It's been a while since I last played a golf game on a console. In fact sports games haven't been that high on my 'want' list recently. Well as I no longer review MMO games for Gamesxtreme it's time for a change, and Tiger Woods 08 is that change.
The games controls rely heavily on the left analogue stick. To take a shot you pull back the stick and then thrust it forward. You need to do this as accurately as possible, deviation from the central line will cause the ball to hook or slice. To do a shorter swing you push the stick forward before you hit the top of your swing. To boost the swing past 100% you must repeatedly tap either A or left bumper. Obviously doing this makes it more difficult to swing in a straight line. Alternatively there is a three click system. This is much more similar to older golf games where you have a power bar and click the button when the bar hits the required power and accuracy.
One of the core elements of the game is creating the career mode. Your created golfer will start with a stat cap of 10% and all skills set to zero. Skills can be increased by completing Tiger challenges or skill challenges. Skill challenges are simple set pieces which will improve your skill in a specific area. For example the driving challenge (drive a ball further than a computer opponent) will improve your driving skills. Tiger challenges will make up a significant amount of your career. The challenges make up a large grid with Tiger himself at the centre. Completing a challenge will unlock neighbouring challenges. Skills improve by carrying out especially impressive shots. Fir example hit a long straight drive and your accuracy, power boost and power will all increase. Each challenge has three goals, a gold, silver and bronze. To raise your skill cap you must beat a pro. Accessing a pro is done by completing all of the surrounding challenges. Like other challenges the pro games have a gold, silver and bronze reward, the difference here is that bronze awards a 7% increase to your skill cap, silver gives 10% and gold 12%. Don't worry though, once you hit your skill cap your skills will still increase into unrealised potential, you get access to these improved skills next time your stats increase.
In its earlier stages the game is remarkably difficult, the slightest misjudgement on the left analogue stick can cause a terrible shot. Once you get your stats past 20% the game does get easier and less frustrating. One frustrating element of the game is that you can often lead a game for the first seven holes only to lose the last two and come out of it with nothing. There are no prizes for second place. Some of the pro battles can take several attempts. Once you have increased your stats you can go back and replay the pro's to increase your rewards.
An additional stat is your players confidence, though this isn't one stat for everything. Every hole, club and shot type has it's own confidence stat. The more confident you are the smaller you targeting circle. Confidence is increased by doing well. Hit a birdie, a fantastic recovery shot or a super accurate long drive and the relevant confidence stat will increase. This is a great mechanic as your best shots on your best holes will get better and better as time progresses.
Clothing and equipment can be upgraded from the pro shop using money obtained from completing challenges. These give boosts to stats. Early in the game it's likely you will find the items of clothing with the boosts you need look terrible. My character initially looked like he purchased his clothes from a charity shop. As you complete challenges the range of items increases.
Graphically the game is a bit of a treat. The character models are extremely detailed as are the games courses. The games sound can be a little frustrating. Like most sports games there are commentators who make (hardly)witty remarks for each shot you make. As with all games they do make mistakes and will say something wholly irrelevant. One nice feature is that they will comment on your history. The commentators seem to track your stats like the confidence stat. If you have played lots of good chips in your career the commentators will say something to that effect. Whilst I am critical of the commentators they do need to be there, the game would be very quiet without them.
There are plenty of fun game modes such as One Ball or Bingo Bango Bongo. In one ball both players share one ball. Players take it in turns to hit the ball, the first person to put it in the hole wins. You can't simply play away from the hole to scupper your opponent. A circle will surround the hole, and you must play into that circle. The circle has a radius equal to 50% of the players distance from the pin. Not playing into the circle will award your opponent two shots, knocking the ball out of bounds or into a water hazard awards the opponent three shots.
Bingo Bango Bongo is a game where each hole is worth three points. First on the green gains a point, closest to the pin once everyone is on the green gains a point and lowest score gains a point.
Another new addition is the putting preview. When you are on the green you can hit the left bumper button which will show the exact line of your ball if you hit a perfect shot. This feature can only be used once per shot. The system unfortunately doesn't seem to be foolproof. Many times I've carried out a perfect shot according to the preview only to find something drastically different happens.
For those of you who are most interested in achievement points then Tiger Woods is a fair challenge. There are a few easy achievements, though most require a significant time investment to acquire. The distribution of points is fair.
The online system has had a bit of a rough start. With massive amounts of downtime in the early days people were unable to log on to check challenges and recover their game faces. Fortunately these issues are slowly being resolved and there seem to be less problems each day. One fun feature is the ability to upload your own challenges. If you play a magnificent shot you can upload it as a challenge for other gamers to attempt. Putting certain criteria on the shot can increase the difficulty and therefore the points available for completing it. For example, you might have played a shot where you bounced off the fairway and landed two yards from the flag. You could set that as a challenge where the challenger will need to bounce from a similar location and land within a similar area. Alternatively you may have made a long range putt and could simply post that as a challenge.
A more significant fault unfortunately is more of a game breaker. One of the Tiger Challenges freezes. This means you cannot get the stat increases it would provide. Whilst you can get the points from other challenges, it is not possible to complete every single challenge. Some gamers are having similar freezing issues on other challenges. Whilst there is a workaround to prevent this from happening (holding the A button while your console launches to clear the cache) it is not 100% effective. EA claim in their forums that the patch is with Microsoft for certification and could be released any day. The fault is simply unacceptable, this isn't the kind of bug where a bizarre combination of events or settings cause a problem, merely playing the game with standard settings causes it to occur. As this is happening to all gamers it should have been an obvious fault during play testing. Hopefully this will get fixed soon.
As a whole the game is a good package. I'm thoroughly enjoying working my way through the Tiger challenges and updating my golfers look as I go through. I've heard many gamers say that it isn't very different to the previous version so this may be a game for hardcore fans of the series or those looking for a high quality Golf game. Hopefully the game will be patched soon, though the unforgivable bug is represented in the final score.