In the kitchen a few evenings ago while throwing some dinner together, I was a bit taken with how lovely the birds sounded outside in my backyard, thinking to myself that it was almost as if they were chirping in surround sound.
Of course, I’d only forgotten that I’d left my television on in the middle of a round of EA Sports’ “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2011,” and those sounds were indeed digital.
But that only made sense. Considering the stack of scorecards on top of my fridge, real-life birdies haven’t really been my thing lately.
Which brings us right back to my television, stocked for the first time this year (thanks, Santa) with both the Nintendo Wii and Xbox360 consoles, my personal birdie machines.
I’ve been reviewing the “Tiger Woods PGA Tour” video game series for a while now, but my last few reviews had focused solely on the version for the Wii. (I’ve admitted in the past that the only reason I reentered the gaming world after college and purchased a Wii was because of that commercial in which Tiger Woods walked into a living room full of fans and TV announcers, picked up a Wiimote, and drilled a ball down the middle of the fairway of his television screen.) I just never thought I’d have as much fun sitting on the couch with a handheld controller as standing in front of my television swinging a WiiMote. (I always knew it would take much less effort and look much more stupid, but I was also much more young and stupid.)
After spending the past few days hacking around with the new “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2011” for both consoles, I’m pretty convinced that I enjoy them equally (even if the Wii version is the only one with the extremely entertaining Disc Golf and Mini Golf bonus games).
But for a title that has continually improved and pushed the envelope every year, I should have only expected as much.
The two major differences, graphics and gameplay, are probably the most important topics to address, and we don’t have to waste too many words when it comes to the graphics.
Unlike the Wii, Xbox 360 (just like PlayStation3) is a high-definition console, and makes most games looks great when attached properly to a high-definition television. “Tiger 2011” is no exception, providing a canvas of attractive digital golf courses and various characteristics, including the opportunity to upload your own picture to mold into the face of your personalized golfer. It’s no secret that the Wii sacrifices graphics for gameplay, and “Tiger 2011” for the Wii by no means looks horrible. It’s just a lot tougher to play after you’ve spent a few hours in high definition, watching rain drops ripple realistically off the fairway, a feeling anyone with an HDTV can understand.
As for gameplay, I still think the Wii was made for this game, not the other way around. Last year, “Tiger 2010” was the first game to hit the market that used the new Wii MotionPlus controller attachment, which allowed users a unique and impressive 1:1 swing motion experience. This year, the swing feels even better. After only a few days, I already feel like I can work the ball like Rickie Fowler (who you may have seen in one of the new commercials for this year’s game, even though he is not a character in this year’s version).
I’ve gotten to the point where I’m trying to shape shots around trees that don’t even come into play, just because I feel like I can. It might not always work out, but that’s why they make a reset button, right?
On a serious note, I don’t know how they will improve on the Wii swing next year, because it’s that impressive and challenging. Credit some of that to the new addition of “TrueView,” an optional first-person mode that tries to make gamers feel like they are actually out on the course. During your swing, the screen shows your club, shoes and the ball, as if you were setting up for a real shot. Upon impact, you watch the ball as you would on a real golf course, soaring away and sometimes out of sight. (The Xbox and PS3 versions also have a new “True-Aim” feature based on this idea, that eliminates the aiming circles.)
While I’m still not sure whether I will spend a lot of time using this mode on either version, I appreciate EA taking the gameplay to this level, which might be slightly ahead of its time.
The joystick swing on the Xbox might not feel like a real-life golf swing (unless maybe you’re Jim Furyk), but it makes complete sense and is very close to as challenging as the Wii swing. You can’t lose your focus while swinging on either console, but on the Xbox and PS3 versions you also need to pay attention to a new “Focus” meter that drains as you use some of the game’s classic arcade-style options, such as putt previews, spin and power-ups. It’s an addition I never considered, but appreciate immensely, especially when facing an opponent down the stretch. It just brings more thought to the entire round, and further pushes those long-ago days of shooting 49s out of focus.
The game has been revolutionized in the authenticity department in the last couple years, however, and I couldn’t have been more excited when I heard about this year’s addition of the Ryder Cup, which has been at the center of the game’s ads and marketing.
And it’s a pretty solid addition, even if all the details aren’t there yet, allowing you to hand-pick your team and set your lineups. If you’re playing alone, you can jump around and play in the different matches. Using the online options, which are extensive yet again this year, you could theoretically recruit 23 friends from around the world and play for Samuel Ryder’s digital cup all night.
My only disappointment came when I launched the Ryder Cup on the Xbox version and found the default Ryder Cup teams to look more like Tavistock Cup teams:
• United States: Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, Anthony Kim, Boo Weekley, Camilo Villegas, Chris DiMarco, Vijay Singh, Rocco Mediate, Mike Weir, Stephen Ames, Danny Lee and Paula Creamer.
• Europe: Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Nick Dougherty, Darren Clarke, Colin Montgomerie, Retief Goosen, Adam Scott, Michael Campbell, Suzann Pettersen.
Still, that’s nothing compared to the lackluster commentary that lets me down every year. Having played a lot of EA Sport’s “FIFA 2010” soccer game this year, I have been amazed by the variety, fluidity and authenticity of commentary by Martin Tyler, who you will hear this month on much of ESPN’s World Cup coverage. It’s amazing, really, and light years beyond my expectations. (More than three different people have walked into the room and thought I was watching an actual soccer game.)
On the other hand, the commentary on “Tiger 2011” is choppy and uninspired for yet another year. A game of such high-quality only deserves more attention in that aspect.
The birds sound great, though.