Is the 2005 iteration of Woods’ golf a smash hit or a swing and a miss?
There was a certain period in the last decade in which EA were releasing games left, right, and centre that were much better than they ever had any right to be. From about 2001 to 2006, it felt like everything they put out, from their normal label to their Sports and BIG brands, was an absolute banger. SSX, Battlefield, Freedom Fighters, Burnout, James Bond, even their Harry Potter games defied all hopes and turned out great. Yet, there’s one genre that they took particular pride in that shined with a lustre that they just can’t match today, and that was their sports games. I would like to say that I have no time for sports, and I’ve logged thousands of hours on the old NBA Live, FIFA, and Tiger Woods games. That might make this review a bit of a foregone conclusion, but if anything else, it might shine a bit of light on a game that doesn’t get its due in retrospect: Tiger Woods’ PGA Tour 2005.
The PGA Tour game brand had been around since the mid-90s, but it wasn’t until the 2002 edition when people really started to take the series seriously. After a collection of average outings for the game, it wasn’t until Tiger Woods was hired as the pretty front man that more and more light started to be shined on the series. So, they had the sales, but they didn’t quite have the quality: Metacritic tells the tale, as the early editions still received the same middling reviews. EA Tiburon knew they had to get out of the bunker, so they put their putter heads together and started producing a wave of significantly better products. 2002 was pretty good. 2003 was good. 2004 was great. So, what did the summation of their efforts in 2005 look like?
What really matters is how well the golf game – that is to say, the striking of balls from tee to hole – works. The best way to describe it is simulation-style presentation mixed with arcade-style execution. The GUI will bombard you with all the pertinent facts and figures, such as distance to hole, wind speed/direction, and club choice (a 2 Iron will always hit harder and farther than a 9 Iron or a Sand Wedge, for instance), but what it ultimately comes down to is how hard and how accurately you can swing the analogue stick. This makes the meat and potatoes of the game an absolute primal joy, and there’s nothing quite as therapeutic as nailing a perfect drive, or chip shot to the green. However, just because it skews more arcade than simulation doesn’t mean you don’t need to be accurate; the game demands a high level of play, which can make playing unusually stressful, but when you understand how to use the clubs, where to place your next shot, and the treachery of the winds, then you’ll find how much of an utter joy it is to put the ball in the hole; even more so if you do it under target.
That’s not to say that it always runs like butter, as there is always ample opportunity for a shot hit askew to fly straight into the bunker or out of bounds. Sometimes it feels like the controls don’t exactly want to co-operate with you, and you’ll feel like you’re trying to wrangle the left stick into submission, but mastery – because they demand nothing less than mastery – will reward players with exactly the shots they meant to take. Playing this game can feel slightly masochistic when you’re not winning, and it’s not as relaxing as you might think – much like real golf – but you’ll enjoy every second.
There’s a wide variety of modes to keep fans and non-fans alike contented. The conventional season mode option is a 10-year campaign from 2005 to 2015 in which you can take on a decade’s worth of tournaments at the likes of Pebble Beach and St. Andrew’s. That’s fine, but if you want something with a bit more spice, you can take on My Legend Pursuit, a 40-match game mode where you rise through the ranks, taking on no-name jobbers before earning the right to face golf’s greatest, such as Seve Ballasteros and Arnold Palmer, names which were lost on me but would be huge to true golf diehards. This mode was a lot more interesting, as the sense of progression gives players something to care about, and the difficulty is considerably harder than other game modes, meaning you must fight and claw for those victories. Also of note is the RTE calendar. Nothing to do with Irish public broadcasting, this mode uses the PS2’s internal clock and calendar to generate daily and monthly events for the player to contend with. This is a super-cool feature, but unfortunately doesn’t work if your PS2 is mapped to an accurate date, so if you want to get at this one, you’ll need to wind the clock back. Exhibition mode offers loads of game types with funny and archaic names such as Stableford, meaning the player will be completely spoiler for choice with this game.
The soundtrack has always been a bit of a curious case for the Tiger Woods‘ games, and while 2005 carries on that tradition, that’s not to say that the quality is any lesser. The soundtrack is mostly comprised of ambient dance music tracks by American producer BT, a leading light in the Intelligent Dance Music field, and it shows; the OST is replete with calming and relaxing tracks designed to reflect the nature of golf. The choice of BT was an excellent one by the team and has certainly made a fan of me. However, remember earlier when I said that the soundtrack could be curious at times? Well, in 2004, we had a blend of rock, hip-hop, and cuts from the NBA Live soundtrack (there’s a Just Blaze track in there called “Starting Lineup”) and while the soundtrack was great in its own way, it did feel somewhat epileptic. That feeling will creep back when you use the GameFace mode as you hear the dulcet tones of Andre 3000 crooning at you as Outkast’s The Way You Move starts blasting. It certainly fits with what you’re doing; in customisation, you’re deciding the way you’ll move, but it’s a surprise nonetheless. Take it as a metaphor for this game at large; full of surprises.
Aside from perhaps the SmackDown games of the time, Tiger Woods’ boasts perhaps the most consummate customisation tools available for the time. Returning from last year’s iteration is the “GameFace” option which allows you to customise the player golfer to such a fine degree, you might actually be able to create a half-decent facsimile of yourself (I might sound like I’m condescending to the game here, but it was 2004 and hard to make things look right in Create-An-X modes), packed with options to make the digital version of you as realistic or as goofy as you like. However, new for this year’s edition is “Tiger Proofing”, which applies the same philosophy of GameFace to the courses available in the game. You can play on the standard, stock versions of the courses, but if you find them a little yawn-inducing, Tiger Proofing allows you to amp up the difficulty by changing every minute detail about the hole; you can make the fairways thinner, increase how long the rough is, decrease the condition of the grass so it’s harder to play on – you can even change inconsequential things like the grass cutting pattern or even the grass’ colour. Aesthetically, that’s just silly, but functionally, the idea of ramping up a course’s challenge to your liking is an appealing one, and it works well. So, if you’re banging out Eagles and Birdies on Emerald Dragon, the game’s toughest course, you can come here to squeeze the last few drops out of this game. As such, the level of customisation available to players is nothing short of commendable and only serves to enhance what was already a solid game.
What really makes this game, though, and raises it above the hoi-polloi of other sporting ventures, is the comedic nature of it. This is what will keep you coming back for more and will convert you into a Tiger Woods‘ fan. Firstly, commentary is provided by David Feherty and Gary McCord, a pair who bicker so much they make Clarkson, Hammond, and May look friendly. They snipe at each other, criticising their performances at golf and mocking one another’s commentary, especially if one of them gets a call wrong (“David, you need to wash your eyeballs, that’s on the fairway!”) making a round of golf the funniest and endearing that it’s ever been. However, it’s not just here where Tiger Woods’ PGA Tour 2005 has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. The game has a complement of wacky original characters to go along with the real-world pros in the game. These border slightly on social cliché, but they’re still fun; from the hardcore Texan, Shooter McGraw to the punk scene girl Kendra “Spike” Lovette, every original character is memorable, plays well, and will leave a smile on your face. It also indicates to me that if EA were ever to lose the PGA licence, they’d do just fine.
Verdict: As a package, it’s sublime, and ultimately, you can attest to its quality with a simple fact: how many people who couldn’t give a hoot about golf played it and are still playing it? I am, and this is in 2016, long after the metaphorical body of this game has gone cold. At the very least, give this a chance; costs less than a bottle of Coke, and will last you 200 times longer.