open, US Masters, and PGA Championship) have failed to turn up in the game year after year, which is an issue that has become something of a sore spot for ardent fans of the game. But that's all set to change this year with the inclusion of the Bethpage Black course in Long Island, the home of this year's US Open.
This is the reason that Tiger Woods 10 is arriving so early. In recent years, Tiger Woods games have arrived in late August, although this year's game was released in the states on June 8th (it's coming to the UK on July 3rd). With The US Open being played across the pond as we speak, we can only assume that the earlier launch window is part of a marketing ploy by EA to capitalise on the hubbub surrounding the tournament and take full advantage of Tiger Woods 10's shiny new license.
Back In Black
Bethpage Black is just as rock hard in the game as it is real life. The course has previously been ranked as the sixth toughest course in America; a point well illustrated by the fact that when the US Open was held there in 2002, Tiger was the only golfer to finish under par. Similarly, the birdies are particularly hard to come by in Tiger Woods 10's recreation. Once you add a hefty dose of wind and rain to this equation, the resulting struggle is something that initiated gamers will relish every second of as they attempt to negotiate the course's many bunker surrounded, elevated greens.
In fact, we'll bet good money that gamers are logging-on to play Bethpage Black in record numbers this weekend thanks to the game's new real-time weather conditions. The system, powered by The Weather Channel, effectively recreates weather conditions as they are in the real world for every course in the game. So, if there's a rainstorm going on in Long Island right now, then Tiger Woods 10's Bethpage course will also experience the deluge (as long as you have 'Live Weather' selected in the options menu).
Incidentally, there is currently a storm system passing through Long Island, which stunted the first day's play at Bethpage yesterday and the outlook isn't good for the weekend either: thunderstorms are promised for Saturday. Put another way, the situation couldn't possibly be better for EA. Disappointed US golf fans who can't watch the tournament on TV can just pull out their copy of Tiger Woods 10 and play through the elements themselves. "I don't know what that Ian Poulter is talking about," these gamers will no doubt be saying to themselves. "If I can hit par in these conditions then why can't he?!"
If the downpour at Bethpage is good for the game's real-time weather feature, then it might not be so good for the new Live Tournaments mode. This allows gamers to play against the actual scores that professionals post in real PGA Tour events. However, because the pros weren't able to play through 18 holes yesterday, US gamers are just going to have to sit pretty until the rain subsides and EA can actually post some scores online. Never fear though, because EA is also organising a range of daily and weekly competitions for the Live Tournaments feature that aren't linked into real PGA Tour events and simply pit a roster of gamers against each other online.
Like it did with Tiger Wood's Gamernet feature in '08 and the simultaneous online play in last year's edition, EA is clearly bolstering its online offerings for the series this year as well. In many ways, these new 'Live' features in Tiger Woods 10 have a lot in common with the Interactive Leagues and Adidas Live Season features that have been added to FIFA over the years. EA is bringing real sporting events into the game with formidable online support that no other sports games have barely even tried, let alone provided a significant challenge to EA's pioneering efforts - Pro Evo's mid-season transfer updates are about as close as any other game has got.
However, this doesn't change the fact that all of these new features fit more neatly under the banner of presentation than they do gameplay. It's great to have leaderboards, tournaments, and weather that reflects the actual sport so closely but they still don't change how you actually play the game at its base level. In this area, Tiger Woods has changed very little over the years and probably less so than any of EA Sports' other iterative series. It's one of the main reasons why Tiger Woods games of recent years have languished in the low 80s on Metacritic despite the fact that they are all very fun to play.
In Tiger Woods 08, EA introduced the 3-Click Meter, which was probably the most recent step forward in the series' gameplay. Ironically though, it was more of a step backwards really, offering gamers the option to play with a traditional power/accuracy gauge instead of the series' patented Swing Stick controls (hardly revolutionary work by the team at EA Tiburon). All things considered, Tiger Woods 10's new Precision Putting system is arguably the most groundbreaking gameplay feature to grace the series in quite a while although, in reality, it doesn't add a whole lot more than an on-screen meter specifically for putting.
Having said that, Precision Putting does feel more tactile than the regular putting system it's replacing (gamers can still select the old system in game options). The old setup was more or less the same as the game's standard Swing Stick controls, which have never really offered the fine touch that's required for putting. This has tended to make puts a bit of a lottery as players can only guesstimate the percentage of power they're using judging by the putter's backswing. The Precision Putting meter, on the other hand, provides a power sweet-spot to remedy this problem but, what it gives you with one hand; it takes away with the other. The meter is much more sensitive to your backswing and follow-through, which means that uneven swings are punished more harshly with inaccurate putts.
As far as the career mode's PGA Season is concerned, it's more or less the same as last year with one notable exception: your coach, Hank Haney now talks to you through lush FMV sequences as opposed to his in-game rendering of last year. You do get to play the US Open as part of the season though, although we're still yearning for EA to include the US Masters at its paradisiacal Augusta course. A couple of new side modes do add depth to the career offerings as well though. Tournament Challenges are essentially historical scenarios for the most part (e.g. Replicate Tiger Woods' 2002 performance at Bethpage: score 9 or under on the two par 5s), while a new Practice Round option is fairly self explanatory to be honest but does at least offer statistical breakdowns of your shots.
N.B. This review is based on the next-gen version of Tiger Woods 10.