EA has been pretty silent about this year's edition of its golf sim. Maybe because it doesn't need to shout about Tiger Woods - everyone knows it's THE golf game to buy.
And this year is no different, despite the arrival of a worthy rival in the form of ProStroke Golf: World Tour 2006 (Issue 60, 8.1) from Oxygen Interactive. That was good, and slightly easier to play than the Tiger Woods games, but it lacked the slickness, polish and spot-on physics that EA never fails to include in Tiger. This year's game is just as polished as always, and retains the same swing-stick control as past games. If you've no idea what we're on about, the swing-stick control basically abolishes power bars and instead has you swinging the golf club by pushing the left thumb stick down, then up in a smooth swinging motion. It puts you far more in touch with your golfer than any power bar ever did.
If you've not played a Tiger game before, you really should. But if you've already putted your way through any of his recent games, this year's edition hopes to tempt you with the usual additions - 21 new, bunker-filled courses to tackle, and 21 official golfers (what, is 21 EA's new favourite number or something?) have been added.
This year's biggest addition is the Team Tour mode, which allows you to create your own team of golfers and work your way through a tournament. Your ultimate aim is to earn the right to challenge Team Tiger - the hot shots of the golfing world who have been touring around whooping everyone's asses. And it's your mission to hit the course against them, sink a few winners and send them home crying. It's the usual zero-to-hero sort of stuff. You start off with a single golfer who, in typical EA fashion, you can modify and tweak until he basically looks EXACTLY like your dad, or whoever you fancy seeing in a polo shirt.
As you progress through the tournaments, golfers you beat become available for recruitment on your team. And reaching the top is all about boosting your respect rating. So, you can win matches to climb the ladder. But if you want the big respect points you'll need to be sinking holes-in-one, 30-yard putts, or hitting thepin from a few hundred yards away. Doing the really flashy stuff earns you medals, which all count towards building your reputation. It's not easy, we can tell you.
For most of the tournament, the fact that you have a team of golfers (as opposed to one golfer) will be completely irrelevant because the majority of rounds are standard matches. You just choose which team member you want to use and play as normal. There are only a couple of team-play modes that take advantage of this mechanic. Elimination works a bit like a team-versus mode in a beat-'em-up, where two golfers go head-to-head and the golfer that loses a hole is eliminated and passes the club to a team member.
Both teams keep playing until all the golfers on one team are out. There's also a tag-team style match play - a standard game with two golfers in a team taking turns to hit their ball. These modes are great in multiplayer (both over LAN or Xbox Live) because they get you to challenge your mates in varying ways, which is fun when you have the banter of human interaction. But against the computer they're hardly groundbreaking.
But this is still Tiger Woods, and it's a great golf game. If you've played it before you will know how great the swing system feels. Its realism is superb, and the ball physics are as realistic as you like. And there are so many factors to a perfect shot too, like hammering the White button on your back swing for extra shot power, then tapping the Black button and a direction to add after-shot spin. Okay, so adding spin after you hit the ball isn't exactly realistic, but it does give you a chance to make one last small adjustment.