EA Sports' Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 couldn't be releasing at a better time. Woods just won his second consecutive tournament, and he has regained the No. 1 world ranking for the first time in 29 months (Washington Post).
His name is as hot as ever, and the game that has bared his likeness since 1999 was released Tuesday in stores. It had been available for early access since Friday for subscribers to EA Season Ticket with only a few online components disabled.
I've been playing the game since the online version was available, and I'd have to say I've come away impressed. The qualities we loved in the series are still there, and there are some new features worth discussing.
Let's take a closer look at what Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 offers us on the virtual links.
Graphics and Animation
Player Model Improvements
In terms of player models, many of the likenesses are better than the ones from Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13. It could be improved lighting, but the players and the area surrounding them just looks sharper.
It's not a change that looks as if you've jumped to the next level of gaming consoles, but it is noticeable and a moderate plus for the game overall.
Varying Weather Conditions and Day Progression
The game captures the look of just about any weather condition ranging from dreary days that make you feel like a storm chaser to afternoons that look like a brochure for a golf resort.
The internal clock also provides day progression and even Night Golf—which is actually a thing.
Widespread Eye Candy
In addition to the player models, the courses look beautiful, but then again, this has been a constant in the series. All things considered, it is the prettiest version in the franchise's history.
Tiger Looks a Little Weird
From a visual standpoint, there isn't much to criticize. If I'm singling out one minor issue it would be in the re-creation of Tiger himself. Facially, he isn't rendered quite as accurately as I think he should be.
His shoulders are too narrow, and something in his face is slightly off. That said, it isn't a clear miss, and this should be looked at as a slight scratch on the hood of a Rolls-Royce.
It isn't significant enough to keep you from showing it off.
Bottom Line—9 out of 10
Gameplay and Realism
Customizing Swing Styles
In this year's version of the game, gamers can customize their created player's swing. You can change the impact to generate high-arcing shots with varying trajectories.
This adds a nice wrinkle to the gameplay and gives gamers even more control over the most important aspect of the game.
Tools, Tools, Tools
From the customizable swing, to the swing system itself, Tiger Woods 14 gives you every tool you need to perform well on the virtual links.
But the game appropriately takes away the training wheels as you ascend in difficulty, and when you play the tougher courses.
For example, the ability to adjust spin mid-flight is disabled in the Masters. This is exactly the way difficulty progression should be managed, and it adds to the overall impact of playing in big events.
Addictive Gameplay and Kinect Support
You may find yourself playing round after round of Tiger Woods 14. The gameplay is addictive and fast-paced enough without losing the simulation value.
The Kinect support is top-notch. It is responsive and the game almost assumes you're going to play with the device from the moment you pop the game in for the first time.
While it still may not be the preferred way to play for some gamers, it shows how much EA Sports believes in the way their product works with Kinect.
There isn't anything negative from a gameplay standpoint worth mentioning. I'm not sure how this aspect of the game can get much better.
Bottom Line—10 out of 10
Sound and Presentation
Every year there's a new music set for each sports video game, and this year Tiger Woods 14 takes an interesting route.
From a presentation standpoint, there were efforts to add more TV-style and immersive presentation. The game features introductions for real-life tournaments and players with stat updates from round-to-round.
Overlays and Cinema Shots
I really appreciate the new overlays and stats for players mid-round. When you're playing in a tournament, it actually helps with presentation to see the shots of the player you're grouped with.
Of course you can skip these moments, but I love the effort to emulate the broadcast feel.
The music is very weird.
It goes from a dramatic, orchestra-like theme that is indicative of a triumph in an inspirational movie to something that sounds like Portishead.
Don't get me wrong, I love Portishead, but if you listen to too much of that, you'll start to feel angry or sad for no apparent reason.
Overall, the music lacks direction and identity.
The commentary is OK at best, but some of the comments lack connection to the overall picture. It at time seems disconnected to previous shots or your player's current placement in the tournament.
Bottom Line—7 out of 10
Modes and Options
Gamers can compete in six different eras of the sport, all rendered with a camera lens, attire and equipment that captures the era. You play as and battle legends to create your own place amongst the best of all time.
This mode allows you to play against anyone from around the world. You can chat with them as you play, and every player's shot arcs appear on the screen.
You can jump into the final round of any tournament with varying situations in this mode. It functions as a situational game mode, only a bit deeper.
This feature returns to the series, but this year you can have up to 100 members. You can also chat with up 10 members at once, gain loyalty bonuses and create tournaments with up to 24 of your members involved.
You can earn these pins while you play, use coins to buy pin packs, use pins to boost your golfer and equip up to three boost pins per round.
This works as an extra-added incentive during gameplay in any mode.
The normal career mode has returned, but with a few enhancements. You can now move from the USGA ranks, up through Web.com Q-School, Web.com Tour and on to the PGA Tour.
The game simulates the PGA's new qualifying process.
In addition to that, Tiger Woods 14 also includes an LPGA career mode. For the first time, gamers can create a female golfer to climb her way through the rigors of the LPGA tour.
New Courses and New Golfers
There are seven new courses in the series this year.
- Augusta National Golf Club 1932 (only available in the Masters Edition)
- Mission Hills Country Club
- Muirfield Village
- Oak Hill Country Club
- Pinehurst No. 2 Restored
- Royal Troon Golf Club
- TPC Louisiana
In addition to the new courses, there are also eight new legends included, and 12 new golfers in all.
(Legends are marked with an asterisk)
- Arnold Palmer*
- Lee Trevino*
- Jack Nicklaus*
- Ben Hogan*
- Bobby Jones*
- Seve Ballesteros*
- Gary Player*
- Keegan Bradley
- Bud Cauley
- Lexi Thompson
- Stacy Lewis
- Sam Snead
There is so much to like about most of the new modes. But the one that really sticks out for me is Connected Tournaments.
Golf is the perfect sport to play online in a video game, and Tiger Woods 14 captures every thing that potentially makes the experience a blast.
The option to chat with gamers and to see their streaming shot arcs on the screen is awesome.
It feels like you're in a real tournament. This is one of the best online modes I've played in a sports game.
The Legends mode offers a nice single player experience and ode to yesteryear. Playing with an old-time look is attractive to me because I'm one that appreciates nostalgia in sports.
The unlocking of the players and courses is a nice incentive to play through the mode as well.
I didn't bother much with the Country Club option in last year's version, but the improvements make the mode a bit more attractive this year. Setting up tournaments with up to 24 people in your club has some really cool possibilities.
That in itself is worth giving the mode a spin—if you can round up that many active members.
I love the career modes.
I applaud EA for including the LPGA mode, and the PGA career mode has various layers to keep you interested. The create-a-player tool is detailed and offers the opportunity to use photo game face.
It's cool that the game will actually take a snap shot of your face using the Kinect. It's just reinforcing the series' confidence in its Kinect functionality. You're able to customize your player in just about any way you want.
"Bad" may be a strong word here, but I really wish you could create and manage more than four golfers on one profile. It would also be nice if you could include all of your created golfers in your career mode experience.
If you want to play with, or include some golfers from the past or present into your play, that aren't included in the game, being limited to four slots shuts down the dream.
Bottom Line—9 out of 10
This is just a very good game. It has a great balance of fun, simulation and depth.
The gameplay hasn't been tweaked to a point that creates unnecessary difficulty, and that makes it attractive to hardcore gamers and folks that just pick up the sticks once in a while.
If you don't own a golf video game, this is the one you want to get. If you have purchased previous versions of the series, this is still worth checking out.
For a golf series, that's truly saying something.
Bottom Line—8.75 out of 10