Like last year’s Madden 11 and this year’s Fight Night Champion, Tiger Woods 12 commences with a grandstanding and hugely persuasive movie clip that aims to cast a very particular kind of spell over you; it wants you to believe that you’re about to participate in something that has all the drama and suspense of a mega-budget blockbuster thriller. This impeccably rendered miniature movie then segues perfectly into an interactive prologue, which drops you into Tiger Wood’s inimitable loafers as he gears up to tackle the 18th hole of the 2010 Masters Tournament.
It’s replete with (for the first time) the authentic prattle of long-term US TV commentator Jim Nantz, but the process of completing the hole involves play that is almost entirely automated, with your caddy (another new feature) doing nearly everything for you. You basically can’t lose, but this is a brief and rather ingenious opener for series neophytes. The Tiger Woods games have always impressed because they’ve worked as videogames first and slavish representations of the sport second, and giving newcomers a simplified taste of what makes this series so compelling was an extremely shrewd move.
Once that sequence is out of the way though, it’s back to business. The inclusion of caddies is here to be ignored if you’re a hardened disciple, but they do a largely excellent job of not only explaining themselves and their choices, but bringing an acute knowledge of each course to the table before you take each shot. They serve to make the game much easier, no question, but oddly enough this doesn’t detract from the overall experience, and feels precisely as it should do; like bicycle stabilisers. People who have been here before wouldn’t dream of using them, but for those that choose to, the overall excitement of each situation is dulled far less than you may have thought. Consequently though, caddies look to be strictly for casual players.
For the faithful (who won’t need much prompting to issue caddies with their marching orders) last year’s two best innovations remain; the superlative dynamic True Aim system, and the Focus meter. The former is still a hardcore player’s dream, allowing you to see only what your avatar can see, it forces you to rely solely on your smarts. The latter puts a cap on the amount of assistance that you can utilise, depleting every time you use accuracy and power boosts. The much-touted inclusion of the Masters tournament (finally) means that two of the most famous courses in history are here – the Augusta National and the Augusta Par 3. And the former (in particular) is rendered in all of its nightmarishly complicated glory.
The incorporation of a series of mini-games called Masters Moments is a very nice touch too; in them, you’re asked to pedantically replicate the outcomes of nine bite-sized moments from contemporary golf’s most renowned set-pieces. In many cases these only involve making a handful of shots (if that) but you can also play through the entirety of all four of Tiger Woods’ sensational victories at the Masters, and attempt to match (or better) his score. All of the Masters Moments, when perfected, give you access to a short video clip about each scenario. They’re nothing ground-breaking, but are nonetheless exceptionally well edited and implemented, and a real boon for true fans of the sport.
There are a few less courses than we would have liked to see on the disc (although a few more will be available shortly as DLC) but the overall package is considerably slicker than past iterations, and the coercive new Road to the Masters campaign mode represents an exceptionally pleasant shift towards something approaching a breezy RPG. New ‘Pressure’ moments that occur during the final strokes of later tournaments– in which your HUD dissipates and the soundtrack is filled by the sound of your heartbeat – are another fine new flourish, the effects of which can be only be overcome if you were clever enough to keep hold of a bit of Focus. Somewhat predictably, this is quite probably the best Tiger Woods game yet released.
Watch the Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters trailer here: