Bigger, not necessarily better. That, in a nutshell, is Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14. After last year's speed bump of a game that added virtually nothing to the long-running golf franchise save some enhanced swing mechanics and Toddler Tiger, the developers at EA Tiburon packed a lot of goodies into this new release. While the core game buried deep underneath the shiny new wrapping remains very similar to its predecessors from 2011 and 2012, it's now harder to complain because of catchy new features like the history-lesson Legends of the Majors, all four major tourneys for the first time, LPGA support, and even nifty frills like night golf. This isn't the complete revamp that the aging game could use, but all of the additions freshen things up just enough to make it worth a buy.
Most of the experience on the links in Tiger Woods 14 is similar to that offered last year. This is a fairly typical sports sequel, with just some minor tweaks to game mechanics. Shot shaping is probably the biggest addition to the standard gamepad scheme introduced last year. Now, in order to pull off those nifty fades and draws that look so easy when the PGA pros do them on TV every Sunday, you have to push and pull the right stick diagonally. This is a more substantial addition to the game than you might think, because it's tricky to do this instead of the typical pull-back, push-forward routine. You get more of a sense of accomplishment now when you pull a ball around trees onto the fairway.
Difficulty has been tweaked, and putting is more finicky this year. Where last year's model refined gamepad putting to the point where it was too easy, here everything is dialed back to make things a little too hard. Putting becomes more comfortable with practice, but it's still difficult to read greens and to tell how much mustard to put on the ball. If you want an even greater challenge, you can try the new simulation control setting that removes all of the menu crutches, such as the swing path and the putt preview grid. This makes the game brutally tough, although it certainly provides a lot of motivation to players who have mastered the stock game.
Other than the above changes, the controls are virtually identical to those in last year's game. PlayStation 3 Move support remains excellent, continuing with the subtle refinements seen in 2012. Sensitivity and accuracy are dead-on. The only problem is the size of the Move controller, which is just too small to give the sensation that you're swinging a golf club. Since the weight isn't there, you can find yourself off-balance more than you would be on a real course. With that said, it's impressive that the game is so close to real life that this weight consideration is even noticeable.
The same cannot be said for Kinect support on the Xbox 360. It is still frustratingly tough to use Microsoft's motion-sensing peripheral. The camera doesn't track your movements accurately enough, and the absence of anything in your hands makes the swinging motion feel deeply weird. Even the menu resists ease of use, refusing to recognize your input so regularly that you soon wind up waving your arms at the camera like you're warming up for the karaoke version of "YMCA."
Game features are where Tiger Woods 14 shines. The new Legends of the Majors mode of play is a fantastic trip through the modern history of pro golf. You start way back in 1873 with Young Tom Morris at the Old Course at St. Andrews, and then follow a line of key events in golf history right to the present day. History buffs should enjoy everything here, from the sepia-tone graphics in the oldest challenges to the use of authentic clothing and clubs. Little touches have been thrown in to give everything added flavor, like silent-movie-styled intro screens in 1919. A number of top golf legends are present as well, including giants like Sam Snead, Bobby Jones, and both Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer in their primes.
There are some licensing issues with courses and players that cause some anachronisms with the historic challenges, though. But this actually adds to the charm, since modern players in century-old garb provide a fun past-meets-present feel. The only serious negative is the absence of the 1934 Masters course at Augusta in the basic version of the game. This course offers a completely different layout than the modern version of Augusta, so it's a must-play that ties in beautifully with the Legends mode. Its therefore a shame that it must be purchased separately as downloadable content, or as part of the $10 extra The Masters Historic Edition.
Career mode has been marginally beefed up. You can now create a female pro and play in the LPGA, and all players of both sexes have swing style profiles that determine if they play a power or control game, though this distinction only adds a barely-noticeable boost to your default stat. Adding support for the women's side of pro golf is a great touch and is long overdue. All four PGA major events are in the game this year for the first time, too, so your career can now run through the Masters, PGA Championship, US Open, and Open. This, along with nearly two dozen other PGA tournaments, really fills out career play.
You even qualify for the pro tour by following in the exact same steps as real-world wannabes. Players still advance as they always have, through the earning of XP and coins used to buff skills and buy new gear and clothing. This system is more restrictive this year, though, with just about everything locked at the start of the game. There aren't even any clothing choices at the beginning of a career. With every accoutrement locked down, the pressure is on from the very first moments of play to buy this stuff with real-world currency.
Online options have been increased and enhanced. Connected tourneys let 24 players go at it simultaneously with no need to wait for others to shoot. Other players' shots are shown by their arcs in real time as you play, so you're competing against benchmarks set by opponents. Country club memberships have been nudged up to 100, and there are more opportunities to voice-chat with fellow members while playing matches. Players connected online can also take advantage of live weather, so you can experience real-world conditions at the course of your choice at any time of the day or night. This is a great touch that gives matches a "you are there" feeling.
One area hard to quibble about in Tiger Woods 14 is the look of the game. It's an incremental improvement over last year's game, sure, but the graphics are better than they have ever been before. More attention has been paid to finer details. You can now start rounds at various times of day to watch the sun rise and set, and even head out for rounds in the middle of the night with luminescent balls. Golfing under a summer moon is amazingly atmospheric, an added touch that makes the game's 20 courses (which you can almost double by buying DLC) look completely different from their daytime counterparts. The only real weirdness comes with the crowd galleries in tourneys; they seem to be composed of people from the different eras represented in Legends of the Majors. Nothing like having guys in fedoras and women in what look to be flapper dresses cheering your putts in 2013.
Animations are fantastic. Swings are fluid, and shot reactions are realistic. All of the two dozen or so golfers in the game look and move just like their real-life counterparts, giving the proceedings a real TV broadcast vibe. Audio isn't as noteworthy. Music is Muzak: relaxing and fitting, but hardly memorable. Jim Nantz and David Feherty recycle lines and fall silent a lot of the time. The game doesn't know how to handle play-by-play and commentary for events when you are playing your home-rolled golfer, so the commentators tend to shut up during key moments. More shot-specific lines would be welcome, both to provide some advice and to keep the broadcast atmosphere rolling. Even added comments about ball lie and how greens are breaking would be much appreciated.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 is a classic case of a game sequel giving you what you need, but not necessarily all you want. Even though you might be looking for more ground-breaking changes to improve how the game plays on the tees, fairways, and greens after a couple of years of holding the line, there are enough new features here to keep you interested. The enthralling Legends of the Majors, new tournaments, the lengthy list of courses, LPGA support, and even the nifty night golf will wrap up your attention for many hours. This isn't the next big step for golf games, but adding quantity to the already existing quality of the simulation down on the links makes for another very good Tiger.'