With PGA Tour 09 the Tiger Woods series has hit its fourth iteration on the current generation of consoles, and you can feel that EA is really struggling for those big new features that can justify this year's upgrade. Performance coach? Club tuner? Simultaneous online play? As we'll see, these aren't exactly poor inclusions, but are they really the kind of killer features that make you think “Blimey, I've got to get me some of that!” Probably not. What should is that, through a wide range of tweaks and a slight shift of focus, EA has finally made Tiger Woods the current generation golf game that it should have been two or three years ago. I know “It's just better, trust us” or “We've erased the mistakes we made last time around” don't make for such appealing back-of-the-box blurb, but this really is the major selling point.
You see, while Tiger Woods 08 was good it left us with a large shopping list of potential improvements. The biggest issue was the way the game handled player skills in the central My Career mode, saddling you with an utterly useless golfer to begin with then practically forcing you through the rather gimmicky Tiger Challenge mode if you wanted any chance to improve. What's more, the game was visually unimpressive. Sure, some small children were frightened by the Uncanny Valley Tiger of Tiger Woods 06, but at least it looked like the series was moving forwards into the HD future. With Tiger Woods 08, it seemed firmly stuck, as if EA had botched together assets from HD and non-HD versions of Tiger then tried to patch it all up with some ropey lighting. All those disparate onscreen elements never seemed to belong together.
Tiger Woods 09 looks much better. EA seems to have fixed the models, the textures and the lighting so that it all meshes together as it should, and the improved water effects and touches like the breaking waves on the shoreline links courses make the game easily more impressive from a graphical standpoint. Sadly, it's still not in the same league for character or environmental detail as Sony's Everybody's Golf: World Tour on the PS3, but at least it only looks slightly dated – and that's mostly thanks to the ropey crowd animations and some dubious tree textures.