Playing on the hallowed links of Augusta, Georgia, is the goal of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters, another great addition to the EA Sports family of golf games. This year's sequel reworks the entire game around this legendary tournament. If you're not trying to win the illustrious green jacket in career play, you're re-creating famous shots at Masters tourneys from years past or following Tiger Woods through his four Augusta wins in an attempt to match or better his scores. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 isn't radically different from last year's game, but the addition of the Masters lends everything a certain gravitas that golf fans can't help but appreciate.
Augusta National Golf Club finally okays its inclusion in a video game.
What you notice when firing up Tiger Woods 12 for the first time is how much the game has been reskinned to take advantage of its Masters theme. This isn't so much a Tiger and PGA game as it is a Masters game, since golf's biggest star and its biggest professional organization take a backseat to the annual tournament hosted by Augusta National Golf Club. The opening cinematic is all about the Masters. The menu screens are loaded with photos of Augusta National. The game opens with a playable intro that walks you through the final shots of Tiger Woods winning a green jacket. And, most importantly, the career mode has been renamed Road to the Masters, with the focus switched from simply progressing from the amateur ranks through Q School to the PGA Tour, to doing all of the above plus earning an invitation to this prestigious tournament. As a result, career play is more focused, with a concrete goal behind all of your efforts. Just as the Madden games wrap with a Super Bowl every season and NHL hockey games close with the Stanley Cup final, now you have a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
There are other Masters-related frills, too. Along with being able to play Augusta National in one-off rounds, you visit its hallowed links in two other modes. Neither is wildly innovative, but each serves to further place the tournament at the heart of the game and offer tough diversions from single matches and developing a pro career. Masters Moments is a series of nine challenges where you step into the shoes of pros from tourneys past and try to come close to their achievements. These range from back in 1935 all the way to 2010 and include a wide selection of memorable moments such as Jack Nicklaus' eagle and two birdies in 1986, an Arnold Palmer eagle in 1958, and Tiger Woods' incredible seven birdies in a row in 2005. Each challenge can be beaten by getting close to the pro's achievement or mastered by matching or bettering it. This can be extremely hard in spots, because you're called upon to make a couple of unbelievable approach shots to within a few feet from the pin and do things like finish a run of seven grueling holes at four under par. Tiger at the Masters is the other main Masters-related game. It sees you playing as the great one during each of his four Masters victories, with the goal of keeping pace with every round. Fall behind by a single stroke on even one round, and it's back to the drawing board.
Need some advice on how to play that tricky approach shot? Ask your caddie.
Controls are a mix of new and old. The standard analog-stick swinging returns seemingly unaltered, and it's still pretty simple to blast massive, seeing-eye drives down the middle of fairways with a flick of the thumb. Things remain much more challenging up close; it's considerably harder to launch accurate approach shots and putt since there isn't much room in the stick's limited movement space to precisely pull back some oomph from shots. In other words, it's way too easy to accidentally launch an approach shot at 90 percent power when you're trying to finesse it at 55 percent. The same is true of putts, which are still the most challenging part of the game because you need to have a smooth stroke and read the greens perfectly to have a chance at the cup.
Caddies have been added this year as a sort of controller assist. Now, instead of simply being presented with automated shot recommendations or doing it all yourself, each shot is introduced by your overalls-clad caddie. He tells you what the immediate challenge is and typically presents a couple of recommendations that often involve a safe shot like laying it up onto the fairway or just trying to hit the green, or an aggressive drive to the flag. This advice is delivered with spoken dialogue that is fairly varied considering the number of times that it's given, so you feel like you actually have a caddie helping you out during rounds. Recommendations are mostly smart, too, and get better as you play each course and the caddie develops more familiarity with it in the form of a "course mastery" rating.