The makers of the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series, and in reality, all of the EA Sports properties’ designers, have an unenviable job: after creating one of the most acclaimed and realistic sporting experiences on home consoles, they’re annually tasked with recreating, tweaking, and actually improving on a model that repeatedly earns top honors. Their tinkering ranges from wildly effective (e.g., the advent of the True Aim mode in last year’s edition) to inconsequential but rarely do the designers’ additions detract from the game the way that they do in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters.
The most notable change to this year’s edition — aside from Tiger’s ostensible removal from the game’s cover — is your ever present caddie. Born of discussions with PGA pros, the addition of your personal caddie was an attempt to add realism to the on-course experience. Unfortunately, the addition of caddie’s shot suggestions and club choices doesn’t feel as realistic as it does a constant digital crutch. Not that the caddie is always correct, making the game significantly easier — in fact, your caddie often suggests low-risk, low-reward shots — but much of what the caddie offers detracts from the experience of playing the game. What’s the point in playing Tiger Woods if there’s someone telling what shots to take? Furthermore, the addition slows down the pace of play for experienced gamers who simply want to advance their careers and finish rounds.
Another important change in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters was the removal of the True Aim feature that was introduced in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11. In the True Aim mode, players were no longer afforded the generous landing circles for shot previews and were forced to play the game with their intuition. The addition of the caddie would be beneficial to this mode in a way that the traditional settings can’t take advantage of; club and shot suggestions make sense without the help of the shot-circle crutch.
Most headlines surrounding The Masters, however, are focused on the inclusion of the infamous Augusta National, a legendary course that most golfers dream of playing. That, in addition to five other new courses, is the real reason to purchase this year’s edition. Unfortunately, one of the things that the Tiger Woods series has always failed to capitalize on is the ability to immerse players in each course. As I wrote in my review of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, playing the game is comparable to complex mathematics equations: once you factor in wind, swing speed, and other environmental factors, you usually come out with the right answer. And in that regard, the addition of Augusta National, while aesthetically pleasing, is little more than another set of puzzles to be solved. With the removal of True Aim — a system that should not be underestimated for its difficulty, primarily because of a loss of the game’s omniscient perspective — players aren’t afforded any opportunities to truly experience the courses, making Augusta National a fairly generic electronic walkthrough, rather than a voyeuristic but livable experience.
Another disappointing feature is the lack of any graphical or detailing upgrade. While the high-definition graphics are probably difficult to improve upon, that the spectators still behave in unison (e.g., all of them clap simultaneously when you make a good shot) feels like a lack of effort. Though minor, for a game that prides itself on realism, having a mob of people act perfectly in sync is an unacceptable detail that has now persisted through several of the game’s iterations. If the designers are not going to add significantly more courses or other graphical upgrades, this is something that needs to be remedied.
There were a few positive strides taken on The Masters. First is the introduction of sponsors. In previous editions, players earned money by winning tournaments in order to purchase new clubs. In this title, as your character progresses and achieves certain goals, (s)he is offered new sponsorships that include name brand lines of clubs for free. The other, subtler positive is the ability to tweak the AI scoring. For most Tiger Woods players, the game gets to a point when the computer competition is no longer able to keep pace regardless of the difficulty. With the ability to ramp up the AI scoring, however, the game can artificially tighten tournaments by allowing your competition to shoot unrealistic scores (upwards of 30 under par if a competitor is significantly behind). While this detracts from the realism, it increases the playability and longevity of the single-player modes.
Despite all of these complaints, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters is still an incredible game. It’s only when you compare it to its ancestors that the game’s new features and general lack of progress feel stilted and disappointing. For diehard Tiger Woods fans and golfers, the addition of Augusta National is likely worth it, but for the casual player, there’s very little benefit to this year’s issue of the most consistent gaming franchise in recent memory.