Itís that time of year again - The Masters fast approaching, the adverts have begun running on Sky TV and wonderfully timed as per usual, a new Tiger Woods game arrives in stores. Firmly sat as a mainstay of the EA Sports offerings and giving us all an annual iteration of the most played golf game in the world on all formats. Iteration is of course the key word here as there have been no leaps and bounds within the Tiger franchise for some years now. Sadly the suits at EA threw out the idea of an open world cocktail waitress banging GTA style golf simulation in favour of something far more traditional. New modes, tweaked gameplay and a variety of small changes are pretty much standard fare year on year but we collectively keep coming back and to be fair to the team behind the games they are always hugely successful.
So what has changed this year? Well, as the team didnít opt for the GTA style hooker bedding simulator we all wanted they appear to have decided to go the other way and have actually minimised Tigerís presence this time around. Arguably the right move, not just because of Tigerís wrecked wholesome image but because last yearís ĎTiger Legacyí was a washout and downright silly in places. Playing rounds of golf as toddler Tiger and performing challenges with his dad blowing a fog horn to improve concentration were just two examples of the ridiculousness seen in last yearís game. This year we have a far more sensible mode, dripping with the history of golf down the years and containing some of the greatest golfers of all time.
Legends of the Game allows your custom made career golfer to face off against the great golfers of all time, enabling you to re-live and take part in some of the most iconic golfing moments throughout history. The game also plays some neat tricks in presenting these grand events in the way in which they would have been at the time. For example if the competition would have been viewed by people at home through a grainy black and white TV then this is how it is presented to you when taking part. In the grand scheme of things itís nothing but a graphical gimmick but it actually lends some weight to proceedings and makes it feel a little more special, a tad more immersive if you will. While working your way through this mode allows you to go up against the greats ultimately you will only go here for the history and to rack up some serious coin.
Career mode is the other big offline mode that most will be drawn to and for the first time ever all four PGA majors and fully licenced and playable. The Masters, US Open, British Open and PGA Championship, as well as their respective courses, are on the disc. Augusta is of course a permanent feature of the franchise and once again the present-day course is highlight, we are also treated to the famous Par 3 course and 1934 layout. Much like all previous iterations it is great to work your way to the top and become the No.1 golfer in the world, this seemingly will never get old.
Coin and XP return for another year - not a great deal to say here as their accumulation and usage hasnít changed a jot in the last few years. XP allows you to upgrade your golferís attributes and coins allow you to unlock packs. Of course there are packs as itís an EA game and guess what, if you donít have the in-game coin you can use real money to purchase packs - who saw that coming. Needless to say that whilst a lot of people are annually disgusted by the amount of DLC courses and boost packs found within each Tiger release, we all know one friend who will buy all the courses and will keep buying packs. This yearís version is no different and contains all the microtransactions youíd expect, as usual though they are quite pointless if you simply intend on playing and enjoying the game. Hold out for the course packs to be on sale or play the game a lot and you are golden.
The online element appears to be being pushed more each year and that trend continues here. Country Clubs has received a boost, more players per club, more bonuses for club actions and voice chat having been added to enhance the platform. Being able to form huge communities of like minded golfers is fantastic although the interface needs work and actually being able to have a quiet round with three friends seems oddly tricky to accomplish. Friendly matches, online tournaments, multiple modes, weekly challenges and more await you and up to one hundred members of your country club. Generally itís all just brilliant what is extremely annoying however is hosting a game and choosing a course as it isnít immediately clear which courses you own, therefore initially you have to spend a bit of time figuring this out - a minor issue but surely one which is easily avoidable.
Another new change is the utterly pointless night golf. Whilst perhaps at first sounding interesting it is in fact playing golf in the dark with a ball that glows - no floodlighting, no cool new special effects, just simply playing golf in the dark. The fact that this was even bigged up as a feature is difficult to understand as it is just daft and past getting the achievement/trophy for playing a round of golf in the pitch black people will likely never entertain using this feature.
Graphically Tiger hit the wall a few years ago and there is very little to distinguish this iteration from the last few releases, although credit where it is due within the Legends of the Game mode Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and friends are lovingly recreated. Mannerisms, swings and the general look are absolutely spot on and really do bring home the glory of the era that you are experiencing. Mechanically, gameplay wise, little has changed but the subtle changes that are present are welcomed. The swing mechanics are a little different, removing the three step method seen previously with a modified total swing control system. For a newbie this will prove a tad tricky but once mastered this is easily the best control system Tiger has ever had. Worth noting also that should you wish to stand up in your living room looking downright daft then Kinect and Move functionality is once again present this time around. The Kinect functionality is better this time around, seeming more accurate than previously but it still feels peculiar and why anyone would use it is a mystery.
Tiger Woods 14 continues the EA Sports trend of iterating a winning formula, presenting a solid package which people will flock to buy, just like last year and the year before that. EA have made the right move by downplaying the Tiger part of Tigers Woods 14 but sadly we still see an awful lot of DLC and very little in the way of pushing the franchise forward to new heights. If you are a fan of the franchise then you know what you are getting with a new version and if you are a newbie then this is as good a place as any to start.