The Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchise has been evolving over the last couple of years. Tiger 12 added Augusta National Golf Club—and The Masters—for the first time, along with revamping the series’ presentation and altering the career path for new players. Tiger 13 added motion control play for the Kinect on the Xbox 360 and cleaned up the functionality for the PlayStation Move on the PlayStation 3, while simultaneously changing basic swing mechanics and making a few other minor tweaks. Though I really enjoyed Tiger 12, 13 left me with mixed feelings. The new swing system felt a bit too tight and DLC affecting a solo player’s career path (where not buying the specified course for a certain week on the PGA Tour meant that the week had to be skipped) didn't agree with me or other players.
We’re now two years removed from the start of this mixed-bag evolution, but Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 gets a lot of things right. The swing mechanic is easier to grasp, there are plenty of customization options for the arcade duffer and for the hardcore golf fan, the presentation has taken a major leap forward, and the issues with DLC affecting the solo career have been resolved. Simply put, this is the best Tiger Woods PGA Tour game yet.
First off, let's consider the most critical part of the game: the swing. One of the strongest improvement for Tiger 14, the swing might appear largely the same as last year, but it feels a bit more forgiving this time around. A meter that mimics the swing action of the golfer on screen starts when players draw back on the analog stick, then transitioning to the downswing when the stick is pushed forward. It's a basic motion, but the point of transition between the backswing and the downswing is key; a longer backswing leads to an overswing and potentially more power while a shorter backswing takes something off of the shot. There is a sweet spot for a perfect transition, but it's possible to find it with enough practice, keying in the right tempo so that flicking the analog stick too quickly or too slowly isn't a worry, affecting a shot’s accuracy.
To personalize things, swing styles have been added this year to more accurately portray various kinds of pro golfers. Power golfers usually shoot for more distance off the tee and apply more spin on their approach shots, while control golfers sacrifice yardage for accuracy, making them dangerous from short range as they adapt a “target golf” style. Players can also alter their shot trajectories and their natural tendencies to either hit draw or fade shots. Choosing a higher shot trajectory puts the wind into play more, which can add yardage if it's at the golfer’s back. Higher trajectories also can make it easier to get shots up over trees. Lower-trajectory players take the wind out of the equation and are usually less risky. There’s also an option to keep the trajectory level, which is a fair compromise. Lastly, choosing a draw or fade as a shot tendency makes the golfer more proficient, which is good for shaping shots around trees or dogleg fairways.
In short, there's a greater emphasis on being able to tailor your game, with subtle-yet-important nuances.
The way in which you approach your shots is up to you this time around as caddies are gone in Tiger 14. Their omission is most noticeable in the short game, as there is no longer an aiming spot based on their read of the green. There's still the option in lower difficulty levels to activate a putt preview, but that’s it. It adds more of a challenge to putting, which may be welcomed to some players and add a few strokes to the scorecards of those less capable of reading the greens. The absence of caddies also means that players will have to think a bit harder about how to line up shots from tee to green. To get the best results, elevation, wind speed and direction, and lie also have to be taken into account.
Optimally factoring in the above yields the most experience points (XP) to level golfers. Unlike previous years, where XP was basically used as currency to build stats, Tiger 14 awards attribute points with each level gained. These points are then used to improve stats (such as Power, Accuracy, Spin, Recovery, and Putting). Stat maximums are also gradually increased as certain levels are hit. If players aren’t satisfied with the pace of progression, EA coins (in-game currency) earned during gameplay can be used to “buy” level increases. It’s a fair way of powering up, thankfully without requiring spending real money to do so; it’s a reward for playing a lot and feels like just that—a reward. (That said, it is possible to spend real-life money to purchase coins, if you're feeling impatient.)
In addition to attribute points, equipment is gradually unlocked for use. Apparel is cosmetic, but clubs, balls, and shafts can all affect a golfer’s stats and improve performance. It’s worth noting that the Masters Historic Edition has some impressive clubs already unlocked for use from the outset and can give starting players a nice boost early on.
The Tiger 14 experience can be customized in a number of other ways to satisfy players of all skill levels and abilities as well. The Amateur setting practically guarantees low scores and is the quickest way to learn to play without too many penalties. It’s almost like an arcade experience at this setting, with 18-hole scores in the double digits below par while getting the feeling of utterly dominating AI tournament fields. Bumping up the difficulty adds more realism to the experience, requiring tighter accuracy on analog swings, the need to execute precise diagonal motions for draw or fade shots, and subtle movements of the Strike Meter before shots which can lead to mishits or chunks. Also, a new “Simulation” difficulty has been added this year to really test a player’s mettle. No putting lines, no spin, no yardage… just reading the course and trying to make the best decisions. Basically, there's many ways to enjoy Tiger 14 based on player skill and preference.
When difficulties have been decided on, Tiger 14 also offers a plethora of gameplay modes. Solo players will enjoy an updated Career mode that feels more streamlined overall than in years past. The brand sponsorships from the last couple of games are gone, so players will have to focus on advancing their careers through completing weekly tournaments and by meeting certain career goals. Players start as amateurs and then earn their way onto the Web.com Tour by faring well enough in either the US Amateur or British Amateur Championships and getting through Q-School. Once on the Web.com Tour, players can earn a spot on the PGA Tour by either winning a certain number of tournaments or finishing the season high on the overall money list. After getting a PGA Tour slot, the race is on to the top of the EA Sports World Golf Rankings and earning spots into major tournaments.
One of this year’s most welcome improvements is the ability to switch out a tournament that players don’t have the DLC for and add a different event for a venue that the player already has. This allows you to play as many weeks during a season as desired without taking a knock for not spending more money. There is stat tracking for multiple seasons, so the replay value is considerable in the Career mode alone.
In addition to the Career mode, a Legends of the Majors mode interactively guides players through the history of tournament golf with the use of varying challenges and era-specific equipment. How would Bobby Jones fare against one of the players of today, using equipment from back then? Legends of the Majors lets players find out. It's not dissimilar to other challenge modes that we’ve seen in Tiger Woods games before, but the more interesting concept of playing in different eras and then unlocking players and equipment from those eras for later is a nice touch for fans of the sport. It’s also a thoughtful nod to the game’s history, with certain events and players being highlighted.
Playing Tiger 14 online opens up even more gameplay modes. Country Clubs return from Tiger 13, with more maximum members (now up to 100). Once connected to a Country Club, every event a player completes accumulates status points for that player and their Club. Status points are used to determine who the Club Champion and Club Pros are for each Club, allowing them to compete in special online tournaments each week. These titles reset weekly, so new Club Champions can be crowned if someone has an exceptional week or if the previous Champion doesn’t play as much. Thankfully, players can switch from one Country Club to another at any time without being penalized.
Connected Tournaments are where those familiar with the Live Tournaments of Tiger Woods games of past years will be most at home. 5-hole, 18-hole, and 36-hole daily events are available for play, with status points and coins awarded for good showings. Play the Pros events are back this year as well, so for those wondering how they’d fare out on Sawgrass for The Players’ Championship, they can compare scores during the event. Connected Tournaments can be played alone or with up to 24 people at once. Player shots on holes are shown with drawn arcs, so it’s possible to see strategies and shot outcomes for others. There’s also a new voice chat feature for Connected Tournaments allowing for chatter out on the course.
The area that I feel shows the most improvement in Tiger 14, however, is the game’s presentation. For years, I’ve been looking for an authentic TV-style presentation with sensible and timely commentary, relevant stat overlays, and the ability to make me believe it could be me on the course. My hopes have been met here. Loading screens between holes show some interesting information (such as birdie leaders, putt leaders, the prior week’s event results, and more); transitions between shots vary between leaderboards and key stat overlays; and tying the presentation together is another strong commentary delivery from the team of Jim Nantz and David Feherty. Nantz begins each event by sharing some history of or observations about each course before play begins and then varies between astute play observation or excited outcome calls. Hearing Nantz excitedly call a close approach to the cup from 150 yards doesn’t get old, while Feherty continues to loosen up a bit and regain the form he had in the Tiger Woods games of the 128-bit generation. While most of his lines are straight-laced and professional, he does occasionally deviate into some humor and light-heartedness. It’s great to see that EA is getting so close to nailing authentic TV-style presentation and I hope that these improvements continue.
Another area of improvement are the visuals, especially the dynamic lighting that changes based on the time of day. If players hit the course at dawn, lighting is dim with perhaps some red on the horizon, and then lighting gradually brightens as the player makes their way around the course. There are times when playing in a certain direction nets a look at a gorgeous sun, with lens flare and associated corona. When it rains, occasionally a rainbow can be seen in the distance and through the scattered raindrops. It’s also possible to play at night, if one so chooses. Based on when a round is being played, the time and weather at that course is captured and can be applied to the round currently in session.
The Masters Historic Edition of Tiger 14 comes with the Augusta Par 3 course, the 1934 layout for Augusta National, and four additional courses. The highlight of these additional courses is the TPC Blue Monster at Doral course, which is a yearly stop on the PGA Tour and adds to the authenticity of season play in the Career mode. In addition, this special edition also has a Green Jacket Ceremony that triggers for players who win The Masters and access to the Augusta National Tournament Practice Facility. The additional $10 may be worthwhile for the additional courses, but the Green Jacket Ceremony is uninspiring and the extra facilities at Augusta National are unnecessary.
It’s very easy to fall into the trap of doing the same thing every year when it comes to sports games, but credit goes to EA Tiburon for not resting on their laurels and instead delivering a fantastic golf experience in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 that makes notable improvements over past years. There are minor issues, such as occasionally long loading times and some tree draw-in, but I’ve enjoyed my time with Tiger 14 more than I have with any other game in the series—it feels like I’m really “in the game” more than ever before.
What were your biggest issues with past Tiger Woods games in the series? What improvements would you like to see for the future? Let us know your favorite tee times over Twitter @Gamers_Hell