Friday, August 29, 2008

"Too Human" Review and "Tiger Woods PGA 09"

This has been a great week for me -- if only because I got one full unadulterated day of playing games on Tuesday. No distractions, no work, no trip to see the GF... which I can only type because she's standing right next to me right now... the point is, 13 hours of Xbox 360.

I spent the first half of the game plowing through more of "Too Human," which was released on August 19. Though there is NO GAMING PAGE in Saturday's Poughkeepsie Journal, I wrote a full review of "Too Human," which is available at THIS LINK. I won't give away what I think of the game, but I will say it was a CHORE to play this game.

On the other hand, I spent the second half of Tuesday, and pretty much every drop of free time since then, playing "Tiger Woods PGA 09." I'll tell you right off, I am a fan of the series, so take everything I say with that biased grain of salt. However, I flat out love this game. While I think I would still prefer the "07" version if it had the extra course choices this new game has, I would venture to say this version of "Tiger Woods" has the second-best gameplay in the franchise's history.

Now, I'm likely not going to write a full review of the game for next week's Gaming page, and I'm not going to say this is a full review yet, since I still have to try out several of the game's features, but I'll tell you about what I do know:

It hasn't taken me too long to build up my created character to the point where he's just as skilled as any professional in the game, which is a good thing. There's nothing more frustrating then hitting good shots and employing good shot selection only to have your sub-par young golfer not be able to execute what you want. In fact, in my first PGA Tournament, playing on the Tour Pro difficulty, I finished the four rounds at something like 40 under par.

That said, navigating the courses is not easy on this game -- it's thankfully realistic. If you manage to keep your ball in the fairways, you'll be able to craft perfect shots every time. However, the affects rough and sand can have on your club are sometimes very unpredictable and can be frustrating, especially when your on screen details claim you should still get 80-90% of your normal power on a shot. Well, guess what? you can NEVER predict rough and sand conditions perfectly when you're on the real links, and yes it can be frustrating, but that's the way golf is.

Also, putting feels tougher in this version of the game. In past incarnations, it felt as if your own motions on the left analog stick had a very high margin of error when putting, making all of your putts go right where you want them. Well, this time around pushing or pulling your putt a shade to the left or a shade to the right is VERY easy, and consequently makes every putt command your concentration. I lost a matchplay match last night on a five-foot straight putt because I wasn't paying enough respect to the straight stroke needed.

That said, the A.I. competition is so far lackluster. I've played through about half of the 'ole Tiger Challenge (I just beat Annika Sorenstam last night), and so far I haven't been challenged -- or at least not as challenged as past games. It seems during every round there are one or two holes where the A.I. hits a ball into the water -- and then proceeds to try the same shot three more times, hitting the water a couple more times before getting it right. Consequently, you end up with gift holes and a major advantage in a nine-hole match play competition.

This time around you also have to complete six or seven mini challenges in order to rack up the points necessary to play a pro in the Tiger Challenge. And while at first it seems a chore to have to do things like "complete three sand saves in under nine stokes" or "finish all par three's at 2-under par," I quickly realized those little drills were sharpening my own shot-making skills when I found myself in trouble in real rounds. other challenges like playing mini-rounds of battle golf or bingo bango bongo got me playing special game modes I otherwise ignore until months into owning the game.

But speaking of sharpening skills, this whole "Tiger's coach teaches you" thing was a waste of time. At first I executed every single drill he suggested to me, thinking the skill points I was acquiring were building up my golfer. Instead, it turns out those skill points are only temporary boosts that wear off after the next round you play.

And speaking of skill points, I'm no fan of the system EA came up with, which grades driving based on distance and fairways in regulation, accuracy on greens in regulation and distance, short game based on how far you stick your ball to the pin and putting based on putts per green average. The problem is, sometimes you don't want to drive the ball as far as possible -- or sometimes you want to drive it as far as possible into the rough because you know you can handle a shot from a particular patch of rough. Sometimes you would rather your second shot land short of the green but in a good putting position, rather than reach the green but be in poor putting position. Sometimes you pick up more than one putt per green because you were able to drive a par-4 green in one and leave yourself a two-putt for birdie.

There are too many different ways to play a course for your skills to be graded like this. I actually lost points in several categories after a round of nine-under at one point. How does that make sense?

My last little nitpick is, the game used to bootup straight to a driving range before a menu. I used to use this driving range every time I played, especially when playing after just waking up, to warm up my stroke. The pros in real life hit a bucket or two before each round, so I always liked doing the same. However, "Tiger 09" does not begin with the driving range right away, and I've yet to find the feature at all.

The last few paragraphs sure sound negative, don't they? Well, don't get the wrong idea. I LOVE this game. As I said, the gameplay is fantastic and realistic.

I also have become a big fan of Battle Golf. Basically, it's match play, but every time you win a hole you can either take away one of your opponent's clubs or take back one of your own if one has already been taken away. It adds another strategic aspect to golf -- if the game needed any more of it!

I've yet to try out the simultaneous online play feature which is new to this year's game, but what I have done is play and upload a good deal of online challenges. You can access the EA Gamernet list of challenges, both for singular shot challenges and whole holes or rounds, and just kill an afternoon trying to pull off trick shots. It's a fantastic diversion from just playing rounds all the time.

Anyway, as I said, I haven't tried everything in the game, and there are definite flaws, but this is the Best Golf Game on the market, and possibly the second best of all time. You want to go pick this up if you have any interest in virtual links.

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