Tiger Woods PGA TOUR
Last year, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 was released for the console and PC platforms, and was the golf game to own on all platforms. More arcade-oriented for the consoles, and more in a simulation style for the PC, they were all superb in their own rights. While there's not much that is altogether new in this latest edition over the 2004 edition, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005 for the PC has enough tweaks and improvements added, that this year's edition is once again the golf simulation game to own, even if you already have PGA Tour 2004.
As before, this is a simulation game that manages to accomplish the impossible and please players of all skill levels, from the absolute sports simulation novice to the expert putter. The walkthrough tutorial in the beginning introduces the basic skills and swings necessary to begin the game, and it is very simple to finish these early lessons and move on to the real game. Each lesson successfully completed will add that particular shot to the golfer's repertoire, thereby increasing the golfer's overall skill level.
Before the actual golfing, though, a profile player will need to be setup for play. The fabulously fun player designer mode from the previous edition, Game Face, has been improved and is even more of a hoot than before, in this year's edition with Game Face II. Incredibly, there are even more choices for appearance modification, that can be adjusted with sliders. Now, age spots, wrinkles, scars, freckles - these can all be added for an amazingly realistic look. It's just insane how alike some of these characters can be to their real life counterparts. However, there are still some areas that could have improved over last year, and haven't been, namely the hairdos (which all look like Elvis tonsures, no matter what style is chosen) and the length of the legs on the females, which is still too long proportionately for many of us shorties. There is an option to change the height of the players, but not one to just change the length of the legs, although there is one to change the mass of the forearms (a male form bias?). But the faces have to be seen to be believed, and the clothes are almost as good, with panty lines even showing on several of the ladies under their slacks. Some of the pants are incredibly detailed, with a windsuit pantset on my husband's players that looked like the real thing, with shadows and wrinkles exactly where they would be in reality.
Once a player has been designed, it's time to play some holes. There are several different modes of play to choose from, with a slightly different menu than previously. Here, we have: Legend Tour, which features a tour against various golfers, real and imaginary, that leads up to the ultimate challenge matches against five legendary players; Scenarios, a set of scenarios from each of the five legends, tied to particular attributes for each; Lessons, which are lessons on various shots that can then be added to the player's skill level; Tournaments, where players can play various tournaments at any level; Dream 18, the course editor; Custom, a set of 14 games that can be played with up to 8 players; and Practice, where players can practice their swings.
Legend Tour is where courses and players can be unlocked for future play. At first, only a handful of golfers are available for play, but there is a good variety of skill level in the ones offered. Skill level is in no way tied to personal appearance, which is quite interesting for some of these golfers, to say the least. Their resumes are quite amusing to read, too. Players of all skill levels can feel like champions in these matches, as novices can play the likes of Bev Bouvier, who is an erratic player, or Nigel, who has a slightly tougher game and takes no prisoners when it comes to exploiting his opponent's weaknesses. As games are won, more opponents are added to the mix for more challenge.
Once a match has been completed, players can head off to the next one, or hop over to Game Face II, where that cold hard cash can be converted into new threads for your doppelganger player, more attributes to increase skill levels, or funky tattoos, and club sets or lessons added. This is where the simulation aspect is rewarded with eye candy. Once decked out, it's time to head back to the Legend Tour, where players can advance until their reputation is big enough to attract the Legends like Arnold Palmer, Steve Ballesteros, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus. Or, check out the scenarios and improve skill levels in the different attributes of the legends, or play the different competitions in Tournament mode.
This is a game that manages to be complex and simple, all at the same time. The complexity comes from the richness of the gameplay, that manages to take all the elements from the different modes, and intertwine them. The money earned in the matches makes attributes available by adding to the skill levels for different shots in the Game Face II store, which in turn opens up the ability to earn harder shots through lessons. Having the ability to make more choices when it comes to shots increases the likelihood of success in the matches, which earns higher stature, and which will attract the Legends, eventually. The Dream 18 mode allows players to change the available courses into devilishly difficult scenarios by Tiger Proofing, which players use to tweak the rough, bunkers, and general layout of the fairways. If a player's stature is high enough, the Legends will want to compete on these custom courses. To get the ability to Tiger Proof a course, a player must earn Legend coins by winning games in the different game modes, then purchase the courses.
The simplicity is apparent in the wide variety of skill levels present in the initial golfers available for matchups, the difficulty levels present in the game modes, and the easy accessibility of the menu options at the bottom of the screen. The lessons don't require any special skill to acquire them, no matter how far along the player is; only the money and the successful completion of the particular shot is necessary. Making the shot isn't very hard, and a few tries is usually all that is needed for success. Once the lesson is over, that swing is added to the player's roster of swings. The interface is very easy to access and learn, with information about the wind, type of club needed, and swings available at the click of a mouse. The direction of the shot can be toggled by simply dragging the arrowed line under the ball. The camera angles on the fairway can be changed immediately by hitting a hotkey. Slice, fade, draw and spin are all easily accomplished with the TrueSwing mode of play, that uses the mouse as the golf club in real time.
While this is an incredible golf simulation in terms of richness and depth, there are still some annoying attributes that crop up from time to time. Don't believe the commentators, sometimes their advice is the opposite of what is really going to happen. Many times, they said the ball was going to the left, when it would actually go off to the right, and vice versa. Also, for some reason, when I would click on the arrow path under the ball for a putt shot, the screen would reorient in the opposite direction from the hole, and I would end up shooting the ball even further away, if I wasn't paying attention at the moment.
The interface is intuitive and easy to understand and navigate, but the actual method of swinging the golf club by just clicking once on the ball has its downside, as in when I would click on the ball, not realize I still "was the ball" and hit it accidentally while attempting to just move around the screen with the mouse, thereby loosing an incredibly bad shot. This happened to me many times before I became more careful with where I clicked the mouse.
It should also be noted that the game crashed several times during play, which sometimes resulted in lost data on important shots. The system we played the game on meets all the requirements.
Lastly, there weren't any option choices in the music, at least not any that I could find in the manual or in the game's options menu. The sound could be toggled, and could be turned off, but the music list itself wasn't available in the menu. In a simulation game like this, it's inexplicable that the music couldn't be chosen in a play list. What was really bad about this was that every visit to the Game Face II mode was made to the tune of "I like the Way She Moves", a song that I'm not that fond of in the best of times, and which very quickly became tortuous. I had to just turn the volume all the way down each time I went to the Game Face II store to avoid listening to the song yet again.
The game looks fabulous, with the golfers themselves taking center stage graphically. As mentioned previously, the faces and the clothes are just incredible. While the hair doesn't look as good as the rest of the details, it's still adequate. One thing that has been improved from last year's game is the added animations of the golfers. It just really adds something to the experience to watch their expressions and movements after a good shot, or a horrible one. When in repose, they start swinging their arms, or dancing slightly to the music, just as people do in real life. The backgrounds are detailed, with great effects like shimmering water, birds flying overhead, flags blowing in the breeze; it's almost like being there. The crowds could use more animation, however. There is a good variety of courses, which all look wonderful. There are less of them this time around, though.
At its heart, this is a simulation with RPG overtones, not a sports game. The same qualities that make this game so involving could be applied to many different themes. Earning money (running errands for money in RPGs), using money to add skills (leveling up), increasing skills by lessons (leveling up), and dressing the character with cool threads in the store (think of armor and weapons), are just a few of the many similarities between games like Patrician III, Roller Coaster Tycoon, and Harvest Moon. The golf theme is interesting, but it's not necessary to even like golf to love this game, just as it isn't necessary to like farming to enjoy Harvest Moon.
While there isn't that much that is actually new or radically different from PGA Tour 2004, the improvements to the existing features, and the new addition of a course editor, make for a game that is worth plunking down the money for the latest edition, even if players own last year's game. This is a game that just keeps getting better the more it's played, with lots of rewards to keep interest high during gameplay. Truly, an exceptional game.
The gameplay in Tiger Woods is everything it should be: engaging, entertaining and accessible by all types of players. The interface is easy to navigate, and the game does a great job of walking novices through. Expert players will also find much to enjoy, especially with the ability to design difficult courses with the Tiger Proofing features.
Very nice graphics.
The ambient sounds are adequate, but could have had more attention paid to them. The music may appeal to some, but there should have been some way to choose the tunes, an option we could not find while playing the game.
There are four difficulty levels available, with the option to choose the difficulty level in some modes. Other modes require the players to work their way up the ladder of difficulty. The included golfers in the game have varying levels of expertise, and offer a wide range of challenge to play against. The Tiger Proofing mode adds a high degree of challenge for the masochistically inclined.
While there isn't much that is really new in this edition, the former features have been fine-tuned. The new course editor is great, too.
As before, there is a multi-player feature for those who want to try their skill against others online.
A great edition of a wonderful series, it's definitely worth getting, even if players already have the 2004 edition, just for the Game Face II's added features and the new course editor.