Review: Penalized for slow play.
For a good while now, the Tiger Woods PGA franchise has been the dominant game in golf simulations, though without much competition aside from Links one year and the occasional Hot Shots release, that dominance almost comes by default. As you'd expect, EA Sports is first out the gate on the PSP with a golf title, simply known as Tiger Woods PGA Tour. Based off TW 2004 but slimmed down a bit to better work on the portable, TW PSP is a fine, deep golf game that will keep you occupied for a long,long time ? longer than you could expect on a handheld console. It's also got some fine multiplayer modes as EA has done in every PSP release thus far, especially the awesome Bingo Bango Bongo. However, TW suffers from the most heinous load times in the history of the world, making 18 holes seem like an eternity watching the load screen go at a snail's pace. Those lacking patience should head for the hills and purchase Hot Shots Golf Open Tee instead, but those who can tolerate this will find an excellent golf game that manages to capture golf and yet still make it fun for non-fans. I just hope the eventual release of TW 2006 on PSP wipes out the constant delays in play.
TW offers two main single player options; Legend Tour and Legend Challenge. The Tour is pretty self-explanatory; you use EA's awesome (but slimmed down) Game Face engine to customize your golfer and take him through the ranks, battling other PGA pros on 12 different courses, most notably The Old Course at St. Andrews and Pebble Beach, as well as match play events against both off-the-wall original players and PGA legends like Jack Nicklaus & Arnold Palmer in addition to battles against more notable pros like Vijay Singh and of course, Tiger Woods himself. Legend Challenge is a series of skill tests, such as driving power, putting skill, approach shots, working out of the sand, chipping, etc. It tests pretty much every facet of the game and makes you master it to earn the gold medals. In both gameplay modes the money you earn goes towards increasing your skills, buying better equipment,and buying clothes and accessories to make your player even better (some equipment actually adds some bonuses to skills so it's not just for show). The single player depth of TW is unparalleled on PSP, and many of the events are extremely tough so you won't just breeze through it. But the learning curve is gentle, by the time the game actually decides to get hard you will be ready to go.
Multiplayer features Party Play events like other EA games, and Ad Hoc wireless play. The notable event is Bingo Bango Bongo, which is a challenge of power and speed. What happens is two golfers start going at once, competing to see who has the longest drive (Bingo), who gets to the green first (Bango) and who finishes the hole first (Bongo). It's simple but incredibly addictive, as you work faster and faster to hole out before your opponents. Unfortunately there's no actual Infrastructure online play, but no other EA games have used it so far making it far from a surprise. Perhaps next time around.
Gameplay unsurprisingly revolves around using the analog nub for swinging the clubs. At first, this is a bit odd on the PSP since the nub is different than the analog sticks on PS2, Xbox, or Cube, and because your player is undeveloped the ball may fly all over the place even if you pull the stick down and back up perfectly straight. As your player gets upgrades this becomes easier to accomplish and you then can more accurately abuse the nub to add draw or fade to your shots. On the other hand, driving becomes very simple and lacking much challenge eventually, which is one of a small set of things that makes analog swinging a bit too easy (along with not knowing sometimes when to stop the backswing to take something off a shot). Like other TW games, you can do a power shot by pressing the R trigger constantly during the backswing (which is extremely awkward if you ask me), and put backspin or sidespin on the shots by pressing the R trigger and forward on the stick if you want to put more roll upon landing, or backwards to reduce the spin for a stop-on-a-dime landing and even some backward roll if you hit it perfectly. These little tricks become necessary to play well so be prepared to learn them.
Putting is a different beast than putting the ball in the air. There's really no power meter to worry about, instead you just wait until the putting hint shows up and then aim accordingly, and the actual power is based on where you're aiming the shot. It's a bit tougher than it sounds because the assistant is sometimes a bit off and will miss a break or two or misjudge the speed which forces you to read the green yourself and take a few guesses on your own. Once you get the guessing game down though, it's pretty easy to birdie every hole as long as you don't get into trouble on the fairways or rough. TW really forces you to pay attention to everything, be it the wind, elevation, various traps on the course, and even a simple break on a seemingly simple birdie putt.
For the most part Tiger Woods PGA Tour is a very well done golf game and with as much to do as there is, it will last you a long time if you're an avid PSP player. The majority of problems are minute, such as the high scoring on courses ? there's no way even great players shoot -10 at Pebble Beach in one round, let alone some no-name middle of the pack PGA pro just lucky to be there. There's a few strange bugs, most notably the hole-less 15th at St. Andrews ? you can see the location of the pin but instead of the hole being there it's just the putting surface which is a bit...awkward, but nothing that really messes up the game. The only real annoyance is the load times. Typically loading doesn't bother me a single bit, but TW has tried my patience on more than one occasion. Not even counting the 5 minutes or so just to actually get the game booted, but the couple minutes to load a round, 30 seconds to a minute between holes, and the 10-15 just to load up menus. You almost spend more time loading the holes than actually playing it, and just moving around the menu screens can be tiresome. At the least you can just put the PSP in sleep mode to avoid the initial loads, but anytime you boot the game fresh, be prepared to wait a while. This looks even sadder when you compare it to Hot Shots, with its instant loads between holes and about 30 seconds to load the course.
On the visual end TW shines as one of the better looking PSP games in this early stage of its life. It manages to keep many of the traits of the console versions with a few sacrifices, such as muddier textures and jaggies due to the different screen resolution. The courses themselves though are beautifully recreated and fans of golf will recognize many of these famous courses, though admittedly the fantasy courses like The Predator and Emerald are much more artistically sound since they're imaginary and all. The players too look great, and mimic their real life counterparts very well. Plus you can tell the difference between Singh and Woods, Nicklaus and Palmer. The audio features solid commentary from golf vets David Feherty and Gary McCord, and the duo tend to loosen up quite a bit and have fun recording some off-the-wall lines to amuse you while you play. The crowd roars and groans on cue, there's the random ambient sounds you expect to hear in a place as peaceful as a golf course, and the sounds of hitting the ball are spot-on. The music that plays in the menus isn't anything to write about, but then again at least it's not licensed EA Trax crap this time around.