Tiger Woods is now on the green. Where last year's Nintendo Wii edition of EA Sports' golf franchise was comparable to one of the golf legend's majestic drives that used to inspire awe in galleries across the globe, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 is more of a brilliant approach shot that winds up just inches from the pin. This is a superb follow-up in just about every possible way, although it is also an awfully safe one that is content to subtly build on last year's successes. New features are mostly enhancements, like even more finely tuned swing mechanics, a camera angle that lets you address the ball from a first-person point of view, the ability to play the Ryder Cup, and even some minigolf. But even though there aren't any showstopping changes here, this is another tremendously strong outing with an unerringly accurate and addictive take on real golf.
As with the previous Tiger Woods games for the Wii, the swing is the thing here. Like its predecessor, this golf game handles drivers, woods, irons, and putters extremely well. You simply point the Wii Remote at the ground--holding it as if it were a real golf club--press the B button to start your swing, and then have at it and hope for the best. To hit the ball long and straight, you need to swing the remote just as you would a golf club on the real links. If you turn your wrist, hit up or down on the ball, and wreck your swing plane, you'll soon be saying hello to some trees or putting on your hip waders for an excursion into a pond. It's all very lifelike for the most part--not exactly like real golf, but close. You can get as hooked on this game as you can on the real thing, which really says it all for what a stellar job developer EA Tiburon continues to do with this series.
That said, the feel of the swing is very close to what it was last year. Nothing here seems wildly improved, although you could make the argument that there wasn't much room for improvement on last year's effort. There are no marquee upgrades here, like the revamped short game and putting that made Tiger Woods 10 so exceptional. Still, control sensitivity has been noticeably improved across the board. The developers have made great use of the extra year to play around with the Wii MotionPlus that is helping to make this franchise a true evolution in golf-game design. As a result, swinging is tougher. You need to be more precise in your movements in every way, from performing a backswing and addressing the ball with a straight club face to following through. More punishment is doled out whenever you screw up as well. If you get twisted around after you swing through the ball--which is very easy to do when you're swinging a little remote control instead of an actual golf club with real weight--you won't like the end results unless you have an affection for really tall grass. Same with coming through; even the slightest turn of your wrists can mean hitting with the club face open and slicing into the deep stuff.
Advanced Plus and Tour Pro swing settings "for experts only" are now available as well, giving serious Wii golfers a chance to make the game even more demanding. Both react to the slightest movement of your hands when swinging the remote. You can even miss the ball entirely here and make the virtual greenskeepers grumpy by chopping turf divots into the air. It makes for an uncannily realistic experience when it comes to the sheer challenge-and-frustration twin bill that makes actual golfing so addictive, but it can be pretty depressing if you're a poor-to-average real golfer looking for the video game illusion of being a PGA Tour pro. A big-time slicer in real life, for instance, will be a big-time slicer here. At least these options give the game a lot of longevity. Just like real golf, you could put a considerable number of hours into the game without ever feeling like you've completely mastered your swing.
Another move toward more authenticity in Tiger Woods 11 comes courtesy of the new True View camera. Here, instead of the standard third-person camera positioned behind the tee, you get a first-person view. So when settling in for a shot, you see nothing on the screen except for the club and the ball. This mode of play purports to be so realistic that the tutorial advises you to place a real golf ball on the floor and target it when you're lining up a shot by holding down the B button. But this great idea on paper isn't quite so hot in reality. While it is immersive, the screen showing what's at your feet leaves you confused when it comes to what you should be looking at when swinging. It's disconcerting to be looking straight ahead at your TV and seeing what should be below your golf club--er, Wii Remote. You're also limited in what you can see, especially when putting; you'll want to glance up at the hole before taking a shot but really can't. Also, the camera doesn't change the perspective after the shot has been taken. So you're stuck trying to follow the flight of the ball from where it was struck or even looking into the sand of a bunker, which can be a challenge due to the pixelated graphics that are largely unchanged from those in last year's game.
Most of the feature set here is very similar to that found in Tiger Woods 10. All of the Career, Season, and multiplayer modes (multiplayer crowds are a little sparse right now, which is odd considering the number of tournament events that EA is sponsoring and how last year's game had such a big online following) have returned. Nifty party games have also returned, like disc golf, which is now available online and off. Career play remains a bit frustrating in the beginning because you need to do some grinding in the skills competitions to get your pathetic starter stats to where they need to be to truly compete on the tour. A couple of dozen familiar pros and novelty characters still make up the standard roster of pros you can take onto the greens. Five new courses have been added in the likes of the Twenty Ten Course at Celtic Manor, Whistling Straits, The Old White Course at the historic Greenbrier, and the tropical fantasy course Predator, making for a total of 28. But four have been dropped, too, including Firestone and Riviera. Visuals and audio have been ported over from last year virtually intact. So courses are still a little rough and ready, with lots of jaggies and a lack of definition, especially when it comes to looking a couple of hundred yards down a fairway. As for the sound, the commentators still spew a few too many insults based on your performance and the music is really Muzak, although the thunk of a club hitting a ball continues to be very satisfying.
There are just a couple of truly noteworthy additions. The biggest is the Ryder Cup, which allows you to sign on with a US or European team during career play and shoot it out over international golfing supremacy. It's a nice extra, though it's more of a depth feature best suited to hardcore golf fans who actually know what the Ryder Cup is and not average virtual hackers just looking to clock birdies and win tournaments. The event also isn't all that realistically modeled because you're dealing with teams of 12 players a side, and there are just a couple of dozen golfers in the game. If you want to really fill out the squads, it's sometimes necessary to put Yanks in with the Euros, and vice versa. And the other addition is minigolf, an offline-only mode of play that joins disc golf in the small roster of golf party games. It isn't very good, though. Putting requires a lot of oomph, so you're practically driving the ball just to knock it along 50 feet of fake grass, and there are only four bland nine-hole courses to shoot, with few of the goofy obstacles that make minigolf so much fun.
In the end, Tiger Woods 11 is a better game than its predecessor, although only marginally. You can't help but feel a little let down that it doesn't knock you out of your spikes, too, especially because last year's effort set the bar incredibly high with all of its MotionPlus swing improvements. Still, this remains a great simulation of golf that has no equal and ranks alongside last year's game as two of the finest sports sims ever made.