Golf games are the perfect example of why video games exist – who has the money or time to put pants on and spend half a day hitting a ball into sand and trees? EA saw an opportunity to save people from the unreasonable fees of golf by making its first golf simulator in 1998, and since then it has seen a multitude of improvements, some of which have made the series more popular, while others disappear in short order. The series is now at its 16th iteration: Is it the well-oiled machine that it intends to be?
The campaign in Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 14 is where you’re likely to go after spending a couple minutes meditating to the main menu’s tranquil music. Before you can play you’ll have to create a character. Although just about everything can be defined for your custom golfer, from head size to testosterone levels, you’ll have to settle with a limited wardrobe until you increase in levels. One improvement made is being able to tweak the golfer swing style for your character, from shot shape to shot type. The selections made have ramifications on the greens, both good and bad, and add a sense of individuality to your custom golfer.
You begin by competing in small, amateur tournaments and must progress through the same process as real golf pros, eventually earning your PGA TOUR card and competing against the likes of famous golfers such as Rory McIlroy and even Tiger Woods himself. As you advance through the various stages and dabble with success, you’ll be treated to increasingly more professional settings. The amateur level carries the same flavor as a local broadcast, while the professional circuit provides realistic commentary and authentic, television style menus.
The road to the big leagues isn’t easy, though. A tutorial system—if you can even call it that—is provided when you first boot the game, but it doesn’t do much in the way of introducing some of the most important mechanics. It’ll teach you how to swing, and how to address spin, but there’s no explanation for lie, putting, or slope. Consequently, if you’re new you’ll have to learn the hard way: by losing in tournaments.
To help muffle some of the redundancy involved, there are rewards to be earned. After each round you’ll earn experience to increase your skills (putting, driving, accuracy, etc.), coins, clothing, and clubs. Placing points in the various skills has a profound impact on your ability to consistently score birdies and pars, so it’s exciting to finish a tournament and allocate the points where you feel will improve your game the most. Clothing and clubs are purely visual (outside of a few clubs which trade stats) but nothing beats going from looking like a cookie-cutter golf newbie to looking the part of a seasoned professional.
The caddy has been removed in Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 14, which is probably the result of EA Tiburon giving up on trying to make it a useful system. Nonetheless, it’s up to you to pick your shots, now. The swing system is the same as it was last year. You pull your analog stick back and then flick it forward. It sounds simple but it takes a lot of practice to hit well consistently; in other words, it simulates the delicacy of golf. For those inclined, there’s a new difficulty setting this year called Simulation. As its name implies, it punishes you to the highest degree and therefore is an attraction only for the daring.
Legends of the Majors is as refined as ever with some of the best golf moments remade in virtual form. Each moment has a primary objective which is difficult to recreate, as well as an easier objective for the faint of heart. The moments are made even more authentic through visual filters, and classic flavor. Golf fans will be enamored by the amount of detail put into each moment. This mode alone can be a primary attraction where fans spend 10 or more hours of their time.
Playing online is a fulfilled experience with up to 24 players supported. A fully-functional chat system keeps you connected with friends at all times, and you’ll even see live stats during both singleplayer and multiplayer loading screens. Outside of the larger player cap it’s still the same competitive outlet as in previous years. There are custom games, competitive lobbies, and plenty of options to show off your finger-flicking skills.
The visuals haven’t been treated with the makeover that the series is in need of. The courses and character models are reminiscent of games from earlier in the generation. On the plus side, the menus are more attractive and functional, but long and frequent loading times bring that down. Jim Nantz and David Feherty also bring the genuine presentation of golf to the greens, but it is frequently off the mark. For example, while attempting a putt for a demoralizing bogey Feherty will ecstatically mention that you’re going for a game-changing birdie. When you do nail a huge shot, such as an eagle, you’ll be rewarded with some half-hearted golf claps. EA should really take a hint from Hot Shots Golf with its spectacular moments and saved replays.
There are several new courses, such as Mission Hills and Oak Hill Country Club, and over a dozen of them are optional DLC (yes, they’re available at launch). The Historic Edition, which costs an additional $10 at retail, includes six courses, one of which is the famous 1934 version of Augusta National. The content included in the game is staggering, and a direct result of the series having yearly releases. Simply playing all of the courses in Career mode and trying out each Legends of the Majors challenges can take upward of 30 hours of your time.
Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 14 continues to be chiseled year after year. This time around it targets golf fans with its authentic, free-form gameplay. Those willing to endure a sharp learning curve are treated to the reward of feeling like a virtual golf pro. This year doesn’t bring the revamped title that the series is craving, but for now it’s enough to offer the most realistic golf experience on the market. To many, that’s enough to warrant the price of admission.