Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2008 Review
EA has many long-running sports franchises, and one of the most popular is always the Tiger Woods series. Golf fans all over the world have been enjoying these games for eight years now, and each year, they look for a new and improved entry. Enter Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2008, which is indeed better than last year's installment because it includes several significant upgrades and additions. There are some strange flaws here and there, though, and the execution and implementation of those new changes definitely isn't perfect. This isn't the super-accurate golf sim we wanted, but at the very least, it's definitely a great game with a huge amount of content. Fans of the sport won't be disappointed, primarily because most of the drawbacks don't directly affect the gameplay or fun factor. And in the end, isn't that what it's all about? For the most part, this game really is quite entertaining, and only the more astute or truly hardcore will even care about those flaws.
The graphics are vintage Tiger, with great character models and true-to-life course recreations. There seems to be a lack of clarity in both the players and environment, but that's okay, because the detail is always very impressive from top to bottom. Tiger himself looks more realistic than ever, and with the new option that allows you to upload your own face into the game (how sweet is that?), the overall visual realism is excellent. The franchise has never relied on overly vibrant colors and hues to bring the player into the experience; EA has instead focused on minute details and a consistent yet not overdone graphical palette. There is some jagginess and clipping going on when you get up close and personal with certain characters and trees, but that's not exactly something new. It only makes sense to compare this entry in the franchise to previous titles, and if we do that, it's a fact that Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 is the most visually accomplished yet. There's still plenty of room for improvement, but we have to give credit where credit's due.
Oddly enough, the sound is the worst part of this game, primarily because EA made some truly bizarre choices in regards to the soundtrack. As this is a golf game, you wouldn't expect the hard-hitting rock tracks from Need for Speed or the rap beats from Madden, but why go with this electronic, half-techno approach? What's the point of that? However, the sound effects and voices are fantastic, and really help to offset the confusing selection of music tracks. There's a bit too much repetition in the announcer's play-by-play descriptions (we can't count how many times we heard that disappointed "Tigeeeer..." when trying to get a handle on the controls), but that's okay. The gallery is always in great spirits and ready to reward you with energetic yells of delight and satisfaction, and they're quite tactful when you mess up. Outside of the gameplay, the strong announcers tell you everything you need to know, and in general, all voices and effects are top-notch. We just can't figure out the thought process behind that soundtrack. It doesn't fit at all.
Tiger Woods has always been a well-done series, and all the titles have very good gameplay, so we weren't expecting anything less from 08. And we got what we expected, as this year's entry maintains the classic solid control we've all come to know and love, and throws in major additions like Shot Confidence, GamerNet, and the 3-click shot technique. Veterans will have no trouble jumping right in and getting started, whether they go for the My Career, PGA Tour, or simple Play Now selection. There's nothing radically different in how you approach the gameplay (unless you use that 3-click shot technique all the time), but this time around, we get several options we never had before. We'll break them down right now, but bear one thing in mind- if you were happy with Tiger's games before these enhancements, you needn't worry about "adapting." We have to reiterate that beneath the surface, the structure hasn't changed much at all, which is probably good news for all you diehard fans out there.
First up is the addition of the Shot Confidence feature. This is gonna make all you micromanagement stat freaks grin with glee, because the game tracks every single shot you make. It'll remember what club you selected, how you played the hole, and what score you received. The better you do, the more your Confidence will increase, which will eventually make it easier to use pinpoint precision with your shots. In other words, if you perform well on a particular hole several times in a row, that circle target of yours will shrink for that hole, thereby allowing you to place your ball in a smaller zone. Thankfully, the door doesn't swing both ways - at least, we don't think it does - because if you do terribly, your target circle can't get any larger; it's as large as it can be when you first start. Hence, you can only get better! This is doubly true when you start a brand new Career, even if you're using Tiger Woods as a rookie rather than customizing your own player. This is one of those features that works well in the long run but may not interest casual players from the get-go.
The other addition involves that aforementioned 3-click swing mechanic. Over the past few years, this series has used the analog swing system, which had the player pulling back on the left stick to pull the club back, and pushing forward to swing. At first, it turned out to be a flawed mechanic that was far too erratic, but EA has worked to fine-tune the analog swing over the years. However, some old-school gamers still want the 3-click option: hit the X button once to start a power meter, hit it again to select your desired power, and on its way back, stop the meter in the appropriate spot to dictate accuracy. It's the system Sony's Hot Shots Golf has used for a long time, and one that is surprisingly realistic and effective. So it's no big shock that EA finally decided to include this option in the latest Tiger game, because hey, they're all about catering to a wide audience of fans. Ironically enough, the impending Hot Shots Golf 5 will add the analog swing option, so both franchises are seeking to cross boundaries, here.
The rest of the gameplay is pretty much the same, but we do get the all-new Putt Preview this time around. This allows you to see the path the ball will take on the putting green, but you can only see it once. So do your best to read the green, position your shot as best you can, and then check the Putt Preview to see how close you are. No, it's not very realistic, but neither is the option to actually control the flight of the ball in mid-air...something we can't possibly comprehend in a supposed simulator. And that 3-click system isn't without its flaws- the meter goes too fast for our tastes, and we're required to figure out how much power we need without any assistance. Sometimes 100% is fine, but a lot of times it's not, and we have to estimate by doing a little math in our heads (okay, a 100% pitch goes 35 feet and the pin is 22 feet away, so...). In the end, this works fine for those who disliked the analog swing system - we're looking at you, Hot Shots fans - but long-term fans of the Tiger Woods series should probably stick with the default swing option. It works pretty much the same as always, which is fine.
The only other flaw we're going to point out is actually one that pops up in the last few Hot Shots installments. For some reason, what the game tells us isn't always accurate. When putting, the Putt Preview not only tells you which direction the ball will travel, it will tell you where the ball will stop. And while this is pretty accurate when it comes to downhill putts, it's sometimes not even close when it comes to uphill putts. You have to overpower by a lot more than you think, which is something Hot Shots fans have come to expect, but it's relatively new to loyal Tiger Woods followers. Outside of this, though, the Preview along with Shot Confidence and the new 3-click swing option makes this game better, so we shouldn't harp too much on the small drawbacks. Besides, you learn as you play, and you'll soon get the hang of all these little idiosyncrasies. Add in the massive amount of menu options and game modes, the fully realized customization options, and the general presentation (which is great), and you're looking at a very appealing golf title.
Lastly, we have to mention GamerNet. This allows you to set up your own challenges online and brag to the community when you pull off amazing shots or overall amazing scores. It's an online feature that just about every sports game should have, we think, and for some, GamerNet will take up a lot of their play time. There's just so much to do! Overall, the game suffers from a strange and ill-fitting soundtrack, a 3-click swing system that's a little fast and loose, various erratic feedback from the game, and some silly mini-games that aren't as fun as they should be. But despite all this, the physics are excellent as always, it's the best-looking entry yet, the options are insane, and most importantly, definitely appeals to just about any golf fan. It's got everything you could want and even a little more, even if the execution of the enhancements isn't always spot-on. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 is a worthwhile investment for all you duffers out there, plain and simple.
10/25/2007 Ben Dutka