I love golf. Ever since my daughter was born 15 months ago, I have not had a chance to play, but the love of the game is still there. As expected I love golf video games as well, and I am no stranger to the genre, having played nearly everything from the old NES golf games starring Mario, to the Links PC series, and finally the current Tiger Woods series.
Last year I reviewed Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13, the first in the series to feature Kinect controls. While I was impressed by the virtual golf swing via Kinect, I was less than pleased with the voice recognition and menu navigation, and ended up turning off the Kinect features altogether. Did the Kinect features get polished up for this year’s release? I was sure hoping so, and booted up my review copy, ready to rock a silky smooth Kinect experience and swing away.
Unfortunately, the Kinect implementation is pretty much unchanged from last year. The virtual swing is still pretty decent, but the issues I had with voice commands and menu navigation were all still present, which is to say that they barely function even on a basic level. Color me disappointed. Considering I hardly heard any marketing for the Kinect features, I’m beginning to think that Kinect was just left over from last year while EA pushed the marketing focus on something else for this year’s game. At least EA didn’t add something one year and then take it out the next, So I suppose I should give credit where credit is due.
Luckily, the Kinect features are not required to enjoy the game, and as was the case with last year’s game, I just disabled them altogether. What I was left with is an incredibly solid, fun, engrossing, and nostalgic golf game…possibly the best TW game of this console generation.
Perhaps the biggest addition to this year’s TW is the inclusion of a bevy of legends (Seve Ballesteros, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Sam Snead, and Lee Trevino). In the Legends of the Majors mode, you play as each of these legends in a very well made timeline starting from Tom Kidd in his 1873 Open victory all the way to the present day. In this challenge mode, you’re tasked with replicating certain parameters of each golfer’s real life achievements. For fans of golf history, this is about as good as it gets.
Visually, Legends of the Majors goes an extra step further and adds a ton of filters and film effects to make each era look as authentic as possible. The older events will have a heavy sepia filter while adding in a bunch of film stutters, pops and clicks. Obviously TV wasn’t around for the 1873 Open, but you get what EA is trying to do here. In addition to the old time feel to the visual presentation, the correct names are also used for all the equipment (such as brassie, niblick, etc.). Because the equipment was so rudimentary back in the day, you won’t be performing the same way you would with modern clubs, so don’t expect to see any 300 yard drives. Add to that authentic sounds for each of the balls and clubs throughout time, and you have a very entertaining game mode.
Along with Legends of the Majors, TW 14 adds a number of new features to this year’s entry. For the first time ever you can play in all four Majors: The Masters, US Open, the Open Championship (British Open), and the PGA Championship. Now granted, these majors were all in the game before…just not by official name. However, it is nice to have these in the game by their correct names, and it is a thrill to go after a Grand Slam.
As with any new sports game that sees an annual release, you should expect some new players and locations. TW 14 ships with 20 courses (with more via DLC, of course) and over 35 golfers, including for the first time ever, LPGA players. Yes folks, the LPGA is finally here in full force as a complete career mode experience. You can create a female golfer and have a go at LPGA specific events. In addition, golfers like Natalie Gulbis, Paula Creamer, Stacy Lewis, and more are available to play with as well.
The gameplay itself has also seen some changes, as an all new physics system comes into play. Not only do the physics change with each era’s balls and equipment, but the ability to shape your shot and adjust your stance adds an even greater degree of control to the ball physics. Add onto all of that a new Simulation Mode that turns off various aids such as putting grid, meter, swing arc, etc. and you have one of the most “realistic” virtual golf experiences to date.
Also joining TW 14 is night golf, though this is really more of a tech demo than anything else. Other than the addition of illuminated balls, night golf really plays no differently than daytime golf. The only difference you’ll see is different environments based on the time of day, some of which are actually quite stunning to look at.
The remainder of the game (other than Career Mode, which we’ll go into later) sees some enhancements in the online front. Country Clubs can now hold up to 100 members, and a new Connected Tournaments mode will give you the ability to participate in online events including Live Tournaments, Play the Pros, Club tournaments, Country Club Tour, and Sponsored Tournaments. Basically, this is the Seasonal Events mode from Gran Turismo 5, but with golfers instead of cars. You can also play in a 24-some with 23 other players represented by live shot arc, but take my word for it, it gets really crowded on the screen. It’s a bit too much visually, and the mode ends up being an eyesore.
And now, the Career Mode. This is largely unchanged from a gameplay perspective, but the authenticity has been ratcheted up a notch. Now when you create your golfer, you must work your way through Q-School, qualifying rules, then your first stint as a professional golfer in the Web.com Tour. After that, you can earn your PGA Tour card by meeting a number of different parameters, and then you’re playing with the big boys! As expected from TW’s awesome Career Mode, you get all the equipment and clothing options (hundreds upon hundreds of them), and an RPG styled progression mechanic. This is where I usually spend the bulk of my time with each new TW game, and that shouldn’t change this year.
The untouched Kinect features are a shame, but the rest of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 more than makes up for that oversight. In the future, if Kinect is not going to be the main selling point of the TW series, then I hope they just scrap it entirely and put more resources into adding even more to the game…as much as I hate losing features from previous iterations of sports games.
TW 14 is one of the meatiest sports games I have played in quite some time. With a beefy Career Made, an always connected online mode, and a brilliant Legends of the Majors challenge mode, this should keep you busy for a long time; that is until Tiger Woods PGA Tour 15 comes out. Other than a few missteps here and there, the TW franchise has been forging ahead steadily, and if this year’s entry is any indication, we can expect more great things to come in the future.