Though the Tiger Woods series hasn't messed with its fundamentals a whole lot these past few years, there's no denying its unparalleled look and feel. PGA Tour 10 includes all the bells and whistles from last year's game, and adds precision putting, live weather updates, and a pronounced tournament-style design to the mix. But is it enough to finish the day under par?
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 plays it safe, incorporating all the same modes from last year, including mini-games like nail the target, stroke play, and everything in between. With 16 highly-varied courses, five of which are brand new to the series, there are plenty of ways to keep any golf enthusiast in full swing, and on their toes.
While all the modes from last year remain faithfully intact, it's clear that the overall design of PGA Tour 10 caters to a tournament-style structure, most notably with the addition of the prestigious US Open Championship, and the renaming of the long running Tiger challenge mode. Now called tournament challenge, this is where you relive various key moments in PGA history in the shoes of your created golfer.
Online integration is still as seamless as ever, and just as easy to use. Simultaneous play is back in swing, incorporating enough options to allow a full round of 18 holes to finish in under an hour, even with four golfers. If you have an online connection, you can also participate in GamerNet challenges that ask you to log the longest drive or closest approach. They're fast, fun, and easily the best reasons for taking your game online.
The series hasn't seen a major facelift, but the push for an even deeper level of realism, and a pronounced tournament structure, pay off immensely. We just wish the design team took more risks. Those without an online connection are missing out on some of the better features, but with an ample list of offline modes to choose from, you're not likely to find yourself getting bored with everything that PGA Tour 10 has to offer.
As with previous iterations, PGA Tour 10 is all about taking your created golfers to the top of their game. You earn higher stats across four categories as you progress through your career: power, accuracy, short game, and putting. Hank Haney, Tiger's real life coach, lends a hand once again this year, but with a limited screen presence and drills that are downright obnoxious or broken, he still comes off more as more of an irritating gimmick than an actual golf guru.
The default analog-based swing feels great when nailing crisp shots off the tee box, chipping up onto the green, or even adding draw or fade to your ball. The visual swing display in the lower corner helps remedy accidental pulls, so that out-of-bounds shots happen far less frequently. There's also a three-click Hot Shots-style system, if you prefer to see your shot percentage displayed visually.
The new precision putting system includes a side graph that displays the distance to the hole, indicated by a yellow line, though it doesn't account for the formation or speed of the green. It's a step in the right direction toward a more realistic approach, but it forces far too much stop-and-go with the putter, resulting in an unnatural swing. Trying to be precise is brutal, especially when you're contending with half- and quarter-pulls of the analog stick, while adjusting to difficult green layouts.
Also new this year is an automated weather feature, which affects your ball's trajectory, bounce, and roll. With unpredictable weather patterns that go from sunny to stormy at the drop of a hat, it feels far too unrealistic, and is much more challenging than it needs to be. Missed putts, from even 12 inches out, happen far too frequently, even if you're a veteran of the series.
But the biggest gameplay hurdles in PGA Tour 10 aren't the result of imprecise swing mechanics. Rather, it's the overly difficult and inconsistent early challenges you face as a rookie golfer that prove most frustrating. With enough perseverance, you'll eventually beat any challenge, but some of the early ones require far too much grinding, or ask too much of you. It's all smooth sailing once you your stats get high enough, but getting past that initial hump is painful.
Overall, the swing mechanics work well, minus a few snags with the precision putting, and the weirdness from the weather patterns. And best of all, you can always go back to your old way of doing things, and if you turn off enough features, PGA Tour 10 becomes PGA Tour 09.
Character models haven't seen a vast improvement, though last year's weren't exactly lacking. Facial expressions and animations are fluid and very life-like. The crowd, on the other hand, while larger in size, is still composed of reused models. Also, the rain looks as if it's a 2D layer over the screen, making contact only with the ground, not your golfer or nearby objects. The crowd doesn't disperse or hold umbrellas during downpours.
Courses look outstanding, with live scoreboards that shadow the greens, commentators that are on-track with the action, and detailed environments. The biggest improvement this year is Tiger himself, since he assumes a much more dominant role. The HD interviews looking back at his remarkable career, including reviews of his most memorable moments, are a very nice touch.
To quote last year's review, "Tiger Woods PGA Tour can best be described as a renovation instead of an innovation." The same can be said of this year's game. We appreciate the strong emphasis on tournament play, but none of the new additions to PGA Tour 10 blow us away. If you absolutely love the series, or are brand new to the franchise, here's another one. But if you're looking for something truly new, you might want to check out PGA Tour 10 on the Wii.
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3.