There's no question that golf is one of the few genres where the Wii has a leg up on its HD competition. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 both struggle to deliver the same level of immersion as Nintendo's waggle-centric controls, but Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 comes as close as the series ever has to bringing the feeling of being on the links to your dual analog sticks. There's no question that a few of the modes are starting to get a little stale and there are some unfortunate bugs present in the package, but that doesn't stop this year's Tiger from surpassing past efforts.
The first and biggest addition is known as True-Aim. I, for one, have wanted to get closer to the real thing without having to adventure into the super-difficult Tour Pro setting. True-Aim, coupled with the focus mechanic that I'll talk about in the next paragraph, helps to up the difficulty without making it frustrating. True-Aim removes the accuracy circle when zooming into your shot and forces you to aim your ball entirely from an over-the-shoulder camera. You have the same viewpoint as you would in real golf. That means there's no more camera tracking as your ball flies through the air. Instead, you're left to judge from the crowd and commentators' reactions how well you fared. It's much more realistic.
Focus is another nuance that's been added to the gameplay of Tiger Woods. This, much like True-Aim, is effective at upping the difficulty, but never to a frustrating degree. Focus is a meter that sits on the lower left of the screen and depletes as you use the classic Tiger Woods' arcade-style powers. That means if you want to power up your shot, increase its accuracy, spin the ball in the air or use putt preview, you'll need to give up chunks of focus. Once it's gone (and it depletes pretty quickly), it's just you, the ball, the hole and a ton of uncertainty.
The new focus mechanic is really a wonderful addition and makes you realize how much you've been relying on the spin, power-up and putt preview mechanics year-in and year-out. Focus keeps them in the game (unless you up the difficulty to Tour Pro), but asks you to budget their use. The only detractor is that different pros don't have different levels of focus. Should Tiger Woods have the same amount of focus as my created golfer? I don't think so, but he does.
With those simple features added in to this year's game, Tiger Woods 11 plays better than its predecessors. There are some oddities and bugs that pop up every now and again, though. Like hitting a short chip from the fringe only to have it fly off the green because True-Aim gives you the carry distance (only a few yards with this shot type) with no indication that your chip will actually go flying off the green if you hit to that mark.
There's also an occasional bug with switching clubs when pitching. The game hitches when making the change from your longest club to your shortest club for about a second and a half. It doesn't sound like much, but it's jarring when it happens (I only found this bug on the Xbox version and only in certain instances). There's also an issue when your ball lands too close to bleachers next to a green. The camera can't negotiate it and I was caught looking at the back of people's legs on a few occasions. None of the bugs I just mentioned are game-ending, but I think they're worth noting before you take the plunge.
Ryder Cup is another big addition to this year's Tiger Woods... or at least, it should have been. I'm not saying that the Ryder Cup is a poor addition to the Tiger Woods formula, but it certainly could have been differentiated a bit more from the rest of the modes. The idea of playing as the USA as they take on Europe is great and should be extraordinarily exhilarating (by golf's standards). Sadly that really isn't the case.
Kelly Tillman and Scott Van Pelt do a good job in the commentary with things like weather changes, but with meaningful shots they really phone in their performances. There I sat, on the green of the 18th hole of the final stage of the Ryder Cup. Europe and USA were knotted in the overall score and the matches for the final stage were all square. In other words, the putt that my golfer (Tiger Woods, of course) was staring at dead in the eyes would decide the fate of the entire team. Some might say a nation. Tiger drained the putt to clinch the victory and send the Euros packing, but Van Pelt just said, "Drains it for a birdie" with no mention of the fact that I had just made the biggest putt in U.S. golf history. A video played of past real world Ryder Cup wins, but the feeling of landing an enormous victory was absent.
All that said, when you're actually playing the Ryder Cup, it's pretty damn fun. I was a little annoyed that I was forced to watch each and every shot from both my partner and the Europeans, but at least you can tap A (or X on PS3) once they make contact with the ball. Even still, watching their strokes did help bring me closer to the action and put added pressure on my next stroke -- I just wish I had the choice. Speaking of pressure: for a really strenuous Ryder Cup, play through it in career mode with your created golfer.
Speaking of career mode, there isn't a whole lot that's new for your player to enjoy. You still get the uber-deep creation mechanic or photo GameFace with all of the hilarity that it provides. There are still a bunch of skill challenges to complete against some of the world's best golfers, and the PGA Tour Season is still firmly intact. The only real change has to do with experience points. Instead of earning cash, you now get XP for your actions on the course. That XP can be doled out to attributes just like before, but this year you can reallocate points if needed. I found my player to be totally handcuffed by his lack of power a few months into my career, so I had to go back and redistribute XP to beef him up a bit (I could've just used the swing tuner to test him out, but I'm clearly not that smart).
It's a cool change -- it just doesn't alter the core career design all that much. Thankfully if all you're looking for is a lengthy road to golf supremacy, Tiger Woods 11 provides exactly that. Progression is fairly slow, but I think I've tuned it fairly well to be lengthy without being tedious.
Online play is another aspect of Tiger Woods 11's gameplay that hasn't seen much attention in the off-season. The only real addition is online team play, where you'll be able to join up with 23 other players and play on either Team USA or Team Europe. It uses the same tracer technology to show other players' shots as we saw in last year's game. Elsewhere you'll find the same weekly, daily and Play With The Pros tournaments that have supplied hours of fun in years past. GamerNet challenges round out the game's online abilities nicely, but I would've liked more new content to spice things up.
Visually, Tiger Woods looks solid with a few marked improvements over last year's effort. Player models look pretty much the same as they have in the past, but grass textures have seen some nice revisions and clothing now flows with the wind. At least somewhat. Sometimes you'll notice that it doesn't adjust with the exact direction of the wind, but at least it isn't stagnant. Animations are very solid, but their range of movements is admittedly small. One strange visual bug pops up when AI players finish putting. Right before the screen fades to black, I occasionally noticed them disappear and reappear in a different part of the screen. It didn't happen every time, but it's another oddity worth mentioning.