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i wouldn't describe myself as a big golf fan. for most of the year, if i stumble across televised play whilst flicking, then i'll likely move on. and yet, as seems to be true for a surprisingly large number of people, there is one event that has always captured my dedicated attention in a way that far surpasses all its peers - The Masters.
i've watched The Masters not just devoutly, but often as the magical, wide-eyed culmination of at least a week of keen expectation, ever since i was at primary school. it's one of the few big American events that is relayed over here, and has, over the years, offered annual access to a phenomenon that still maintains a significant part of the thrill that it offered me as a child: coverage sharing.
the pictures we see (on BBC2) are borrowed from an American network (CBS), and there is something about this that has always enthralled me. it's partly the sense of participation in something huge, and other, but it's mostly about the green. not the putting surface, the colour. The Masters is just so damned green.
i'm not sure exactly why, but pictures from American TV employ a colour palette replete with levels of saturation unknown to British eyes - in particular, reds and greens so intense that they almost burn the eyes. however, if an episode of Friends offers a healthy dose of this colour drug, then the Masters is like rapidly driving the contents of a ginormous needle straight into your brain. delicious green pain.
for several reasons, however, this year's Masters was a cluster of disappointments. for a start, the first two days' play were absent from their comfortable, ubiquitous BBC-nest and enslaved to the man behind the satellite subscription screen.
this coverage was accompanied by the thoughts of those whose voices have a less satisfyingly rich timbre than Peter Alliss and lack the wit and charm of Ken "from here it's a near-impossible shot... oh look, it went in" Brown, and worse still, someone had dialled down the green.
were that not enough of a let-down, when the coverage got back to how and where it should be, we had to watch a young, UK talent get half of one hand on the trophy before agonisingly crashing and burning. less delicious pain.
i'd decided that it would be the methadone to my weekend of mainlined, green heroin.
then, into this year's gloomier than usual post-Masters gloom, came Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters. i say that, i'd had it for a while before the tournament began, but i'd decided that it would be the methadone to my weekend of mainlined, green heroin.
in a sense, i've always wondered why no-one ever secured the Masters license before. i find that, if sensibly designed (i.e. with decent options to play beyond the central career mode) sports games focused around a major event often significantly benefit from the focus, and when it comes to golf (even as a Brit, i'm well aware that) The Masters is THE event.
however, given the tiresomely well-documented controversies that have followed Tiger Woods around of late, given that they've stuck with him, it makes sense for EA to choose to launch a title which has its focus elsewhere. and if there is one thing that can make Tiger Woods seem insignificant on a golf game box, it's The Masters.
in more general terms, however, things have remained fairly similar. the graphics - both in terms of the animation of the golfers and the luscious, verdant backdrops - have been spruced in line with this year's expectations, but the many things the series already does really well in terms of packaging and polish have not been subject to unnecessarily fiddling. EA really do legacy better than anyone else, and knowing what not to change is one of their key weapons.
it basically takes most of the game out of your hands.
there is, however, one fairly major change to the gameplay mechanic which comes in the form of a prominent, AI caddy. once again, this change fits perfectly with the overall ethos: when the golfers become unreliable heroes, it's time to fall back on the tried and trusted institutions - the grace and nobility of a prestigious tournament and the subtle, reassuring wisdom of the diminutive caddy.
the caddy functions as a replacement for the bit where you usually look at the course, the distance you have to go to the pin, the weather and, based on those variables, select a club and craft a shot. under the new system, the caddy does all that for you, and you just have to swing. of course, you can ignore the caddy and do something else, but there aren't that many options in golf, and the caddy usually comes up with somewhere pretty close to the best one.
the problem with this addition (and you might have sensed this from the way i described it) is that while this system might be more 'true to life', it basically takes most of the game out of your hands. it transforms a process that usually requires a combination of knowledge, wisdom, foresight and dexterity into one that just requires the latter. and, given the way the swing mechanic works (too 'soft' on all but the most difficult settings for my money) it doesn't really even require that much dexterity.
in the light of the new caddy system, playing Tiger Woods 12 became a parallel experience to the one i'd encountered a few days before with The Masters proper. just as the absence of the first two rounds' coverage from its 'proper' location, and the lack of the 'right' voices and colours had made for an alienating experience, so playing Tiger in this way felt not just different, but lacking.
i was (metaphorically and literally) the brains behind the operation.
i realised that when playing golf games over the years, rather than thinking of myself as Freddy Couples, or Luke Donald or my self-created career character, what i'd actually been imagining was that i was their caddy. they were up there on the screen, but i was (metaphorically and literally) the brains behind the operation. or, at the very least, i was both: sometimes player, other times caddy.
the simple act of making the shot had always seemed like merely a small, mechanical part of the 'approach' to each hole and the multi-layered experience of play. here, where like a grunt merely carrying out the commands of an officer all i'm needed for is the swing, i was feeling less, not more, involved. the modest movement of the thumb is just not enough to convey a sense of involvement intense enough to overcome the hiving off of the entire tactical side of the game to an AI companion.
it was only after this whole elaborate thought-journey that the reality finally occurred to me - far later than i imagine it occurred to most people, you included - that Tiger Woods 12 is a Kinect game without Kinect support. all of a sudden it makes so much sense - i really am such an idiot for not seeing it straight away.
of course, if you're putting the focus on the act of swinging by means of a physically-immersive technology, then you need to dial back the emphasis on the tactical side in order not to overly slow down the game. if you're having to ape the golfer's movements, then you feel a more obvious emotional and physical empathy with him/her, and in this context there is a need to separate out the tactics from the physics.
Tiger Woods 12 is a Kinect game without Kinect support.
the only question that remains therefore, is why Kinect support - the technology that makes sense of the whole thing - is absent. i think most 360 and PS3 owners reluctant to splash on Kinect or Move have known for a while that they would have to endure/avoid titles designed with these technologies in mind that don't really work in their absence. however, i imagine fewer people were expecting to encounter exactly that kind of game, but with no 'way-in', no bridge to the full experience.
I'm not sure how EA let it happen, but this is a game designed around a technology with which it is incompatible. i'm sure there are more spectacular ways of dropping the ball when it comes to game design, but right now i can't think of any. if you have a PS3, or a Wii then Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters is an exciting step forward. if you have a 360, it's a total waste of time.
[if you'd like to see more of the weird and wonderful world of reallyquitetired then the door is always open at his semi-detached house/blog]
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.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
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