Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 review: Thin shot

Golf is a sport of heritage, as much shaped by the past as it is the equipment and talent found in today's elite class of clubbers. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 pays homage to the former with the in-depth Legends of the Majors mode, a nostalgic big-budget presentation that takes players through a series of contests from golf's important moments of yesteryear. The latter is represented in the addition of connected tournaments, live contests where multiple golfers compete simultaneously online.

These two modes create a great balance of old and new, and provide just enough to keep Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 from feeling too much like iterative apathy.%Gallery-184795% Legends of the Majors begins in 1873 with the first Open championship ever played at St. Andrews. You'll also relive Bobby Jones' pioneer Grand Slam victory and subsequent retirement in 1930. Of course many of poster boy Tiger Woods' career highlights are also here, like his first Grand Slam in 2000, his second in 2005 and third in 2008. Legends of the Majors covers a vast timeline, spanning over a century of golf history.

The mode is great for golf fanatics, and it even takes a presentational cue from NBA 2K12 by adding grainy filters, visual effects and era-appropriate garb to better simulate the look and feel of the times. Legends of the Majors succeeds from a gameplay standpoint by adopting the equipment and conditions of each era. Playing golf with older, obsolete clubs is an interesting hindrance – no matter how perfect your swing is, you won't be getting as much distance with an iron cleek as you would with a modern titanium or graphite club.

The other big addition, connected tournaments, allows multiple golfers to participate in custom tournaments live, all at the same time. You play the course yourself, but while you're swinging and chipping your way through, you'll see other players' shot arcs and approach lines (though not the actual players themselves). Thankfully this isn't as distracting as it sounds – it behooves you to sit back and wait, seeing whether someone was able to squeeze a drive between those two trees, or if another bit off more than he could chew trying to clear that body of water before the green.

Connected tournaments are bolstered by the return of online Country Clubs this year, essentially the Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 equivalent of an online clan. You and your pals can sign up to champion the banner of your particular club or battle amongst each other for the title of club champion. The big improvements over last year include a maximum club size of 100 members over the previous limit of 25, online text chatting with club members in live tournaments – though typing with a controller is less than ideal – and creating your own club tournaments for up to 24 players.

Country Clubs are perfect for keeping Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 in your disc tray, though the feature is really dependent upon how many of your friends are actually in the club. You can join an open club at will – you can only be in one club at a time, mind you – but the competition is dulled when you have no idea who you're competing against. Naturally, scratching and clawing with your friends to be number one is much more interesting than trying to outscore XxBluntMan420xX.

Mechanically, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 is as sound as the series has ever been, providing an ample amount of control over the ball – both in simulation and arcade-like contexts. You can draw or fade the ball with precision thanks to the analog stick controls, which monitor everything from the angles of your backswing and follow-through to the speed of each and the amount of power in your swing. Even greater control is factored in when you consider exactly where on the ball you want to make contact.

The system is very deep and intrinsic to golfers, but the rub in all of this is that Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 doesn't do much beyond a brief tutorial to tell you how and why these mechanics work. For example, you can choose the type of golfer you want to be – a power swinger, a control expert, etc. – but how do you know what type of golfer you want to be if you're not already in the know? Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 doesn't do much to show you the pros and cons of each.

It's immensely satisfying when you sink a chip shot for an eagle, or you play the wind and nail a great drop shot on the green, and the system is sound enough to make it happen when you know what you're doing. Unfortunately, the road to that kind of knowledge is paved with lots of mistakes and frustration. Rather than explaining why you just failed, the game instead opts to blurt out a horrible, wooden line from announcer Jim Nantz about how that wasn't what you wanted to happen at all.

There's also the requisite career path in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14, in which you create a golfer and take him or her through a series of tournaments on the rise to riches. There isn't really anything new here, save for players now being able to chase down The Grand Slam – victory in four major tournaments in the same year: The Masters, US Open, British Open and the USPGA. The LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) makes its debut in career mode this year – an overdue inclusion for fans of the female side of the sport – and EA has tossed in a day/night cycle too, plus the usual back-of-the-box bullets like more golfers and courses.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 just barely succeeds thanks to its additions this year, though there's obvious room for improvement, especially in the connected tournaments. There needs to be a greater rotation of tournaments daily. As it stands, sometimes the only available tournaments may be on courses you don't have (via DLC or unlocks), so you're forced to sit on the sideline or find another tournament. On top of that, there isn't the sense of community EA hoped for with these Country Clubs – community is only possible if you bring your own to start.

It would be nice to be able to post challenges to other club members, or to compare your performance and equipment on certain holes. I'd like more information, more stats, maybe even replays; there just isn't any evidence of a concerted effort on EA's part to instill any sense of community and pride in your club.

Still, Legends of the Majors is a nice touch, a great mode for any diehard fan of golf and an interesting lesson in how the sport used to be played. And Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 plays well, providing a fairly low barrier of entry to series veterans and knowledgeable golfers alike. It's just a shame that the game doesn't do more to make newcomers feel as welcome.

This review is based on retail version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 for Xbox 360 provided by EA.

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