Tiger is back after a two year absence on iOS, is it a smooth silky fairway, or a prickly rough lie?
EA released Tiger Woods PGA Tour on iPhone and iPod Touch back in mid 2009. It gave players a great portable rendition through intuitive touch controls, despite looking pretty poor on the visual front. That’s coming up to two years old now, and not only has the technology come leaps and bounds, but also the expectations of mobile gamers.
First thing you’ll notice when launching a game of PGA Tour 12 is the visual clarity. The first game was a pixellated and muddy mess. Heck, even Tiger didn’t look himself, instead looking more like Morgan Freeman, than the fresh faced womaniser we all know and love/hate. Now however, the game is more in line with what you’d expect on the consoles, in particular that of the Wii version. It’s more high res than that of course, on both iPhone 4 and iPad, however, unlike the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, it lacks wow factor. I attribute this to the lighting, which, apart from the odd shadow cast by trees and flocks of geese, is sorely lacking. Everything looks so bright and washed out, that at times it looks like an old PC game cranked up to maximum resolution. The greens and fairways lack light and shade, and this results in the crisp textures becoming a chessboard of grid-like patterns, and the water a glassey mirror. On the plus side, it runs incredibly smooth, and for a game that prides itself on realism, maybe this is more important than the look and feel, especially when you compare it to the cartoon-like competition with cute rabbits, foxes and deer adorning the greens.
A welcome return of course, are the great controls. They too have had a visual update, but essentially they are exactly the same. Even the ghosting of your fingers’ path is still here too, giving you instant feedback on how well you are tracing your shots. I guess it’s purely a case of ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it!’. For those of you not familiar with the controls, Tiger employs a purely touch based system, as opposed to the usual power meter, a la Let’s Golf. To start a swing you drag your finger down the power meter, to the required power (outlined in percentage bars and marked in yards), to take your shot you then quickly slide your finger back to the top, where you can then slice or fade a shot by curving left or right at the top. A power shot can be pulled off by holding your finger at the bottom (back swing) until the meter glows red, at which point the swing animation exhibits a slow mo to show the power shot, along the lines of a good Jackie Chan stunt filmed at multiple angles. Once your ball is in flight, you can then influence its spin by flicking the ball in the desired direction. These intuitive controls allow for huge amount of precision, and while perfectly accessible, will take a while to master.
New to PGA 12 is iPad support. Sadly it’s not universal. But, if you must choose one version over the other, I’d have to advise picking up the iPad version. The added screen real-estate makes controlling your golfer an absolute joy. And you’ll find the precision even higher. It’s not easier, but you’ll certainly make less mistakes, which in my view is a problem with the cramped iPhone screen, than that of your own skill. As for performance, I tested it on both iPad and iPad 2, and despite running smoother on Pad 2, there are no visual differences.
One area that has taken a step back in my opinion is the sound. The commentary is mind-numbing at times. To keep the size down EA no doubt had to cut back on the amount of samples used for commentary. However, this simply results in way too much repetition, and at times the wrong sample completely. If you are going to have commentary then it really must be all or nothing. And in this case I opted for nothing and turned it off. The crowd noise is worse still. I almost jumped out of my skin when I missed a put, as the crowd screamed in my ear. In contrast to the relaxing atmospheric sounds and the occasional menu music, the voice work is best left set to mute.
The bulk of the game is, as the name suggests, the PGA Tour. A huge calendar based event that takes you across multiple course and holes, and against the best players in the world. Playing this alone will take you weeks on end. And I can quite honestly see only the die-hard fans even attempting that. The majority of players I think will stick to quick games, for which you can play any course and any hole, in both match play or stroke play, and the best part, with up to four human players.
There are eight courses this year, as opposed to the seven of the last game. Gone are the K Club and Fancourt, and instead replaced by newcomers Hazeltine, The Predator and Greenbrier. Old favourites of St Andrews and Pebble beach make a welcome return.
As for the players, well if you are playing the PGA Tour, you can only play as your custom made character, just like the last game. However, if you play the other modes you can play as Tiger Woods (of course), Paula Creamer, Anthony Kim, Paul Casey, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson and Camilo Villegas, as well as the only returning player from the last game, Natalie Gulbis. Really though, these are only skins to play as, offering the same feel as the others even down to the same animations.
Aside to the main modes, there are two new additions to PGA 12 that will no doubt be of interest for both casual and experienced players: The first is the Tiger Challenge, a mode of play you can unlock with your winnings from either PGA play or by completing other challenges. These consist of various games, such as shoot outs, 999, best ball and match play, and you must reach the set objective of that game to win. They are pretty tricky, and will require some practice first in the ‘play now’ mode. But they give you another way to enjoy the game, and adds replay-ablity. The second is Facebook integration. It doesn’t let you play live games with other players, but it does allow you to partake in challenges with friends, such as ‘closest to the pin’. It does of course require your friends to have the game, but it’s a cool way to engaging in some non-local multiplayer even if it is not live.
Overall then, and PGA 12 is certainly a welcome return, but it doesn’t offer as nearly as much as I had hoped. Tiger Challenge and the Facebook integration are strong additions, and the tight controls, particularly on the iPad version are second to none. But, somehow I expected more from EA… more content, more courses, more tightly integrated commentary, and much more in the visuals department (and that’s coming from someone who cherishes gameplay). It’s still the best ‘realistic’ golf game on the system, particularly for golf purists, but is it the most fun and engaging?