Augusta National Golf Club is the site of one of the most prestigious courses in all of golf. It's been the site of some truly historic moments and to some significant controversies that we call the Masters Tournament. Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tiger Woods, and other champions have won this event in the past, leading to wearing the famed green jacket. Fans of golf video games have had glimpses of certain holes at Augusta, but with The Masters: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12
, it's now possible to play at Augusta without greens fees, weather delays, or knowing a certain someone to get access. Playing at Augusta and having the chance to take part in a Masters event are big draws for Tiger 12, and the game cards an impressive score despite a few bogeys and hazards.
The inclusion of Augusta National is perhaps the most significant addition to this year's PGA Tour game from EA Sports. The attention to detail that was paid in bringing the Augusta experience home is impressive. Leaderboards change. Fairway topography is accurate. The undulating and challenging greens await players who must focus on accurate and long drives off of the tee in order to avoid trouble and high scores-- much like Rory McIlroy fell victim to at this year's event when a wayward drive on the 10th hole led to a triple-bogey 7 and triggered his eventual collapse. Tiger 12 is as close to playing at Augusta as many people-- myself included-- will likely ever get.
EA Sports makes liberal use of the Masters license, too. Tiger at the Masters is a mode of play that lets players relive and try to beat some of the best Tiger Woods performances at Augusta. There are short interviews with Tiger as he talks about each of the tournaments represented, and when players beat a challenge, more content becomes available. Masters Moments, found within the single-player Road to the Masters mode, plays out similarly to Tiger Challenges from past years as certain objectives mirroring a particular Masters situation must be achieved or exceeded. A short walkthrough of each of the 18 holes at Augusta is also available for viewing. Augusta National and The Masters are big deals in the sport of golf, and after a few hours with Tiger 12, you won't soon forget about that.
The inclusion of a caddie is the other big addition for Tiger 12. Caddies offer advice for shot selection and help players to read greens by offering an aiming point that players can use for guidance. Players who are familiar with the Tiger Woods PGA Tour games will likely elect to manually set their shots, but there are times when the caddie's advice works quite well. Caddie-advised shots include shot shaping and power percentages, so it eliminates a lot of the guesswork and calculations involved with shot-making; however, some of these shots are risky and others quite frankly don't make much sense. On the greens, caddie advice can be very useful, especially if you're having a tough time reading the contours and slope. As more rounds are played on each course, the caddie's level of experience-- or Course Mastery-- increases. This experience leads to better advice and reads from the caddie, thus making the caddy an important ally as players progress. Caddies do talk a lot, which interrupts the flow of the game's commentary team, and some of the verbal advice is painfully obvious. Yes, we should keep the ball in the fairway; that's kind of the idea.
The rest of the gameplay engine feels like a somewhat more refined version of what Tiger 11 offered last year. The Focus Meter makes an unwelcome return, but novice players have the option of playing without it. Weather effects still seem to play too much of a role, with wind steering ball flight unrealistically and rainy surfaces killing ball roll more than they should. The analog swing is the same as it's been for years; it works well, but certainly doesn't break any new ground like it did years ago. No Kinect support means that you'll be playing with your controller only. Putting is actually less forgiving this year, especially in the higher difficulty settings. Reading greens correctly doesn't always equate to success with the putter. Golf is a game of inches, and players should expect to learn that lesson the hard way more than a few times during their experience with Tiger 12.
Road to the Masters is the Career Mode in Tiger 12. The idea behind it is a solid one as players must work their way through Amateur status and the Nationwide Tour in order to earn a ticket to Q-School and a possible PGA Tour card. From there, the goal is to become the top-ranked player in the world. As players move up in the rankings, they qualify for more prestigious events, including major tournaments such as The Masters and The Players Championship. Most weeks on the Tour have three events that players can participate in: a training event, a sponsor challenge, and then the week's tournament. The training event is a good way to get a taste of the week's tournament course, and the sponsor challenge can open up some special items at the Pro Shop. Depending on where players finish on the leaderboard for each event, the EA Sports World Ranking changes; the requisite for a first-time entry to The Masters is to make it into the Top 100 of the World Rankings.
Playing in tournaments as much as possible is key to earning enough points to move up in the rankings, and Tiger 12's implementation of DLC courses as part of the PGA Tour season makes this a potentially expensive proposition. Some weeks use DLC courses, and if players either don't own or don't buy the required course, they're forced to miss that week of action and lose out on any potential points to be gained. This is essentially an act of coercion and, depending on how many weeks that you don't want to have to miss out on, can run you more than $20 on top of the $60 that you spent on the game to begin with. Although missing weeks of the PGA Tour season is common for most players, forcing consumers to have to pay up or sit out is an unwelcome addition to the PGA Tour Golf series and detracts from the overall experience. A better solution would've been to allow players to sub on-disc courses for DLC courses during these certain weeks of play, but the choice is more harsh in Tiger 12: Pay more, or don't play. Let's hope that this isn't setting a precedent for locking out parts of other sports games in favor of DLC, like All-Star games, playoffs, or something else.
If multiplayer or online golf action is more of what you're looking for out of Tiger 12, the game performs as well as its past counterparts... and that's not a bad thing. Online Pass, which is now a standard for EA, is here. It won't affect those who purchase the game new as a one-time use code is on the manual; however, renting the game or buying used may require an additional $10 to play online or make use of the Gamernet system which returns for another season. There are 15 courses to play on the disc, and over 20 DLC courses available for between $3 and $7 each (provided that you didn't already buy them for the single-player mode). Online play runs pretty smoothly, and games move at a fairly brisk pace. As in years past, several different modes of play are available for groups either online or offline, including Skins play, Stableford rules, Bingo Bango Bongo, Match Play, and several other variations on the usual golf game that you're familiar with.
Tiger 12 delivers a solid audio-visual package. Although there can be some issues with the camera from time to time, the courses and players in the game look remarkably like their real-life images. Players may have some hitches in their swings, but the courses are generally stunning. Augusta National is the crown jewel here, and rightfully so given the game's link with The Masters. Trees rustle in the wind, raindrops change direction, and water can be a beautiful disaster should a wayward tee shot or approach find it. The hole fly-bys from past games have been severely curtailed, which is a shame since they were educational and were able to be skipped once they were viewed enough. Commentary duties are handled by two members of the CBS golf team in Jim Nantz and David Feherty. Nantz adds a level of authenticity to the game as he's been a golf announcer for years. His commentary can be a bit abrupt at times, but hearing him praise one of your shots is undeniably sweet. Feherty is no stranger to the Tiger Woods games and makes his return for the first time since Tiger 08. While Feherty has shown a lot of humor and personality in past games, he's been kept on a strong leash for Tiger 12. His analysis is dry and rather brief, lacking any real character. At times, Feherty directly copies some lines of commentary written for ESPN's Scott Van Pelt, who had been the on-course announcer for the previous two seasons. The music is heavy on piano, as most music for The Masters seems to be. It's unobtrusive, but does get repetitive after some time.
There's a lot to like about Tiger 12. The addition of the caddie is a positive one, there have been tweaks to the game's difficulty levels, and the addition of Augusta National and The Masters is huge. Even after playing at Augusta a few times, Tiger 12 has a lot to offer in many areas including solid online play, varying gameplay modes, and some interesting Masters content. Tiger 12 looks great, sounds great, and is one of the best golf games available so far during this console generation... as long as you're willing to pay extra for the full Road to the Masters experience.