In the last seven or eight years very little has changed in the Tiger Woods games on Sony and Microsoft's consoles. It certainly got a bit more streamlined ? better looking and started making good use of online play, but the core gameplay remains remarkably unchanged.
The big break through, back in 2001/2002 was to use the analogue sticks to swing the golf club. It is essentially this mechanic that drove the series out of sight of the competition.
Then, with the arrival of Nintendo's Wii, swinging a golf club was one of the first and most obvious implementations of the new control device (there was a bare-bones golf game on Wii Sports). And, even though flapping your arms about has mostly turned out to be a rather empty and gimmicky experience, Tiger Woods is a clear exception.
In fact, until Tiger Woods gets Playstation Move support, the Wii version of the game will be the definitive version.
As you get into your stance, you point the controller down, hold in the trigger, and swing like you would a golf swing. As you first start holding the trigger button, the camera switches to a first person top-down view similar to that which you'd see when actually playing golf. It is a small touch, but one that handsomely pays off in terms of immersion, as does the feedback in the controller as club hits ball and the satisfying sound of a clean strike. Whatever fears one might have had over gimmicky controls are soon banished.
Another great thing about the real-life swing is that it forces you to play the game at a slower pace. Getting into position and actually swinging an imaginary club simply takes more time than would a few clicks or a back-and-forth of an analogue stick.
The effect of this enforced change of pace is that you tend to take shots more seriously and that the game starts feeling more strategic ? something that is sometimes lacking in Tiger Woods games on other formats. Whereas the Tiger Woods series could rightfully be accused of leaving more serious golfers behind in favour of mass market appeal, the Wii version is holding out an olive leaf to the hardcore.
A variety of swing settings, including two swing modes not featured in last year's game, means that you can tweak difficulty and sensitivity to taste. And, with the Motion Plus peripheral in place, the game offers some very realistic swing tracking.
As always there is a wide variety of courses and an extensive career mode to get stuck into. This year's back-of-the-box feature is the addition of the Ryder Cup. Whereas more is usually better in terms of game modes, the Ryder Cup is hardly going to push Tiger Woods sales to new records. Overall though, the variety of things to try out is pretty impressive. There are even some party games thrown into the mix ? which though entertaining, certainly is not what this game is about.
Decent audio and some of the better visuals we've seen in a Wii game rounds off a very compelling package. Sure, levels of detail might not keep up with the other two major consoles, but the fact that this hardly matters speaks volumes.
Add it all up and you have the definitive version of Tiger Woods 11 and quite likely the best golf game available today. Which is not to say that it is perfect. But, until we have a Tiger Woods game with Playstation Move support, the Wii version will remain comfortably perched at the top of the leaderboard.