Thanks to a complete lack of competition it’s a little difficult to sum up whether anybody should purchase each passing new Tiger Woods game, and EA Sports’ ethos of bolting on a couple of new features to complement a general graphical polish holds true of 11. If you’re a series stalwart, what I can say is that all of the new additions are largely successful this time around, and if you’re a new player, Tiger is likely to wow you with a high quality bar originally set long ago on previous-generation systems.
To begin with, EA’s core golfing engine remains largely untouched. Ball physics, golfer detail, lighting, course detail, swing mechanics, spin, approach and contact all remain the same as previous years, which is to say a realistic and fun representation of the sport as a whole. There are a few kinks in the way the ball interacts with certain types of greenery, and you get the feeling that golfer animation and the camera system will need an overhaul in the next few years to avoid becoming completely stale, but the current presentation works, and works well.
Peripheral elements also remain familiar. The excellent simultaneous online play makes a return, speeding up the process of golfing with friends as you all take your shot at the same time as microphone cursing and ball trails fly with gusto. Gamernet litters each hole with player-set challenges and the create-a-golfer system is as overwhelmingly detailed as ever, whilst GameFace returns with some of the more obvious kinks ironed out, leading to a few less frankensteinian monsters prowling the otherwise beautifully-lit fairways. The PGA tour roster is well represented, and the career as a whole is deep and involving if you have the time to spare.
As for the new stuff, perhaps the most striking addition is an overhaul to player progression that EA is simply labelling XP. As you may have guessed, this is a straight-up experience system that rewards your created golfer no matter which game mode you’re currently in. Land a shot close to the hole, that’s 100XP, hit the fairway, that’s 25, invite your friends to Tiger Woods 11, that’s another 25, etc. In practice, bringing your golfer up to speed is definitely a little quicker using this system than the previous money-based stat-purchasing, and provides more of an incentive to explore the various challenges and tournaments, such as the brand-new Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor.
‘Focus’ is also a well-considered addition, subtly increasing difficulty and promoting a tactical element to the game for the first time. Every special skill – from the notorious putt preview through to adding spin, power and accuracy – now comes at the cost of a little focus power, which can only be renewed when playing regular, no-assist shots. Do you use your remaining few dregs to boost up to the edge of the green on the 18th, or should you save them for the tricky putt that follows? It’s a fine way to remove the effective ‘cheat mode’ that most players found themselves falling back on in previous iterations, and brings down the total of superb shots to a rarity that actually makes them special again.
Carrying on further down the realism track, EA is also touting its new True-Aim system as a way to experience golf as the professionals do. In essence, True-Aim strips away all facets of cinematic presentation and presents an over-the-shoulder view with no aiming marker and only a rough GPS yardage reading to judge distance. As in real life, you work out your distance, pick your club, and swing away; but also as with real life, it’s bloody difficult. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the inclusion of True-Aim as a method for seasoned players to approach the game from a fresh perspective, but after the novelty wore off, I quickly realised that recreating my own real-life shocking par 3 performances was best left to the stuff of nightmares.
There are a myriad other reasons to get excited about Tiger, but as they have all been covered in the past, I’d suggest reading through reviews of 10 and ‘09 if you’re a newcomer hankering for more information. As it stands, seasoned players will probably scrape just enough out of the focus meter, XP, Ryder Cup and True-Aim to make it a worthwhile cheap purchase, and as for everybody else, Tiger Woods 11 is undoubtedly the finest golf game of this or any other generation, if that’s what you’re looking to give a try. Given that we’re only measuring a solitary yardstick however, that’s almost default praise.