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Tiger Woods has become one of the better staple releases in the EA stable. Over the years it has grown into a nuanced and expansive experience. On the Wii they finally have the control scheme to match the rest of the game.
My first encounter with golf was with PGA Tour Golf on the Megadrive, the forefather of this series. Even back then it was a distinctive experience with an aesthetic that really felt like the calm and considered rounds of golf I had previously encountered on TV. It stood out for its attention to detail in both environments and shot play. I distinctly remember being impressed as the subtle bird-song and wave sounds faded in where appropriate.
In the late 90s Tiger Woods revolutionised the real-world golfing scene and made it more accessible to a much wider demographic. This profile made him an ideal fit for an EA licence. Come 1998 and they managed to seal the deal, and transitioned PGA Tour to its new name. Since then they have rolled out a Tiger Woods game on an annual basis. Like other EA franchises, Tiger Woods seem to following the pattern of innovation one year followed by consolidation the next. This means that if you are a seasoned follower of the series you probably have your favourite years where they managed to deliver the sweet spot between features and quality.
The Wii provided the inspiration for them to rework their control mechanism to incorporate the real world gestures made possible with the Wii-mote controller.
In this vein, last year's Tiger Woods 07 on the Wii introduced more innovation than we had seen for a long time. The Wii provided the inspiration for them to rework their control mechanism to incorporate the real world gestures made possible with the Wii-mote controller. They took the simple execution of Wii-Sports Golf and extended into their more complex game engine. This was largely successful, and provided a swing experience that felt wonderfully like real golf. You had to develop each aspect of your swing, as the nuanced motion detection enabled it to control spin, fade and power all. You even had to keep an eye on how comfortable it was for the old back (maybe this is just for us older players), as bad habits would lead to sore lumber problems the following day!
Putting on the other hand seemed to be more of a hit and miss affair; they had miss-calculated the amount of sensitivity they needed from the Wii-Mote. This meant that short puts were frustrating to control and led to repeated miss hits. It was as though the putting was still expecting the sort of exaggerated movements of the driving range. Obviously, this was not the case for the pinpoint movements required for a good put. I literally spent 5 minutes on one hole trying to get the damn thing to hit the ball, an experience made all the worse by the sarcastic commentary saying things like 'just hit the thing' or 'is it dark yet'.
So, let's turn to this year's game, obviously with some considerable expectation that EA will shore up some of the weaker area's to get quality back. Thankfully, this year's development looks like it was one of consolidation rather than further innovation. The overall game is largely the same. The game modes, customisation and multiplayer aspects are all present and of the same high standard we have come to expect from the franchise. What has really improved however is how the game plays.
Driving is obviously a key part of any golf game. Being a more involved and 'proper' golf game Tiger 08 delivers a nuanced and confident driving control scheme that has enough variety to provide a sense of freedom, whilst at the same time keeping the play simple and streamlined. It uses the same swing detection as in last year's game, with only minor tweaks here and there. This enables you to pull or fade your shots by closing or opening the Wii-mote orientation. Power is then controlled by the speed and depth of your backswing combined with the through speed of your club when you let rip.
Gone is the slight novelty of the Wii-Sports Golf swing, here replaced by a real sense of connection and control.
These factors combine to give you more control of your shots and make your swing an integral part of the game. Gone is the slight novelty of the Wii-Sports Golf swing, here replaced by a real sense of connection and control. Accordingly you need to put a bit more work in here to acclimatise to the scheme and really get the most out of it. Once you have the basic mechanics down, you can adjust it further by choosing to punch, pitch or power a particular shot.
Then we get to the putting. After the majority of reviews of Tiger 07 complaining about the broken putting I was surprised not to read more about this feature elsewhere. Previously, it was extremely hard to control the strength of the shot without triggering a miss-hit. The good news is that Tiger 08 completely resolves these putting issues. EA have recognised the fundamental difference of putting to driving. To that end a putting gauge gives you clear guide of the strength of your put. Its simple, but it really makes a big difference to the game as a whole.
What you are left with is a mature confident golf game that really does deliver an unrivalled experience in terms of replicating real-world golf.
These nuts and bolts of the game are all well and good, but how does it feel to play? Well, mystery questioner, it plays like a dream. Swinging the Wii-Mote just makes so much sense in a golf game. The speaker on the controller lets out a hefty thwack or twank depending on how you hit the ball, with a little buzz of vibration to round of the hitting experience. It really makes it very satisfying to hit the ball right on the sweet spot.
Although some will be deterred by the older graphics on the Wii, which are obviously compromised in some areas, but I'd happily take this hitting dynamic over flashy visuals any day. Most lacking for me in the Wii version of Tiger is the lack of any online play or leader boards. It is becoming the tired line of reviewers to berate the lack of online features in a console famous for its user's commitment to online play, rivalling even the 360 for online pickup. One can only imagine the features are not present because of political reasons between EA and Nintendo, rather than any out and out technical reason. That said, it does make you wonder if there is something lacking in the network department of the inauspicious little white box. Whilst we are on the subject, I'd also have liked to see them use the Mii's character creation rather than EA's standard character creation. I would think that as the Wii user base continues to expand this will become a viable option.
The overall feel of the game is one that delivers a streamlined and stripped down experience of golf. Any superfluous information or detail that didn't add to the game as a whole has been removed. What you are left with is a mature confident golf game that really does deliver an unrivalled experience in terms of replicating real-world golf. Whilst this may not be a must buy if you have last years version on the Wii, I would seriously suggest getting that one on eBay and upgrading to 08. If on the other hand you've not played golf on a console before, this is a great place to start. All in all a year of consolidation for Tiger Woods, just what the doctor ordered.
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