A (Mostly) Big Game in a Small Package
Review by: Patrick Anderson
The shine may have worn off of Tiger Woods’ once-golden image lately – both on and off the course - but his video game golf franchise has consistently managed to maintain its industry-leading status. Tiger Woods PGA Tour is by far the biggest-selling simulation golf franchise in video game history. And that’s for good reason: EA has worked hard (as they have with many of their sports franchises) to make this series a deep experience that attempts, as much as possible, to mimic the real feel and playing style of the actual sport, with extensive customization and even the use of motion-control, before it was “cool.” So, when EA released Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 for the mobile market, (first in iOS and now on Android in early June) the question on most people’s minds was, could EA successfully squeeze such a huge game into a pocket-sized format?
After playing through it, I can say that the answer is… pretty much, yeah. Amazingly, for $4.99 on the Android Play Market, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 gives you a solid, mostly-full version of the PC and console experiences, and it does it on a phone. And that is not something often said of EA’s past mobile-ports (I’m looking at you, Sim City Deluxe…). Of course, being on a small platform, there were a few shortcomings, but you have to give the folks at EA credit for all of the ways this port gets it right.
IT’S GOT GAME
First of all, this is a huge game. Just like its console and PC bigger brothers, this could more accurately be called a Sim than a game. You get multiple modes, from stroke play on your own, to matches against CPU-controlled pros, including the eponymous legend himself, should you dare. There are 8 real-life pros in total to play against, or you can even play as them yourself, and feel what it’s like to smack a ball over 300 yards effortlessly. If you choose to stick with your own persona when you play, you get to customize the look of your avatar, and the game keeps track of all your results, earnings, and skills. The game has a variety of real-life courses to play on, including Pebble Beach, St. Andrews and Hazeltine, and I was impressed at how accurately EA was able to replicate these iconic environments. It was a real rush seeing myself teeing-off at the same first hole at St. Andrews that Tiger himself did all those years ago. Then, if you tire of conventional golf, there is the “Tiger Challenge,” where you can pit your skills against a variety of unlockable challenges.
The core of this game’s appeal, again like its other iterations, is the PGA Tour mode, in which you enter tournaments and match up your skills with the pros. This part works well too, as EA sets up the game so that you must have a minimum money amount to enter. In essence, playing to save up the required fee works like a tutorial that doesn’t feel like a tutorial – by the time you enter a tournament, you have likely practiced for hours, and you now feel like you’re good enough to take on the big boys without getting laughed off the course. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 is a game that, I found out quickly, is accessible and easy to get into, but its many elements make it deceptively difficult to master. As you do improve and learn, you earn money, which you can use to upgrade your skills – increase your power, for example, or accuracy. One thing players of the console or PC versions will miss, however, is the limited nature of the upgrading. You can’t buy better equipment, such as clubs, and you can’t buy new outfits and accessories. Who knows, maybe that will be added later, but for now, it is a bit paltry.
LOOK … BUT DON’T GET TOO CLOSE
Now, let’s face it, the graphics are often what suffers when big console games are shoe-horned into a portable device. In the case of this game, the graphics aren't bad. The environments are large and beautiful – sunlit skies serve as a backdrop, trees and distant hills decorate the landscape for an impressively-long draw distance for a mobile app, and little touches like flocks of birds bring a bit of life to what could be a sterile world otherwise. However, not surprisingly, surfaces and textures are primitive polygons – don’t expect your player to exhibit photo realism, and that “grass” is, up close, a pretty crude paint job. And pop-in, you ask? Oh yeah, this game has that big-time. But, at the end of the day, we are talking about a game on a phone here; compared to similar apps I've seen, this one looks above average.
Where the imprecise surfaces can be a problem, however, is in their effect on the ball, and hence, your shot. Do not come to this game expecting to have the same super-accurate physics you relied-on in the console versions. Many a ball of mine “stuck” to the side of a steep hill - a quirk that, I suppose, was to my advantage but still broke the illusion of realism, and reminded me that this was just a “game.” And don’t hit through that tree, expecting your ball to maybe squirt through, because real trees sometimes have spaces to do that. No, to the simple algorithm of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12, “tree = wall,” no matter how much daylight you think you see.
Maybe it's because the developers sensed that their surface physics were less than perfect, but course topography seemed to be a bit boring as well. While the scenery is lovingly recreated from the real thing, holes tend to have a sameness and flatness to them - another sign that you are not playing the full version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12. Basically, you’ll find that shots come down to setting your direction, flicking, and watching as your ball rolls fast on the fairway, and slow on the rough, with no pesky bumps or dips to muss things up. Sure, EA has added the familiar “backspin control” element while your ball is in the air, but frankly, I found on the mobile version that this often did not work. Many times, I put what I thought was heavy backspin on my ball, only to have it zoom past the hole regardless. Oh, well, a nice thought, anyway.
That same inconsistency mars the putting in this game, unfortunately. In fact, I found putting to be the weakest part of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 on the mobile version. Through practice, I got pretty good at every other aspect of the game – flicking my finger at just the right speed for driving, chipping, and pitching – but at putting, it was hit-and-miss right to the end. There was just not the one-to-one ratio of finger speed to putting speed to make you feel truly in control of your own putting destiny. That is too bad, because again, all of the elements have been put in place by EA – the surface grid, the caddy’s tips – but once I swung my putter, I had to cross my fingers.
Overall, EA has a solid start with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 on the Android (and IOS). The elements are mostly there, with decent graphics and lots of depth for a mobile game – and yes, there is even the neat commentary from real-life announcers, although it feels a bit canned and repetitive. After players really put some time into this game, they might notice some of the shortcomings, but by then, hopefully EA will add some features through updates. One important note: this game does have graphics and physics that require a fair bit of horsepower on the part of your phone – as evidenced by the heat coming off my device while playing. Make sure you have a compatible phone before buying this game; I suggest a high-end Android device, such as a Galaxy S2, or HTC Sensation.
Final Score: 80% GREAT
Great -- Has loads of promise, but falls just short of its potential. A great title that leaves you wishing they'd gone that extra mile. This is the sort of game that you keep for a long time and do multiple runs through. Always worth a rent, but usually you’d want to buy it.