So, EA Sports is back with yet another edition of their long running golf franchise. There are surely two things that fans have been asking for for years in the Tiger Woods franchise. First is to play as a virtual Phil Mickelson, and the second is to play at Augusta National.
Luckily, this year one of those dreams has been fulfilled. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 comes complete with the home of the Masters, and the entire game, from the introduction, to the menus, to the special features is decked out to display the beautiful course located in northern Georgia. From the second the game turns on, it sounds like a telecast of the Masters is starting.
Along with the new course, another new feature is called Masters Moments, where you re-live some of the greatest memories from Masters lore, from Tiger Woods' miracle chip-in in 2005 to Gene Sarazen's double eagle in 1935. If you can perfectly replicate all of these moments, you'll receive an automatic bid to the Masters tournament once you reach the PGA tour in career mode.
Speaking of Career mode, it has been fleshed out and expanded wonderfully. This year's edition now includes an Amateur Tour, the Nationwide Tour, Q-School, and finally, the PGA tour. This adds a wonderful layer of depth to the game, and it really makes it feel like you're working your way up from the bottom, as opposed to just starting and winning on the PGA tour right out of the gate. In addition to the events, there are also challenge and sponsor events each week. Challenge events consist of matching you against a PGA/LPGA Tour player in one of the game's various modes, such as Match Play, Skins, or Battle Golf. If you win, you earn an enormous amount of XP. Sponsor events have you play a few holes in order to accomplish certain goals, such as minimizing your amount of putts or hitting all the greens in regulation. Doing so will unlock certain items or gear from that sponsor that you can use without having to pay for them.
Your coach from the last two years, Hank Haney, is no longer present in this version, but he is replaced by a very helpful, nameless caddie who will provide you with some advice and at least two options for each shot before you take it. You can choose to take his advice, or you can create a custom shot of your own. If you liked things better the old way, the caddie option can be turned off entirely. For the most part, the advice and shot placements you get from the caddie are rather good, but at times he can lead you astray if you automatically choose his first choice each time. Luckily, your caddie levels up as well as you gain your own XP, so his choices gradually become more reliable and his putt reads improve significantly as your career progresses.
The PS3 version of the game can be played using the Playstation Move controller, and for the most part, the actual mechanics of the golf swing are duplicated beautifully. Slight turns and twists of the motion controller can impart a slight draw or fade on the ball, whereas a strong derivation from the swing plane can result in a very errant shot. Putting in particular can take quite a while to get accustomed to, especially when the tension starts to rise and your putt meter disappears very quickly. There are times when the Move controls don't work as well as they could. For one, there must always be a wireless controller on and functioning. The Navigation controller seems to serve no purpose at all, and the wireless controller only needs to be used for switching clubs if you want to create a custom shot. Unfortunately, you aren't able to slightly alter your caddie's suggestions, either. Instead of simply moving your caddie's suggestion a few feet to the left, you have to create your own custom shot from scratch. The controls for adjusting your shot or lining up your putt can be finicky at first, but after a few rounds they become very intuitive. Though the Move controller can also be used to navigate menus, it is pretty much a disaster, as many of the menu options scroll right/left as well as up/down. It can be gotten used to, but the controls are very sensitive and you're better off using the standard controller to navigate the menus.
Using the Move controls adds a new layer of depth, and it no longer makes the game too easy. It can be a challenge to craft a consistent swing to pull off good shots, and you'll struggle to keep your rounds below par. Once you get the hang of it, however, it's a great feeling of accomplishment when you nail that approach shot within 3 feet or sink that tournament winning putt on the 18th green. To make the game a little easier, the focus system introduced last year remains in effect, allowing you to power boost, improve your accuracy, or use putt preview.
There are other facets of the game that just aren't up to what they could be. Though the commentary team is improved greatly with the addition of Jim Nantz, it is still too bland, and the entire experience feels watered as you're coming down the stretch on a crucial Sunday round. The sense of urgency isn't there, and though the controller shakes a little more and your shot assist meters start vanishing as things tighten up, you end up feeling somewhat diluted when the crowd, celebrations, and commentators all feel uninteresting. Also, for some reason EA chose not to include the Ryder cup again this year, substituting it for the President's Cup. Since the events alternate every two years in real life, it seems that EA may attempt to do the same thing, so perhaps we'll see the Ryder Cup appear again in next year's version.
Despite some disappointing presentation and omission of features from last year's game, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2012 is still the definitive golf simulation on the major consoles. This year, the addition of Augusta National, a new, expanded career mode, and highly improved motion controls are certainly enough to warrant a purchase if you own last year's edition.
Maybe next year the game will be titled: EA Sports PGA Tour 2013: Tiger vs. Phil.