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This true swinging golf is the closest I've ever come to playing without ever striking a real ball. With impressively engrossing environments Tiger Woods 09 ticks all but the most important of my boxes - online play is an empty experience where the other golfers seem no more real than their invisible offline computer counterparts. This world needs populating - I feel lonely.
Sunday afternoon, I step onto the course. Birds and ambient noises echo in the fading summertime light. As I start out my Tiger Woods 09 golf career the course pans out before me with some stunning environmental cues that convince me I actually there; tree movements, sunlight glare and nicely completed distant hills and buildings. This is all good to me; if I'm going play a golf game, I need to feel I'm actually there. Tiger Woods 09 has this 'real golf course' feel down to a tee, although I must confess I speak as someone who has never stepped onto a golf course sober.
It's fantastic when you suddenly realise that you are improving.
A whistle-stop weekend of tuition from my big brother covered all the stuff they didn't put in the manual. This game is pretty tricky and unpredictable for a beginner; for all the advice, tips and tutorials the game itself feeds you, success only comes with familiarity of the courses, shot timings and distance judgments. Hole after hole I found myself banging out the bogies regardless of momentary birdie successes. Now after a about 4 or 5 courses of 18 I'm finally feeling more at home, with only the occasional triple bogie popping up; teaching me golf balls can't swim. This hard climb to learn the game's nuances is really what I expect real golf to be like, and I hear that people who play the real thing, sing Tiger Woods 09's praises.
Heading into career mode I began learning - by my numerous mistakes. The excitement gets going when you achieve a birdie after 17 double bogies. It's fantastic when you suddenly realise that you are improving; and using a developing career player to boot just adds to the feeling of achievement. After clipping trees and finding a bunker on the previous hole I was at my wits end, but then came a steady par followed by a cheeky birdie, this alone was enough tonic for me to through the controller smashing annoyance that Tiger Woods 09 can bring out in the best of us.
Coming to the end of my first New Years Day tournament I was 22 over par and I was the laughing stock of the invisible crowd . I played my final shot onto the green; chipping over some bull-rushes before crisply putting home; I suddenly felt at peace with my environment, realising that this golf experience was for me to savor, all the nature that surrounded my digital green was perfectly pitched to draw me back for more, despite my crushing defeat.
Before I go on to playing real world human beings online, I would like to tell you the only thing that strikes me odd with Tiger Woods 09. That is there is no crowd to see or even other golfers. You hear a crowd but their physical form is eerily absent. So when swinging through an entire 18 holes you see no other soul. The excited sounds of crowds are not enough to complete the illusion of a real golf tournament. This is a lonely game (ed - visible crowds slated for Tiger 10).
The solution for EA can be summed up in six words; golfers play golf with other golfers.
Venturing onto online play should really be where all games come to life. The addition of humans to a game mix is an invaluable resource. So with great anticipation I crack onto EA online and see who's out there. Looking forward to trying out my developing career player in the real world.
190 people online; not bad for a Thursday night, and soon enough I hooked up with someone for 18 holes. As you might expect these players are darn good. Apart from the fact that many of the numerous courses are still new to me; I feel that they know this game inside and out. My own ongoing struggles with putting seem non-existent to these invisible players. I say invisible, but you do get some indication of where they are striking the ball with ribbons of colour following its path; a nice touch.
But you only ever see your own player on the course. I know it's just aesthetics, but being able to see the other golfers would make this experience so much more real and involving. Whether this is a hardware issue I don't know, but from the lonely experience offline, with no other golfers or crowds in sight; the experience online is no better; made even more sterile by the visual absence of the other human player. I really hope they improve this in Tiger 10 as the game functions so perfectly, and the environments are wonderfully engrossing; it's such a shame the online human experience leaves me cold. A headset and mike may help bring the other players into my living room, but this key part of Tiger Wood 09 that I was looking forward to is just not up to scratch. The solution for EA can be summed up in six words; golfers play golf with other golfers.
As I finish a round and consider how to spent my hard won cash and player points, I am left with a feel of playing a real round of golf. If this reality is joined by a populated world of visible other online players and crowd I might need to start worrying about my handicap more seriously.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
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