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Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 Review

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £39.45

It’s a sobering thought that we’re already on our third Tiger Woods on the Xbox 360 – I guess we’re way past the point where we can talk about Microsoft’s breakdown-prone box as a next-generation console, and also past the point where we can get too excited about the usual annual franchise updates. Tiger Woods 06 bought the franchise into the HD era, but as several courses and plenty of content had gone missing in the transition from the PS2 and PC versions, it felt like a bit of a rush-job.


What’s more, it bought us one of the most terrifying examples of the ‘uncanny valley’ yet seen in a video game, with a digital Tiger seemingly straight out of the Stepford labs. Tiger Woods 07 made good some of the deficit by cramming in more courses and game modes, while also warming up our virtual champ. The problem is that it didn’t do much more. We’re still left wanting a game that could truly take golf somewhere new.


Well, frankly, anyone expecting to see any vast improvements in Tiger Woods 08 is in for a big disappointment, particularly when it comes to visuals. In the interval between Tigers, the likes of Gears of War, GRAW2 and Bioshock have redefined what we should expect from HD-era games, yet the 08 update seems stuck in a rut. True, there are better, more realistic textures on the greens, and the picture-in-picture nonsense seems to have been toned down. There are some nice atmospheric effects and depth-of-field blurs being thrown around, and the long grass doesn’t fade in so obviously anymore.


Yet there are still many areas where the game could really do with some attention. The lighting on the courses, skin and clothes seems oddly flat, the trees look distinctly artificial, and there’s a sense that all the different components in the scene – the players, the grass, the tress, the crowd – still don’t quite mesh into one coherent whole. Don’t get me wrong: this is still the best-looking golf game around by some margin. It’s just that other genres are training us to expect a whole lot more.


In fact, the biggest graphical enhancement isn’t anything to do with the engine or the art, but the introduction of the Photo Game Face feature. At last, you don’t have to play Tiger or some PGA stalwart, or use the Game Face feature to create some vague, idealised facsimile of you; you can get your own face in the game and walk the uncanny valley in your own weathered skin. Simply, upload a front shot and a side shot to EA’s website or connect a USB camera – Microsoft’s Live Vision camera in the 360 version – then position a small number of markers, and after twenty minutes or so of cogitation the game spits out a reasonable likeness, ready for tweaking.


The results are surprisingly good, particularly with a little work on the hair and facial structure, even if I seemed unable to transform my neck from a weird olive-green colour to the pasty flesh-tone it actually is. The oddest thing about the whole thing is that you can then watch yourself performing the various angry tantrums and smug celebrations in-game, accompanied by an annoying American voice that only makes the whole experience more eerie.

The results are surprisingly good, particularly with a little work on the hair and facial structure, even if I seemed unable to transform my neck from a weird olive-green colour to the pasty flesh-tone it actually is. The oddest thing about the whole thing is that you can then watch yourself performing the various angry tantrums and smug celebrations in-game, accompanied by an annoying American voice that only makes the whole experience more eerie.


Still, while the new Tiger doesn’t look vastly different from the old one, quite a lot of work has been done on the structure and – more importantly – the controls. The tutorial-led approach of 07 has disappeared, and the game now hits you straight up with the Play Now option and a bewildering list of game-modes, including the basic career mode, the various play modes, arcade and mini-game options and the new online features (which we’ll come back to later). The career mode is, of course, where most of us will be spending most of our time. Once again the idea is to train a novice golfer, ready to take part in PGA tournaments around the world.


The main issue most players are going to find here is that, starting off, you’re simply not good enough to compete on any kind of level pegging. This isn’t just a lack of skill on your part; until you have practiced and worked on your player attributes – shot power, accuracy, putting and the rest – your on-screen self is roughly as much use as my real self would be on a Pro course. You won’t be able to hit the ball as reliably and accurately, or with as much distance, as you will need to keep up with the Pros. You can steadily beef up your skills by trailing behind for a few tournaments in an ignominious fashion, but it’s less depressing to give up on the cups until you’re ready and start playing the Tiger Challenge mode instead.


This has undergone major changes from last time. In Tiger 07, you just played a simple matchplay ladder against a selection of Pros until you were ready to face the Tiger himself. In Tiger 08, the challenges are arranged in a honeycomb of connected events. For the most part, these events offer short one to four hole missions designed to test you in a range of skills. One minute you may be striving to whack the biggest drive, the next you’re engaged in a series of quick chip-and-putt challenges that push your short game that bit farther. You can even take a few holes from Wayne Rooney, moonlighting here with a half-decent long-game and a nasty habit of miraculous recoveries.


This is a big improvement. The quickfire approach and a choice of routes through the grid mean you’re never stuck doing any one thing for too long, and as a result the Tiger Challenge offers an accessible and engaging way into the game. This is good news, because if any game was in need of an accessible way in, Tiger 08 is it.

Now, EA has made several changes to the controls, and some of them are very sensible. The return of a classic three-click swing option will be music to the ears of veteran video-game golfers, some of whom have never been won over by the more intuitive and natural analogue swing method. You can now choose to draw and fade shots while aiming, and this does make a difference when you face a foreboding dog-leg or a menacing patch of water to the left or right of a skinny-looking fairway.


Best of all, you get a once-per-shot chance to see a preview of the line of your next putt, based on the angle and maximum power of your current selected stroke. It’s not available in the highest difficulty mode, and some players are going to call it cheating, but for me it makes the game more enjoyable as a whole. Time and time again in previous Tigers I’ve found it impossible to read the greens, or been surprised by a putt that goes horribly wrong. The preview allows you to make a final, last-minute change to your stroke, and takes an awful lot of on-the-green misery out of the game.


Sadly, what EA Sports giveth with one hand, it taketh away with the other. For one thing, the sensitivity of the analogue swing seems to have been tampered with, making it easier to fluff a long-distance drive or cheeky chip, and making the results more disastrous when that happens. Combine this with the way that low skills affect distance and accuracy, and you have a game that some newcomers – and even some old hands – will find hard to get a grip on.


Combine this with the new confidence system, which effectively tracks your performance on different kinds of shot, then makes it easier to pull off shots you do well on, and harder to pull off the shots you regularly fail on, and you have a recipe for a lot of off-the-green misery. Bizarrely, we have a system here that, as far as I can see, makes the life of bad players harder and the life of good players easier. What’s more, the game seems peculiarly tight on what constitutes out of bounds, meaning one bad shot can rapidly transform into a nightmare.


On the upside, once you get the hang of all this and get your confidence moving in the right direction, the 08 update has more than ever before to keep keen players swinging for months on end. Going from 12 to 16 courses is clearly a good thing, even if it means losing Turnberry; 07’s stormy, rugged coastal course that made such a nice contrast to all the dominant green grass and sunshine. There’s a fun new play mode – Bingo, Bango, Bongo – and simply more to see and do than ever before.

Best of all, EA has finally invested in online and user-generated content. As well as multiplayer action on Xbox Live, players can now save particularly impressive holes or drives as clips and post them online as challenges for other players to compete against. Masses have already been uploaded, and EA has put a few of its own online to keep rookies or experts interested. If you want something more long-lasting, there are even complete, recorded nine-hole games you can play against another player. It’s all quite brilliantly done, even if a few of the challenges are either plain stupid or require you to repeat someone else’s once-in-a-lifetime, gobsmacking fluke of a shot.


All in all, although this still isn’t quite the HD Tiger we were hoping for, taken as a whole it is a big step in the right direction. Though the series hasn’t moved on visually and some of the control tweaks seem designed to antagonise weaker players, Tiger 08 isn’t short of innovation despite the lack of a much needed golfing equivalent to Pro Evolution to keep the series on its toes.


That said this is a bigger, richer, better structured game than its predecessor, and one with more depth and long-term lasting value. The less committed virtual golfer can stick happily with the 07 version, and some newcomers might want to save a little stress and money by picking up the old Tiger at a bargain-basement price. For serious video-game golfers, however, the update is by far the better bet. Tiger 08 might take some getting used to, but it’s still the best version of the best golf game in town.


”’Verdict”’


This year’s Tiger scrapes victory by a whisker, but with so little real competition that’s enough to be the best of the best. Serious video-game golfers should look no further.

Trusted Score


Features

PEGI Rating 3+
Genre Sports
Player(s) 4
Online Multiplayer With Online Multiplayer

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