EA certainly isn't resting on its laurels this year with regard to its line-up of sports titles. It seems that all its major titles are receiving pretty big enhancements. The problem the Tiger Woods team has is that last year's game already included a pretty massive new feature in the shape of GamerNet. This user generated challenge system will of course be improved upon in this year's 09 edition, but having already made quite a leap on this generation of consoles is there anything else left to wow gamers with? We got some hands-on time with the PS3 version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 to see if some new behind the scenes features revolutionise golf video games.
EA's focusing on the inclusion of Tiger's coach Hank Haney, who appears in the game to offer advice and help you improve your abilities. New players are greeted by Hank straight away. Key to this year's game are your ever changing attributes. After hitting a couple of drives and approach shots he tests your short game from around the green and finally your putting. This then gives you a rating in four key areas: driving, accuracy, short game and putting. From this point on every ball you hit goes towards your ability ratings.
Previous Tiger Woods titles have seen you improving your stats as you played, but in 09 the dev team has tried to create something much more like what happens during a real golfer's career. If you continue to hit good drives your driving stat will increase. If you consistently hit your approach shots on the green you'll improve your approach play stat. As you'd expect, performing well will see your stats improving across your entire game, but your current form isn't only used to increase your stats.
In real life, if you hit a bad patch and find yourself pulling your drives and missing your putts during a round, you wouldn't just play on the day after as if nothing bad had happened. Chances are that it would affect you for quite a while and the same is true in the game. If you consistently under-perform during a round then your stats drop before the next round. It's a system that will need many more hours of play to test than the couple I spent with the preview build, but if it works as it seems it will make playing through tournaments exciting even when your golfer is at the peak of his game.
In a nice touch, and in order to bring the coaching aspect into the game again, your worst shots during tournaments are saved, allowing you to replay them outside of tough tournament play conditions. Say you're on the 17th at Sawgrass, two shots ahead during the final round. The pressure is on and you jab at your follow through, pulling the ball way to the left and into the water. Then you do exactly the same thing on your second attempt. You've thrown away the championship in 30 seconds. If Hank picks it as a shot you need to work on then you'll be able to replay it till your heart's content from the custom drills menu. Nothing can compare to the real situation (even when we're talking about championship golf in a video game) but being able to practice a shot that ruined your round is a very nice addition to this year's game.
Also new to the game this year is club shaping. With the help of Hank you can customise numerous aspects of each club, from loft to power. All the changes you make have an effect on the sweet spot, which in turn determines how easy it is to hit the ball cleanly - without any hook or slice. For example, if you want a large sweet spot with your driver, you're going to have to sacrifice length. You'll end up being able to hit the fairways with ease, but reaching a par 5 in two shots will be pretty impossible. You can customise each of your woods and irons, in theory tailoring them to your game and even specific courses.
As ever with a sports game, there's an awful lot here that can't be seen in just a few hours. So far so good though. With the same analogue stick swing mechanic that revolutionised the game many years ago, anyone familiar with a previous game will feel right at home. It's also nice to see that EA has made an effort to improve the visuals. Overall it's not a huge improvement over last year's game, but some courses do look significantly better. We doubt many people buy golf games for their visuals, but Tiger Woods is still by far the best looking and most well presented golf game on the market.
With Tiger set to hit all major consoles in late August we're confident fans and newcomers will be pleased with EA's effort this year. If the promise of the coaching and player attribute building fulfils its potential over the course of a multi-year career then we could well have one of the sports titles of the year.