Review: EA finds its swing with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14
Like the man that graces the cover of EA's latest golf game, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 is back. Tiger Woods PGA had a bit of a hiccup last year; aside from some added swing mechanics and baby Tiger, very little was added to the long-running golf franchise -- an annualization problem many sports titles seem to suffer from. But like Woods, EA has found new life in its flagship golf game, introducing new modes, courses and mechanics that add an all-new layer of depth.
While Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 does plenty to reinvigorate the passionate golf fan, it fails to draw in the casual fan. The built-in tutorials definitely make it easy to pick up the game and play, but like the real game of golf, it's difficult to master. The tutorials do little to explain the mechanics of golf. You know that you can now shape your shot with fades or draws, but you won't know why you will need to do so. Tiger Woods PGA 14 aims to offer a more realistic golf swing by requiring you to move the analog stick in certain directions depending on your swing style. Although a passionate golf fan will likely appreciate the intricacies added to this year's Total Swing Control mechanics, the added steps can be viewed as more of a hassle to the average gamer.
Despite all of the new additions to your swing, you can really enjoy the game without the hassles of understanding the technical reasoning behind your shot. The game does a fairly good job of picking which iron you should use, your footing, and your swing motion. All you really need to do is aim the analog stick and not slice the ball into the sand -- something easier said than done. Again, you'll be good at the game, but until you learn the 'why,' you'll never be great.
Putting is easily the most difficult aspect of the game. This isn't due to any control mechanics, but mostly because of the presentation. EA attempts to simplify putting with lines that show the slope, along and one free preview of where your ball will travel, but even with the help, it's hard to read the greens and know how much juice to put behind it. Like real golf, patience is key, and you will become more comfortable on the greens as time passes.
Gameplay aside, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 does a lot to cater to those who have followed golf for years. For you golf history buffs, the Legends of the Majors mode allows you to play as or against some of the most legendary golfers. What makes this mode intriguing is the presentation as you travel back in time and relive the rich history of golf. Sepia tone colors and the use of authentic period-time clothing and clubs are nice, immersive touches. Again, this is a mode that's more appreciated by long-time golf history buffs familiar with the likes of Lee Trevino and Ben Hogan. Of course, we all know the legendary Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
For those of you who prefer a more modern setting, the Career Mode offers an extensive amount of gameplay that's full of depth. For the first time, all four golf majors -- the Masters Tournament, the U.S. Open, the Open Championship, and PGA Championship -- are all playable. To play on these legendary courses finally gives some fulfillment to your golfer's career. It's especially gratifying as you work your way from qualifying for the pro tour to playing on one of these iconic courses. Like previous installments, you earn XP and coins to buff your golf skills and buy new gear and clothing.
Online mode has been beefed up with Connected Tournaments that allow 24 players to golf together simultaneously with no need to wait for others to shoot. Other players' shots are shown via arcs in real time as you play, giving you a sense of competition even though you are playing separately from them. Country Clubs have also seen improvement. The member limit has been bumped up from 25 to 100 this year. You can also voice-chat with your club members through Club Chat sessions. The changes made to Country Clubs caters to those looking for the bonding experience golf provides in real life.
As someone whose first job was for legendary female golfer Annika Sorenstam, I was pleased to see the inclusion of female golfers; although, the LPGA tour is a bit lackluster with just five female golfers. It's a feature that has been long overdue, so I'm glad it was finally added. Hopefully, this is something EA builds upon, rather than just tacking it on in future installments.
Graphically, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 is stunning. Player models are smooth and swing animations are fluid throughout the entire process. Each of the golfers, of which there are over two dozen, behave realistic to their real-life counterpart.
The courses are beautifully recreated and authentic to that seen in real life. Expanding upon their beauty is the ability to start your round at any time of day, including night. The various times of day allow you to experience each course under different lighting effects; there's nothing quite like playing on your favorite course under the summer glow of the moonlight.
For as immersive as Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 is, from the broadcast presentations to the gameplay animations, it's easy to be drawn out of the environment and reminded that you are just playing a game. After each hole, you are forced to wait during a loading screen for several seconds as the next hole loads. Not only is it annoying to wait for, but it's boring. A graphic of the scorecard is shown, but the loading screens are a constant reminder that you are playing a game and not physically on the course. Even a simple animation of your character walking to the next hole would be better than the scorecard shown after every hole.
Let's not forget the constant reminder that additional features are just a few microtransactions away. I get that microtransactions are a normal occurrence these days, but when you are reminded of them in every menu, it begins to get a bit annoying. I don't want to be reminded, while looking through my collection of clubs, that the best ones can be bought for real-life cash instead of unlocked through playing the game. I also find it a bit tacky that in a game that emphasizes the history of golf, one of the most iconic courses -- the 1934 version of Augusta National Golf Club (a completely different layout than the modern day Augusta) -- is only playable via DLC.
Like the golfer, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 is back. But while relevant again, it's still missing some pieces to make it a dominant golf game. The new features -- enhanced swing mechanics, Legends of the Majors, and improved online experience -- are certainly welcomed, but they may not be enough to win a major. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 is definitely a step in the right direction for the series; just keep it on the fairway and make your putts, EA.