With the latest installment in the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series due out for release at the end of the month, I've been spending some time with a complete, pressed-for-retail version of the game to see how it has all come together. We'll reserve final judgment for the review, which the team will have coming your way in a few weeks. But in the meantime, here are a few thoughts and impressions based on the first few hours of Tiger 12's career mode.
1. The Masters is everywhere
If you weren't aware that the Masters is in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12, you'll be reminded of it the moment the game loads up. The entire interface has been reworked to focus on this year's big new feature. Menus sit atop images of Augusta National cycling in the background, while the entire interface is done up in soothing shades of green and gold to match the color scheme of golf's biggest event. It's an odd change if you're like me and you've spent a not-insignificant portion of your life growing more and more accustomed to the loud, snazzy menus that EA Sports games tend to offer. But it's a welcome change--a subtle and understated interface that works well with one of the more laid-back professional sports.
Another nice feature of the menus is the way the screen is split down the middle with advanced options on the left and one-button navigation on the right. The left side is where you can dig through all the menus in search of the standard customization options, career statistics, and options screens. But on the right side of the screen is a window that offers a suggested next step at every turn, letting you get started with the next major event with a single button press or taking you straight to the new gear you've unlocked when you've ranked up with a sponsor. For those intimidated by the often esoteric menus in sports games, it's a nice little touch.
2. The caddie system is a great addition, but it still needs some work
New this year is a caddie system to offer you advice and options on the next shot. For everyone who's not a diehard golfer, it's a great way of removing some of the biggest obstacles in golf. You don't need to know which club will work best in a given situation or whether a certain shot is risky or just plain stupid. You simply choose from a pair of suggested shots and focus on hitting the ball.
For the most part, the caddie AI works very well. I've been able to easily coast through entire events without the slightest bit of worry over which club to use or how to approach the green. But there have been a handful of times when the caddie has been completely out to lunch with his suggestions. At times I've hit his suggested shot with the correct angle and the right amount of power, but the ball has still found its way into the water or a sand trap. It's rarer for the caddie to goof up on the green, but it has happened, like the one time he suggested a putting target about 10 yards to the right of the hole even though I was standing a few short feet from the hole, with hardly any angle on the green.
After these goof-ups, the trust level I place in my caddie has been somewhat strained. Now I have to take what he suggests with a grain of salt when there are potential hazards nearby and try to exercise extra common sense when a suggested putting target seems a little off. It's tempting to fall into the habit of accepting your caddie's suggested shot every single time, but if you do this without a healthy sense of skepticism, then chances are you'll get burned at least once every couple of events. I still really enjoy the caddie system, but it's clear that EA isn't quite done fine-tuning it. In fairness, you can level up your caddie's familiarity with certain courses, but some of the gaffes we experienced were simply too glaring to suggest anything other than an AI shortcoming.
3. The career mode makes you work for it, but not too hard
The game's career mode has been rebranded as Road to the Masters and has you starting off in amateur tournaments before getting even a whiff of your PGA Tour card. There's a nice sense of progression to the way all of this plays out, letting you feel like you're actually building up to something before you finally go professional. But in a nice little touch, EA has made it so that standout players don't need to grind through the amateur levels if they've already got the skills. For example, I was able to quickly graduate from semi-professional Nationwide Tour by winning two events, saving me a bunch of time over the other graduation criteria, such as coming in the top 10 over a much longer stretch of events. Combine that with gear sponsorships that you can level up over time, and you've got a career mode that does the carrot-on-a-stick system really well.
4. The create-a-player feature is terrific
I mean, just look at this guy:
Amazing. Stay tuned for the full review later this month, including impressions of what it's like once you finally do reach the Masters.