Review: ‘Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online’

OK, I’ll admit it. Something my friends already know: Over the past few months, through all the hydrants, FHPs and TMZs, SNL skits and various twists, a large part of me was fixated only on one question:

Are we going to lose the video game or not?

So for someone who still has trouble clicking away that years-old interactive Orbitz mini-golf pop-up ad, EA Sports’ recent announcement to (please excuse the following pun) stay the course with the “Tiger Woods PGA Tour” brand and its new batch of games – including “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2011” for multiple platforms (due out around the U.S. Open in June) and the new “Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online,” which is in free open beta testing – came with some relief.

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Now whether or not you agree with EA Sports’ decision to keep Woods’ name on the game is about as important to me as what Steve Stricker’s college roommate’s hairdresser’s cousin had for lunch last Wednesday.

They could have called the new console game “Kent Jones PGA Tour 2011,” for all I care. Just keep improving the experience of playing Pebble Beach (pictured, right) in my PJs and in my living room on Sunday mornings every year and there won’t be a problem.

(As a quick aside, perhaps my favorite moment in all this Eldrickery came late last November, when I heard a sports-radio caller lamenting his wife’s proclamation that this Christmas, she would not buy him the “Tiger Woods PGA Tour” video game, which had become a holiday tradition in their household.)

Which brings us back to the new “Tiger Woods Online,” a pretty swell alternative for those forced to hide their obsession from significant others.

It’s fun for everybody, actually, whether you work for Apple and already have an iPad or not.

“Tiger Woods Online” isn’t the first online-based golf experience (see the World Golf Tour, which I also have had some fun playing, and ShotOnline), but clearly, it’s already the leader in the clubhouse. (It’s no secret that EA Sports, like Woods, doesn’t seem to lose too often in these types of arenas.)

Here’s why:

Quite simply, it’s simple. “Tiger Woods Online” runs right in your browser, and – worst-case – after only a small and speedy one-time download. There is no CD, or any other physical hardware, and you won’t be able to buy that type of version in any store.

Oh, what crazy times these are.

(EA Sports has yet to release pricing information or the full release date, though it has said the game will be “offered through a multi-tiered subscription in early 2010.” Speculation that a basic, free-to-play model will also remain available is unconfirmed, so make sure you at least test it now while it’s still free.)

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• Without making any Ben Hogan swing or Augusta National green speed references, it’s just as smooth, too. And quite amazingly.

When I first heard of this game, I was expecting a pretty basic, somewhat choppy experience, which, in retrospect, probably wasn’t fair because I rarely play any video games online or on the computer, and don’t have a fair grasp of the quality that is being presented.

But what you get as far as gameplay and graphics with “Tiger Woods Online” is probably better than “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2006(ish)” on XBOX or PlayStation2 – a really eye-pleasing and fluid experience – which gamers know is a big compliment.

It’s also pretty speedy going from hole to hole and shot to shot, and incorporates my favorite feature from the console version: You can hold the spacebar to speed up the shot immediately after you hit it.

The only time I had a hiccup problem with the game (on a standard laptop/wireless Internet connection) was when I had five browsers open at once, which is about as smart as carrying five 4-irons in your bag.

Good news for cubicle procrastinators, however: It works perfectly fine with two browsers open, and even three. (Just close the “dancing baby alligator dressed as keanu reeves” video you are watching on YouTube first.)

And get this: Executive producer Mike Taramykin also has said that they have tested the game in an airplane, with no problems.

Extra peanuts, please.

• Like your relationship with your putter, the game is as easy or as difficult as you want to make it.

Take, for example, the two swing styles users can choose from: “3-Click” and “TrueSwing.” The “3-click” swing meter has been around forever, as far back in my mind as the game “Golf” on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. It allows minimal amount of focus (if you so desire) by clicking either the spacebar or the mouse button, and lets you comfortably sail through 18 holes at lunch while still holding your sandwich in one hand.

On the other hand, the “TrueSwing” is much more intricate, and takes after the joystick swings you find with the “Tiger Woods PGA Tour” games on XBOX 360 and PS3. With “TrueSwing,” a user pulls the mouse back to the desired power, then pushes forward to swing through the ball.

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Of course, whether or not you pay attention to other factors such as wind, weather, ball spin, co-workers stopping by your cubicle for important meetings, etc., is up to you and how much you care about your final score.

(But please note: You can suspend and continue a round at any point, even if you close your browser accidentally, which is great for those “emergency” situations.)

The game also has extensive tournament and community features (which should come as no surprise, considering the platform), including a direct relationship with Facebook, which leads to a bunch of options when it comes to groups of friends – or even strangers.

(And please, if you’re going to brag about and post your 10-under 62s to your Facebook page, then don’t “forget” to post your 77s when they happen, either – sandbagger.)

It’s great for co-workers, too, that is if you don’t want to have a company next year.

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