2004 seems like a seesaw year for Tiger Woods. He ran into a large string of bad luck, falling from the top spot to the third best golfer in the world. On the other hand, Tiger just got married and is still one of the largest draws the golfing world has ever seen. Fortunately, his domination of the gaming world still exists, as Tiger’s PGA Tour series has all but obliterated his competition. In fact, the latest title in his franchise is the only golf game coming out this year, ensuring that the crown prince of golf will retain his top ranking in the digital arena. Grab your favorite driver, because it’s time to tee off with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005.
Perhaps the most significant overall theme of Tiger 2005 is the idea of customization. While Tiger’s games have always been deep in terms of player interaction and development, this year’s version lifts character creation to new heights. The GameFace feature that was so innovative from last year returns with a vengeance in 2005. There’s easily twice the number of options available this year for your golfers, so players that dedicate the time should be able to fully reconstruct themselves digitally. GameFace II (as it’s called) also provides plenty of wacky additions for gamers to create strange characters, such as extra bags under the eyes, facial scars and massive laugh lines. Combined with a larger number of body types and you have the option to make just about any potential golfer your mind can come up with. You’ll also have the ability to create a custom swing unique to that player from all the potential physical angles. If you’d like to have a duffer squat into his drive, he’ll do exactly that. If your drive is based more on arm strength, you can isolate longer arm extensions before you connect with the ball. Considering that you can also shift your body weight when you swing your clubs, the options to pick a distinctive tee shot are almost infinite.
Once you’ve created your golfer, it’s off to the links. Replacing the tour mode is the My Legend mode, which gives players the option to go up against six of the most famous golfers of all time. These include Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros and Tiger Woods. However, before you can step up to these pros, you’ll have to go through a series of made up and actual PGA Tour professionals. Instead of being presented with an opponent at random, you’ll have the option to pick and choose your competition, even placing a wager on the outcome of your showdown. Successful completion of these courses, or the extra legend scenarios that throw you into historically accurate challenges, will provide you with plenty of prize money. This can be spent on increasing your character stats to provide additional driving power, shot accuracy or putting control. You can also spend money in the Pro Shop, which is definitely expanded from last year’s game to provide hundreds of clubs, clothing and accessories, each of which can further boost your stats.
Wins on the greens will also earn you legend tokens, which can be redeemed and used to purchase golf courses. Once you’ve paid for access to these worldwide country clubs, you can start piecing together your own dream 18 holes. But you’ll be able to do much more than pick and choose greens. Another new feature included within Tiger 2005 is the ability to “Tiger-Proof” each hole. Fledgling groundkeepers will be able to adjust just about every single aspect of a course, including narrowing fairways or deepening the sand traps. This allows players to continually give themselves challenges to their growing skill level by messing around with the basic structure of holes, forcing greater attention to shot placement and ball control.
While the difficulty on courses has been upped significantly, this is somewhat balanced by the addition of a newer putting system designed to help sink putts. Called Tiger Vision, this "special ability" marks exactly where players need to aim to make a putt, no matter how difficult or how far away it might be. This feature, which is truly a boon to beginners, allows anyone to nail a shot just like a pro. To curtail any potential abuse of this skill, there's both a limit on the amount of times you can use Tiger Vision as well as a time limit on lining up your shot, so players will need to use a bit of strategy when playing their trump card. Of course, if golfers want more of a sense of realism, they can turn this feature off; alternately, they can enter Tour Difficulty mode, which removes most of the game's hints and clues, forcing greater reliance on accurate swings with the analog stick on approach shots and putts.
Aside from these modifications to gameplay, there really aren't a lot of changes made to the formula of Tiger Woods golf. Many of customary modes found in golf titles return for this year, such as skins or stroke matches, Online play (for most systems – sorry Gamecube!) is still incredibly responsive and full of serious competition for hardcore players, and some of the additional Real-Time Calendar challenges will keep players returning day after day to try to win new equipment or prizes. However, Tiger finds itself in one of the tricky positions of being right on the edge of becoming formulaic. The inclusion of Tour Difficulty does veer the game away from staleness, but perhaps the integration of a story mode from amateur to pro, similar to EA's Chase for the Cup would evolve the golfing game to new heights. Some purists may take offense to a slight imbalance towards easy gameplay, including the addition of Tiger Vision. For instance, I managed to have more pin shots or under par holes in this year's title than I think I may ever have had in a golf game. Another issue is the lack of courses, considering that there are little more than a dozen PGA courses included in Tiger 2005. The fantasy courses are fun to play on, and there should be more of them to force players to re-evaluate how they play, but there should also be more real-life courses to balance them out. Finally, the Tiger Proofing course editor that was included could've been somewhat deeper, letting you completely design a total club from scratch instead of editing pre-existing holes, but that's a relatively minor comment overall.
Similar to the gameplay, if you've played a Tiger Woods title within the past few years, you're probably going to be accustomed to the visual look of Tiger 2005. Many of the character models and animations are quite similar to the ones that've been seen in previous years (GameFace created characters notwithstanding). Many of the power drive animations have been retooled, giving you a different feel for game action when you really pound the ball, and the camera angles on some shots are framed nicely for dramatic effect. What does stand out are some of the establishing approach sweeps this year, many of which can look like oil paintings with the atmospheric detailing. Sunsets, fog and other environmental backdrops look spectacular this year. However, there is a slight hiccup with some of the other environmental textures. Water hazards don't look as impressive as they have in previous versions, and some of the out of bounds textures for trees and shrubs are starting to look flat and blocky.
Commentary for Tiger 2005 is light and entertaining, fitting the mood of the golf game. It's not uncommon to have the announcers call a shot exactly right from the swing to the lie of the ball, which is a pretty solid barometer of how you're doing on a hole. You can make them eat their words, however; sometimes they'll call a bad shot, only to realize that it lands much better than expected, and this correction happens quite smoothly and naturally to the onscreen play. Musically, the ambient soundtrack, produced by BT, really does a great job of relaxing you and getting you in a mellow place to assault the greens. Hell, even if you pull off a bad shot, the calming grooves of the match will ease your mind. This is somewhat contrasted to the near constant hook of Outkast's "The Way You Move," which feels like it's almost the only EA Trax song included for menu screens. While it's a good song, the heavy rotation it receives can burn you out quickly.
While it doesn't break any seriously new ground, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005 is still the best golf title around. The inclusion of GameFace II, Tour Difficulty mode and Tiger Proofing provides plenty of player customization options that fans of the sport will enjoy. Plus, the inclusion of Tiger Vision allows people who've never picked up a club to feel like a golf pro. If you've never stepped onto a golf course, Tiger Woods 2005 could very well be the best introduction for you.