Much like their namesake, the Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchise of golfing sims has been in a bit of a decline in the last few years. Although not accused of having extra-marital relations, they have been hitting under par of late after a run of sloppy sequels. For the 12th edition EA Sports have given the series a bit of a revamp. For the first time Tiger is off the cover, replaced instead by the games new focus, the ultra exclusive Augusta National Golf Club, home of the most prestigious golf tournament in the world, The Masters. Along with a new caddy system, it is a breath of fresh air in a stale franchise, but is it enough to launch the series out of the bunker and on to the green?
It has been a long time since the hallowed Augusta National course has been playable on a golf game and its glorious return to the digital world is by far the biggest draw here for golf fans. Every hole has been lovingly recreated in immaculate high definition, frozen in perpetual sunshine with flowers blooming and grass glistening. Equally faithful in its representation is the course's challenge, for after all this is The Masters, cruel sand traps doggedly guard the greens and the serene waters yearn to be disturbed by wayward shots. Although Augusta is the most exciting course in the game, and the only one treated with a kind of reverence bordering on the religious, there are also a great number of other courses available to play, and a further six available as downloadable content.
In keeping with the spirit of the game, the obligatory career mode has also been rebranded as 'The Road to The Masters' and follows your golfer's journey from amateur to pro and hopefully to an invitation to compete and win at The Masters. Careers start with the Amateur Tour, then National, through Q-School (the elite qualifying tournament) and then onto the PGA Tour. The whole thing feels like one great build up to Augusta National. Like previous incarnations, player's golfers increase in skill with every tournament earning points to spend on key areas such as putting and drive and unlocking new clubs and gear. It's pretty addictive stuff and comes with a great sense of progression. Occasionally you will be challenged by other golfers, but apart from that there is no story to get behind, which is a shame especially after EA's Fight Night Champion showed how effective a story in a sports sim can be.
Away from the career mode there is the option to recreate and attempt to match or beat some of the famous shots and rounds from The Masters' illustrious past and, as you can imagine, these are no easy feats. Matching Tiger's seven consecutive birdies in 2005 for example or trying to beat Nicklaus's legendary eagle and two birdies in 1986 are feats that mere mortals like myself don't even come near, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun trying.
Another great new addition to the series is the introduction of caddy input. Now caddy's, just like their real life counterparts, can be called on to offer suggestions on each shot, taking into account things like yardage and wind direction. These suggestions can be for aggressive risky drives or safer more conservative plays and being able to compare and consider the proffered advice leads to a greater tactical feel than in previous titles. Of course ultimately it is up to the player to actually make the shot that's suggested, and sometimes the caddy gets it really wrong. A nice touch of realism is that just like your golfer, the caddy also gains experience, learning to read the courses and offering better tips as a result. It's a great system that works really well adding an authentic strategic dimension that has been lacking in previous golf games.
The all consuming presence of The Masters in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 is on the whole a welcome and refreshing addition to a series that has been long overdue an overhaul. And although its coveted inclusion is reason alone for most golf fans to rush out and buy a copy of the game, the new caddy system sits comfortably alongside a gameplay mechanic that has long been refined and perfected, creating as a package, the most irresistibly complete simulator of a good walk spoiled to date.
8 out of 10