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Tiger Woods OnlineI have enjoyed the EA Sports PGA Tour Golf video game franchise ever since the Sega Genesis version was released in the early 1990s. Eventually the title was relicensed and repackaged into the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series in 1999. As time permits, it has become customary for my dad and I to jump on our PCs and play the game online together every few weeks or so – something we’ve done for almost ten years now. Combined with voice chat the game has allowed us to bridge the 1,500 miles that separate us, catching up on family matters and shooting the breeze while enjoying a round of computer golf together.

As a former North Texas PGA club pro (I still keep my last active PGA card framed on my office wall) I found each new release of the game to be a more accurate reflection of the game of golf than its predecessor, both in swing motion/mechanics and course management requirements. That was until the latest PC release of Tiger Woods PGA Tour ‘Tiger Woods Online’, which for this article includes the ‘Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 – The Masters’ retail expansion.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour appears to have regressed from a quality golf simulation to an obvious console port that plays like a glorified and occasionally buggy Facebook game. If you are used to playing past PC versions of Tiger Woods PGA Tour from EA, you will likely find Tiger Woods Online to be disappointing.

Good, Bad & Ugly
I was so taken aback by the lack of effort put into the PC version of this game that I’m devoting this post to drawing comparisons between the TW PGA Tour games for the PC that I’ve come to know and enjoy and this new Tiger Woods Online version. Minimal verbosity… no tangents… just a list of comparisons. And I promise no flaming – just fact:

Graphics & Sound
• An obvious console port, graphics & playability are nowhere near what one would have expected from a PC game.
• Other than wind, dynamic weather effects aren’t very dynamic.
• On-screen golfer icon & name badges that pinpoint ball location are a constant distraction. On the green, if another’s ball is in your line then so too is their icon – which can block your view of the putting line… as well as the hole.
• The penny arcade sound effects between holes are annoying.

Swing Motion
• The golfer’s hand grips look like they’re gripping a hatchet instead of a golf club, and there is a discernable space between the golfer’s hands and the club grip.
• The swing mechanics are downright horrible. The avatar’s legs are stiff and the golfers appear to be falling backward and swinging off their heels. It’s an ugly shank swing and as a former teaching pro drives me nuts to watch. So PLEASE kill whatever visuals you take away from TW Online before you tee it up for real.
• Lag glitches during swings (especially putting strokes) can yield some pretty embarrassing shots.

Shot Control
• Except for left and right, shot shaping has been minimized. There are no adjustments for shot arc as the ability to put the ball back or forward in your stance is gone. You can’t tee the ball up to sky it into a tailwind, or tee it down to puncture through a headwind. You can’t flop an open 8-iron over trees, or punch a closed worm-burning 5-iron under them. True touch shots are limited to wedge play, so scrambling from anywhere outside of 80 yards has essentially been taken out of the game.
• Tee box positions are fixed, so changing a tee shot’s ball placement is not possible.
• The game will randomly and inexorably underclub or overclub shots, sometimes by as much as 30 yards.
• TruSwing is still available. But since consoles don’t use mice the distance control was designed around 3-Click. If you play using TruSwing and are between clubs… good luck.
• When you hit into a water hazard, you can’t choose where to drop the ball – the game automatically places the ball for you. If that puts you in thick rough or right behind a tree – too bad. So you can ignore the Rules Of Golf.
• No more driving range or practice putting greens to hone shotmaking skills on.

User Interface
• Except for text chat, all functionality disables before and after it’s your turn. All there is to do between shots is wait and watch for the other players to hit.
• The hole minimap is locked when it’s not your turn, so studying your next shot while others play is not possible.
• Clicking and mousing around on the minimap to survey angles of approach are limited. Sometimes the green is shoved so far up into the top of the minimap that you can’t get a greenside view from behind the hole.
• Adjusting shot aim can require repetitively beating on the direction arrows (once you find them) with your mouse pointer before it engages. Combined with a hard-core shot timer (read below) this can be frustrating.
• There is no way to filter out non-party text chat. If you require text chat to communicate with players in your group, you’re stuck with general server chat drama. If you use voice chat, at least you can minimize the chat window to the left side bar so it’s off-screen.

• Ball flight cameras are almost comical as some are strategically placed right behind trees, bushes or other obstructions. So expect to hit shots where you won’t get to view your ball’s flight and/or you won’t get to see how or even where your ball lands:

o There are fairway gopher cams where you can watch your ball bounce and whiz right by you. Where it ends up is something you’ll find out when you line up your next shot because the camera is stationary and remains facing the direction the ball came from.
o There’s the trailing putt cam that zooms into a close-up of your ball and stays with it as it rolls 15 feet past the hole. Were you hoping to study the first putt’s break so you can adjust your aim on the putt coming back? Too bad, because all you saw was a close-up of your rotating ball rolling over enlarged blades of manicured grass .
o My personal favorite is the crow’s nest cam. The camera is stationed (I’m guessing) 200 or 300 yards away from where the ball is landing, has no swing or zoom and hovers right around treetop level. If you hole anything outside of 50 yards and get this cam you’ll never see it.

• Replays? What replays?

Online Play
• Your round is not instanced, meaning your game will be affected by other golfers playing the same course at the same time that you are. Their balls show up on your minimap, and their shots (as well as their player icons) are visible on your game screen.
• Every shot played by others leaves a thick white vapor trail behind it – putts included.

So there you are, with 20 seconds left on the shot timer, about to stroke a tricky & undulating 15 foot birdie putt to take the hole when it starts raining golf balls. Incoming ball flights, as well as the putts the players hit paint white tracers that bounce and zigzag all over the green obscuring your line. So you take a moment to collect yourself as they finish holing out when the shot timer expires. As you watch the new shot timer count down while waiting for the cobweb of white lines to fade away, you’re tasked with refocusing on what has now become a tricky & undulating 15 foot par putt.

• Private matches are not password protected. So immediately after creating a game, player slots have to be closed until your party is online and ready to click into the game you’ve set up. It’s easy for dad and I because we have Ventrilo to communicate when we’re ready. Players who do not have voice chat will require the person who created the game to continually kick random players one at a time from their party screen until the group fills up with the correct players.
• Did I mention the shot timer? Instead of the 120 seconds available in previous game versions, the maximum shot timer available in TW Online is 90 seconds… and that’s a hard 90 seconds. The game no longer asks whether or not you want to penalize the other player (thus avoiding penalty enforcement  if you so wish.) The game now simply penalizes them a stroke and immediately restarts their timer.
• The game has an option for suspending the round. One would consider this to be a good thing for stuff like breaks and beverage refills. But it doesn’t work that way unless you’re playing offline or by yourself. Every time I tried it with dear old dad, we had to restart the round from scratch because whoever created the game was the only one who could rejoin it. So be sure to have a multiplayer-friendly piss bottle handy because taking mid-round bio breaks during online play could cost you strokes.
• Experience gained – as well as money won from earnings and side bets – is still redeemable in the Pro Shop. Now a new and VERY cool side effect of being a ported arcade game is TW Online’s Booster system. Not only can clothing and gear be procured, but various “Boosters” that add  bonus multipliers to a round’s earned XP and cash can also be purchased.

Golfer Customization
• A really slick new feature is the Game Face Creator, which theoretically allows you put a custom face… ANY FACE… on your avatar. Applying a photo (or cartoon face) takes a minimum 480px x480px picture. I didn’t have one so I played with the Game Face creator using the models that are built into the app. My model of me looked awesome so I tried importing it into the game. What was imported was not what I created. So I exited and reopened the game. Accessing the Pro Shop and My Golfer sections now give me an error that it was unable to load a Game Face at this time and to try again later. That’s been going on for a month now. Could be a great addition to the game if it worked.
• Club customization (shaft, grips & head combinations, etc.) was removed entirely.
• Clothing customization is limited to a couple dozen items. (Only one Hawaiian shirt & no flip flops… bummer)
• The old skill specialization system (distance vs accuracy, etc.) is gone.

The Courses
• The mainstream courses are pretty good for the most part, and Augusta (even as a console port) is visually beautiful.
• Some courses are pretty buggy however.

o The Friday of the President’s Cup, dad and I decided on a round of match play at Royal Melbourne, which came with the core Tiger Woods Online game. We made it to the 6th hole before we were kicked. Unable to resume the match we tried it again and by the fourth hole it again froze up. So we switched to stroke play and completed all 18.

The retail Masters version has a Road To The Masters mode which I have yet to engage. It is the game’s built-in tour grind for making the transition from amateur to pro. So it’s possible some of the features I missed could be in there. If anyone is able to contribute in this regard it would be greatly appreciated.

For me, Tiger Woods PGA Tour golf is no longer a competitive golf sim – it is now Tiger Woods Online, the web-based arcade game. I would consider other PC-based alternatives if there were any. Both World Tour Golf and Tour Golf Online (scheduled for release in 2012) are browser games, though their swing mechanics appear MUCH more accurate. Since TW Online is currently the only established game in town… well at least it remains a palatable excuse for dad & I to hook up every few weeks.

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