Tiger Woods 14 hits the fairway. Tiger Woods 14 has a clean stroke on the ball. Tiger Woods 14 punches through. Any number of clichés could be used to describe the latest Tiger Woods PGA Tour title, but of course, that’s the curse of any annual sports game. And considering clichés become clichés through repetition, it seems like an especially appropriate malady for a game now in its 16th iteration.
Every few years bring a new feature, a new gameplay mechanic, and a handful of other minor changes, but at its core it remains same, and repeats what has come before. The changes amount to tweaks more than anything, and the series has veered more and more toward the hardcore fans because of it. Despite a few new improvements and one memorable new feature, that remains the case with Tiger Woods PG Tour 14.
The Tiger series has never been particularly easy, but in recent years it has gotten even more difficult. That isn’t a bad thing at face value, but it makes it fairly inaccessible for people who have been away from the franchise for a few years, or those who suddenly woke up with the overwhelming urge to try out a golf game for the first time. Maybe they discovered the joys of argyle.
New players are going to have a difficult time, but learning is not an insurmountable challenge. They can jump in and pick up the basics quickly enough, but they will have to have a high threshold for frustration, as a good round can quickly turn into a replay of the movie Tin Cup, as you find yourself wondering when the last time a pro golfer recorded a quintuple bogey was.
There is a tutorial of sorts, but to say that it is bare bones is an understatement. It offers a handful of quick lessons, but it is more there to show you the controls than teach you to play. It’s one thing to know what draw and fade are, it’s another to know when and how you should use them. The art of putting misses the tutorial cut altogether, and practice rounds result in a grind-it-‘til-you-find it mentality with no real tips. It’s you against the game, with the results of others held up as de facto competition. There is something relaxing, bordering on tranquil in it… if you can stomach the pain it takes to get there.
Back front back, and side to side
The game mechanics boil down to one simple movement, from which all other aspects of the game build: swinging. The swing stick is nothing new to Tiger Woods. You pull back with the thumbstick and watch as your golfer takes a backswing, then you swing forward. It sounds simple enough, but there is a lot of nuance. The swing tracks how straight you push it, or how much you are off. If you push up but are a bit off, you will shank it, which is easier to do than it sounds. It helps to determine early which hand you are steadier with, and switching the swing from the left thumbstick to the right can help righties significantly.
Beyond the chance of messing up, the swing stick factors in multiple options, like swinging diagonally for deliberate hook or slice. You can also over and underswing, change your stance, and alter the hit location on the ball. For noobs to the series, you’ll have to experiment with how and why this matters, but for vets, it significantly increases the depth of the swing mechanics. It’s difficult to master, but the options keep the game interesting.
Putting, however, is either going to be no big deal, or a source of constant frustration. There is a logic to it that you can learn through practice repetition, but it’s the game’s logic, and you’ll have to experiment with it to find out exactly how it works. Once you do, it makes sense, but again: There is no tutorial to hold your hand and let you know. Just the cold, merciless specter of failure. It’s fun!
Revisiting the past
The Tiger Woods games seem to be taking cues from the NBA 2K series of late. Last year’s Tiger 13 let you replay moments from Tiger Woods’ life, much as NBA 2K11 had you revisit Michael Jordan’s biggest moments. That pattern continues, as this year’s Tiger Woods has you play through several classic moments of golf history with some of the game’s greats, much as NBA 2K12 had you play classic games from the past. Regardless, a good idea is a good idea.
You compete through five eras in golf history, beginning in 1860 and continuing through the years, pitting you against nine of the best golfers of all time, including Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, and Arnold Palmer. The oldest games are the most unique, as you play in suit and tie using wooden clubs, in a sepia-tinted world. The colors shift as the years do, which is a neat touch (and one NBA 2K12 used as well).
This mode should heavily appeal to fans of the sport, but the real draw remains the Career mode, which is slightly expanded. For instance, The Country Clubs now allow more members – 100 – and you can speak to up to 11 players at any time regardless of where you are in the game (something that is less useful for Xbox 360 users with party chat). Of course, there are also new courses and players (including the legends and a handful of modern players from the PGA and LPGA), but these are all minor additions. You can also compete against players from around the world via ghost data that populates leaderboards.
None these alter the game much. In fact, the players, the new country club cap, and even the Legends mode could all have fit on one DLC – admittedly a sizable one.
The online modes offers a bit of depth in options, from stroke play to skins, and it’s nice to play against the opponents at the same time rather than waiting for one player after another (you just see their trajectory and where they land, up until you finish the hole). None of it is a major change from last year, though.
Some things never change
Some annoying traits of previous Tiger titles also return, like the badly timed and often annoying commentary. It generally feels forced in, and can be jarring. Rather than add to the immersion, it takes you out of the game and offers very little substance. It can even be downright cringeworthy at times when a commenter tries to make jokes, usually in the form of puns.
Also returning are microstransactions, offering shortcuts in the gameplay for a little cash. You can’t go more than a few screens without running into them. Most are just shortcuts you can ignore and opt to earn the items yourself through normal play, but it’s inescapable. Paired with the massive amount of DLC on the way, the game feels heavily leveraged. While these constant requests for money don’t get in the way, it’s hard not to feel a bit slighted assuming you aren’t willing to shell out a ton of cash. It just leaves a bit of a bad taste in your mouth.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 is a contradiction. It caters to its hardcore, loyal fanbase by being slightly inaccessible, and yet doesn’t really offer much to encourage people to buy this year’s game if they already own last year’s. The handful of new features that appear could have been a stellar DLC, rather than a new game. Still, if you are among those hardcore fans who look forward to the annual offering, this will probably satiate you. For everyone else, it will be a matter of patience. Lots and lots of patience.
Score: 8 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 using a copy provided by the publisher)