Sports games are, more than any other genre, iterative. As I mentioned in last year’s review, the rules of the game don’t change much (if at all), so the challenge developers face is to create a better experience than the previous year. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 is basically a tweaked version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13. Fortunately, most of the changes are beneficial, and it’s still an excellent game.
As in previous years, PGA Tour 14 players can tee off as a real life golfer or create their own. This year, in addition to being able to customize the golfer’s look, swing is also customizable. Players can create a golfer focused on power or control, with a high or low shot trajectory, who favors a straight shot, fade, or draw. Each of the real life golfers in the game has their true swing, so Jack Nicklaus hits with a high trajectory, while Tiger prefers a fade.
The customization adds another layer to the swing mechanics, which are still the best around. Swinging the club is handled with the left stick, and accuracy, backswing, follow-through and tempo will all affect the final shot. It’s natural, challenging and still the closest I’ve ever felt to physically being on the course in a video game. My only complaint was the inability to take practice swings, which would have helped on fade and draw shots.
The putting feels good as well. Last year the putting backswing meter moved very quickly, and it was hard to not overswing. This year, the meter moves at a more reasonable pace, and it makes the short game feel more natural and even. Like swinging with the other clubs, using the putter feels great, and I could feel it immediately when I underswung or pushed a putt off center.
In addition to using the controller, the game supports Kinect throughout, though support is something of a mixed bag. Some elements have been improved, while others have taken a step backwards. For instance, the ability to aim with precision is much better than in PGA Tour 13, but as a trade off, there is more information cluttering the screen, making it harder to see. Aiming with the Kinect also caused a lot of screen elements to flash, and I found it hard to put the exact spin on the ball that I would have liked. Using the motion controls is still a viable way to play the game, but it’s not without issues.
Country clubs return this year, with the limit raised from 25 to 100 members. Club chat options have been added as well, allowing players to converse with other members of the club regardless of where they are in the game. It’s a great social aspect, and club members can compete against each other, or challenge other clubs for supremacy.
As an individual, players can compete in connected tournaments online with other golfers. While a tournament is running, players can jump onto the course and submit a score, seeing the shots of as many as 24 other players streaking across the fairway as they play. It’s a neat effect, but it’s ultimately a gimmick that doesn’t impact the game at all. Players can jump straight into the tournament menu from the main screen, and in my experience, there were always plenty of tournaments available in a variety of difficulty settings and game types.
PGA Tour 14 adds the Legends of the Majors mode, allowing players to step into the shoes of golf’s greats during the biggest moments in their careers. Each is a contest to match or beat the original outcome, and there are plenty of them to unlock. The challenges are accurate to the time, so golfers swing period-appropriate clubs and wear the clothing of the day. The picture even emulates film technology of the time, and when teeing off with a brass club in the 1870′s the image popped and grained like an old time recording.
The visuals were smooth throughout, and the courses look very pretty, right down to the trees blowing gently in the breeze. I enjoyed the ability to play at night using a glowing ball. The crowd reacts appropriately as well, and when I hit an observer with my tee shot, he grabbed his leg in pain. All of the sounds are crisp, from the sound of a driver off the tee to the chirp of the birds. The announcers are good, but feel disconnected from the experience. Sometimes the commentary was spot-on, while other times it felt very much like canned phrases.
One of the things the Tiger Woods series does very well us customization, and PGA Tour 14 is no exception. There are several settings for swing difficulty, and even within those presets individual components can be toggled to create a custom level. It’s a great way for players to tailor the experience to their specific abilities or tweak the settings to work on a particular facet of their game.
There is also an RPG-like progression system. Playing in events earns experience based on performance, swing settings and course difficulty. When players gain a level, they receive attribute points to put into stats like power and accuracy. Play also earns coins, which can be used to purchase level upgrades or pins used to boost stats on the course. Progression also unlocks better equipment and additional clothing.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 is a lot of fun, whether alone or with friends, local or worldwide. While this year’s installment has a lot in common with last year’s, that’s not a bad thing, and minor tweaks, like an icon showing the location of the flag, are nice additions. For those who already own PGA Tour 13, the relatively minor differences may not justify the price, but hardcore golf enthusiasts and folks who haven’t played a Tiger game for a while will find a lot of depth here.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.