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Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09
Score: 85%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 4; 2- 4 (Online)
Genre: Sports (Golf)/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
When it comes to EA's yearly line-up of sports titles, one of the more common complaints is that, despite a few minor tweaks, they usually aren't much different from the previous year's version. Although Madden and NBA Live have managed to move away from this stigma, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 doesn't quite break free from it.

One of the few changes in Tiger Woods 09 is the commentary, though the change isn't for the best. Last year's crew has been replaced with Sam Torrance and Kelly Tilghman, who are an absolute bore to listen too, which is quite a feat considering that golf commentary isn't known for being that interesting in the first place. The commentary is rarely correct and feels scripted. Hank Haney, who acts as your coach during your career, is a little better, but not by much.

Though it shouldn't come as much of a surprise, Tiger Wood's player model is the game's best visual element. While the other real-life golfers look good by themselves, they look bad next to Tiger. You can, of course, create your own golfer using a fairly robust set of creation tools, including the Photo GameFace tool that creates a facial model based on a picture. All of the courses look slightly improved, though not by much and could still use a little clean-up. Some elements, like grass and water, look great but are populated by not-so-great rocks and shrubbery.

The most noteworthy addition to Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 is Hank Haney, Tiger's real-life coach. Between matches, you can head to the driving range and get one-on-one tips from Haney on how to improve your skills. After completing a short skill-focused challenge, Haney will rate your performance and offer a few tips on how you can get better. He'll also look at your clubs and make setting recommendations. After tuning your clubs, you can test the settings and get real-time feedback - which is a great addition that both newcomers and vets should enjoy.

Your ultimate goal is to play on the PGA Tour, though before you're good enough, you can complete in other side events to build your skills and earn money for new gear. The best way to do this is through Tiger Challenge Mode. Here you work your way through a series of challenges where you face off against nine golfers, eventually working your way up to a one-on-one match with Tiger. There are no new challenges, though they're still fun and serve as a good training tool for your player's skills.

Online play has been tweaked for performance, though like everything else, there are few major changes. One of the better tweaks is that you can now play simultaneously with players, though only during stroke play. Since everyone can take their shots at the same, games are considerably quicker than in previous years. GamerNet has seen a few refinements as well. It is easier to pull challenges from other players or upload your own, although this means you'll have to wade through several "YouTube quality" challenges, which is a bit of a pain.

The only "new" aspect of this year's game is the dynamic skill system. Rather than filling meters with skill points, your golfer's attributes will change based on how you're playing. The system is neat and much closer to real life, though it is far from perfect and is a bit unforgiving. The game doesn't recognize situations all that well, so if you hit the ball short because it makes sense, your long game might take a hit because you were expected to go long.

Combined with the Club Tuner and coaching tips, the skill system changes the concept of difficulty. As much as I enjoyed last year's game, there was a noticeable "wall" that kept me from progressing as much as I wanted. That problem wasn't present in this year's version, and though it was still a challenge, the experience was still enjoyable.

Game Mechanics:
Like the rest of the game, the control scheme isn't that much different from past games. Swings are controlled by flicking the analog stick, though unlike last year, you aren't punished as severely if the stick veers a little to the right or left when pushing it forward. Last year, even the smallest hint of movement was enough to send the ball flying all over the place, though now you're given some wiggle room as well as a meter that shows how much your swing deviated from a straight shot. The instant feedback is a great training tool and over time, you'll eventually get a feel for perfectly straight shots as well as draws and fades. It's a small thing, but it makes a big difference in the long run.

Though the lack of major gameplay changes is disappointing, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 is still one of the best golf experiences available and, thanks to some of the minor changes, a more accessible game than past versions.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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