As a series, Tiger Woods tends to increment with gentle putts rather than hefty swings - and it has become even more apparent with the last few iterations. As the series' little Wii sibling continues to dazzle with progressively fancier MotionPlus controls, the 360/PS3 version is starting to feel a little old hat by comparison.
Still, Tiger 11 proves there's some life left in the old dog, and PS3 owners will be interested to know their version of Tiger 11 will eventually support PlayStation Move. That's still a bit of an unknown quantity at the moment, though, and it won't be until Tiger 12 that it becomes the highlight of the back-of-the-box feature list.
What Tiger 11 does proudly display on the back of the box is its True Aim mode, which ruthlessly strips the game of its fancy suite of assists and plonks you in an all-manual game of virtual golf. There's no accurate birds-eye view of the ball's destination in True Aim, just a GPS scene of the course with a few distance markers as your sole guide.
It's clearly a mode for the most dedicated players, and its difficulty will definitely deter most, but the strict back-to-basics approach will appeal to those who've found Tiger relying far too much on flashy gimmicks in recent years.
Those people might not be too enthralled to find out the other big addition to Tiger 11 is the Focus mode, a flashy new gimmick which adds an ostensibly videogamey element to the perfect drive. A bar of finite (possibly magical - it's never stated) golf energy sits in the bottom left of your screen and can be used to add extra power to your swing or an accuracy boost, or the trusty putt preview. Putt preview has been changed from a one-time deal to something you can employ as long as you've got focus meter, though it absolutely rinses it. Not using any Focus on a swing recharges your supply.
Despite sounding like a bit of a weird gimmick, Focus adds a much-needed tactical edge to play. It forces you to consider courses in their entirety instead of a collection of single holes: I can't do the ninth hole on Sawgrass to save my life, for instance, so it's imperative I keep a fair chunk of Focus in the bank from the seventh and eighth. It's clearly a bit unrealistic, but then this is the series that allows you to add spin to a golf ball while it's flying through the air.
True Aim and Focus, then, is EA trying to open up the game at both ends of the difficulty spectrum, which was something a bit wonky in Tiger 10, but the end result in 11 still feels a bit off. A single XP currency now handles character levelling, but the game's still a bit too easy from the start. It's a cakewalk to be the star player of your team in a Ryder Cup career from the beginning and, by the time you've sunk a few points in your stat sheet, you're hitting shots with so much power and accuracy that the only logical conclusion is that you must be some kind of powerful robot from the future.
Unless you're playing on the hardest difficulty with True Aim switched on, that is, but that's still a bit too hard for the average player. The harder modes have got harder and the easier modes have got easier, basically, leaving the very problem these new features were attempting to fix - the people stuck in the middle - completely untouched.
Multiplayer modes, which have rapidly become some of the most compelling reasons to invest, have been rounded out with the addition of a Team Play mode. 24 players can take part in a sort-of Ryder Cup set of challenges, which is a lot of fun but plagued by its own set of quirks, bugs and fiddly menus - which has caused the online community to be a bit thin on the ground, despite being a new release.
There's also the much-publicised Online Pass, which means online play requires you to buy a new copy of the game or spend about a tenner on a code from PSN/XBLA. It makes no attempt to be subtle about it, either, and anyone without an Online Pass will see a pop-up every time they start the game, regardless of whether they try and use the online play features or not.
There's plenty of spiffing visual tweaks to round out the updates, such as how clothes now ripple in the wind, but other parts (the skies, especially) reveal the game's ageing engine. It's not an ugly game by any means, but it's clearly running on a five-year-old engine. It doesn't help that, if you're anything like me, you'll just create CrushBrains McKickshins and try to make him look as evil as possible. Any game that has both an ethnicity slider and the option to have neon pink pupils is ripe for abuse.
Still, there's no denying that Tiger 11 is a lot of fun. The additions and changes might not be a complete success, but the game's gentle rhythm and solid fundamentals are just as oddly compelling as they ever were. It doesn't bring the kind of vital changes we saw from, say, FIFA 10, but that's doesn't mean it's a lazy update, either. At the end of the day, Tiger 11 still plays a fine game of golf - though it might not be enough to clear the rough.