The pressure is on here in Augusta, and our head is spinning. We’ve got a three-foot putt in front of us that appears to be breaking slightly left and strongly downhill. Our caddy is recommending a particular spot to target, but considering the thousands of putts we’ve missed before – partly because of his suggestions – we’re more inclined to go with our gut and ignore him. If we sink this putt here in the middle of Amen Corner, we’re set up beautifully to win The Masters after failing in our two previous attempts. Miss it, and we’re likely doomed to another long season on the Tour before we get back here again.
So it goes in Tiger Woods 12, or, as it could be called, “EA Sports Presents Augusta National and a Whole Bunch of Other Courses that Aren’t Nearly as Important.” The reverence displayed for the ultra-exclusive course that hosts the annual Masters tournament is palpable, as well it should be. The course hasn’t been available to play in any format for many years, and it’s the closest most of us will ever get to experiencing it. EA clearly took its job seriously, too, as each hole is lovingly crafted to a level of detail we’ve never seen. Augusta National feels alive, in a perpetual state of spring.
There are several ways to soak in everything the stately Georgian course has to offer. Our favorite is Tiger at The Masters, where replicating – or besting – each of Tiger’s four Masters wins over the entire four days is the objective. It’s extremely challenging, even with Tiger at the height of his powers. We were also jazzed up to play the historical Masters Moments mode, until we realized you don’t get to step into the shoes of the past greats like Ben Hogan or Arnold Palmer whose feats you’re attempting to match. Instead, our created golfer gets to try them, getting a ton of valuable XP with each success. A few of these Moments feel utterly impossible, though. We assume someone can make Gene Sarazen’s famous double-eagle, but it sure ain’t us.
Our caddy is a welcome addition this year, even if his green-reading is on the questionable side. He makes great recommendations from the tees and approaches, usually giving us several options. If we’re feeling aggressive, he can bust out a risky – but potentially rewarding – suggestion to make it to the green. Naturally, it’s on us to actually pull off the shot. If we’re protecting a lead and don’t want to screw it up, there’s usually a conservative choice too. Even better, the more the two of us play the same course and have some success, the better he gets at his job. It’s win-win.
If you haven’t played a Tiger Woods game recently, chances are you’ll get hooked pretty quickly on the career mode, rebranded this year as Road to The Masters. You move from an Amateur Tour to the Nationwide Tour, then graduate from Q School to get to the PGA Tour. The goal is to make it to The Masters, and it’s not as easy as it may sound to reach that Holy Grail. We didn’t have much trouble making it to The PGA (maybe 6 hours or so), but conquering the pinnacle tournament was wonderfully brutal. Just like the real thing, one or two key mistakes will cost you your shot at immortality. Unfortunately, series vets will likely have a sense of déjà vu. For the most part, Road to The Masters is the same build-a-skill, get-new-gear, win-a-tournament process we’ve already gone through half a dozen times in Tigers past.
What’s more disappointing is that Road to The Masters feels like a missed opportunity. Your career is full of challenges issued by fellow golfers, but they’re simply mute mannequins you play against. We would have loved for one or more of them to stroll into a virtual clubhouse as our avatar laced up his spikes and talked a little trash, giving us some motivation other than XP to beat ‘em. Any kind of storyline would have spiced up the rote “make good shots, get XP, build your skills” process to the point that we would have been compelled to keep moving forward.
It also feels like so much of the focus has been put on getting The Masters just right that the rest of the game suffers. Golfers fail to retrieve their ball from the cup after a made putt, walk through each other’s lines on a regular basis, and even tromp through sandtraps to walk up to the greens if they happen to be in the way – all big no-no’s in the oh-so-buttoned-up rules of golf etiquette. The super-slick presentation also masks an agonizing amount of loading we’re forced to sit through every round between each hole.
The gameplay is a bit uneven, too. Solid controls make getting from tee to green a snap, whether you’re using your own created player or one of the golfers from the uninspiring stable of current professionals. Even when our pro was a newbie, we were constantly drilling drives in the middle of the fairway and nailing approaches onto the green. When our putter came out, though, we were missing the easiest of putts, thanks to an unforgiving mechanic and spotty reads by our caddy. Even when we used all our skill points to build up the putting, each one was an adventure. The number of missed two- and three-foot attempts became something of a joke. It’s almost as if EA made putting much tougher as a make-up for how easy it is to get onto the greens.
We were hoping that the Move controls would help, but they felt loose and over-sensitive. Drives that would normally go long and straight careened into the rough, and putts that we would typically miss by a foot or two went sailing far from their mark. It only took a few rounds for us to long for the standard controller, and we never went back to the Move after that.
Which leads us back to our three-foot putt to go up 3 strokes with 6 holes to play. We decided to ignore our caddy’s suggestion and naturally missed the putt long by a few feet. Ultimately, we tapped in for par what should have been a birdie – the best description we can come up with for Tiger Woods 12.
Apr 4, 2011