There are a lot of things professional sportsmen get that us mere mortals might be able to achieve if we really get lucky: fame, fortune, model girlfriends and more. What we can't get is that feeling of competing for the biggest prizes the sports have to offer, in front of cheering crowds and millions of TV viewers. This is what EA has tried to offer in its latest version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour, imaginatively titled Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10. Throughout the game the goal is to give you that tournament atmosphere for the first time.
At EA's recent showcase event in London we got hands on time with the Wii and Xbox 360 versions of Tiger 10 and liked what we saw, even if the new tournament atmosphere mechanics didn't quite shine through as much as we would have liked. We also got to see how Tiger plays when using Nintendo's new MotionPlus accessory, which promises to give gamers a near exact swing replica in the game.
Core to the tournament atmosphere are a number of things that combine to make for a more realistic pro sportsman experience. The game now has far more spectators, something that has always been a problem in the games over the years. They no longer appear as if they've just wandered randomly onto a golf course, instead being collected into an excited mass of eager spectators that are ready to explode with whoops and cheers when you play a good shot.
Next up are live score updates of other golfers in the tournament. By simply knowing how the other players on the leaderboard are doing, it adds more pressure to the putts you're having to make. There's also dynamic weather, so a round can change dramatically if it starts out sunny but turns wet and windy down the back nine. This feature will take live data via the internet in the next-gen versions of the game, so if you're playing a round at Turnberry and it's raining there in real life, it'll be raining in the game too.
In terms of how the game plays, on the next-gen platforms it's very much how it was, but with a new precision putting mode. This replaces the rather - let's face it - terrible putting system we've had for the last few years and gives you far more control. You can still use putt preview to help you out and there are assists to make it easier, but you feel like you're able to make a better stab at hitting the ball with the pace you're after thanks to the on-screen meter.
On the Wii things are completely different, with the new MotionPlus controls making for a golf game that's more realistic than ever before. We played a few wholes and it really is hard to hit the ball far while trying to hit it straight. It's all too easy to add some unwanted hook or slice by rotating your wrists slightly, and even getting enough power (which is easy using a gamepad) is really tough. We actually changed to a single hand approach as it allowed for an easier large swing back lift, although we expect this technique will be prone to some rather inconsistent shots.
Also new, this time in all console versions of the game, is a collection of Tiger's favourite tournament moments. EA has put together some of his classic holes and allowed you to live them through the game. We've yet to see how these play out, but considering the great man has played an awful lot of incredible holes of golf and many miraculous shots, we doubt EA has had any trouble cherry picking some great moments. There's also a brand new character progression system, but seeing as we only played a handful of wholes with each version of the game, we're going to have to wait until we've got a preview build in order to see how this plays out.
In terms of content the Wii version will have the edge. It will ship with 27 courses compared to the next-gen versions' 16, although they aren't nearly as detailed. All the courses on 360 and PS3 have been built from scratch, they have three times the spectator numbers of previous games, and there's new broadcast-like presentation. The Wii game has another bonus too, in the shape of disc golf. This Frisbee variation is playable on all of the Wii game's 27 courses and utilises MotionPlus.
Such short hands-on sessions are never the ideal way to get a real feel for in-depth sports sims like Tiger Woods, but we are now confident that the Wii game will play far better than last year's version and that the putting system on 360 and PS3 has been vastly improved. We only hope that extended play will convince us that we really are the tournament pros we become in our dreams.