- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 26, 2013

While John Madden dominates as the face of the premiere virtual football game, another sports legend has successfully made a golf simulation synonymous with his moniker.

The latest entry into a popular video game franchise, Tiger WoodsPGA Tour 14 (EA Sports, rated Everyone, reviewed for Xbox 360, $59.99) not only stars, once again, Mr. Woods in all of his motion-captured glory, but also features a slew of superstars from the past and present ready to walk the fairways.

Full disclosure, I am not much of a fan of real golf, but it’s hard not to appreciate what the franchise delivers this year from both a historical perspective and live competitive options.

First, I’d like to simply focus on the Legends of the Majors mode for a bit.

A player works through more than 50, unlockable challenges starring such greats as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicholas, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Lee Trevino and, of course, Tiger, covering key factual and fictional rounds of golf from the 19th through 21st centuries.

Golfers and spectators dress in period garb, clubs are from the era (anyone remember Mashie Niblicks and Brassies?), and legends play on courses replicated for the time highlighted.

For example, it’s 1873, I’m in control of the Scotsman Tom Morris (a pioneer of professional golf) using a wooden shafted club and playing the front nine of the Old Course at St. Andrews. It’s raining, and I can only see in sepia tones.

All I had to do was break even, but with going into the last hole with at 3 under, I still managed to screw up the challenge. I really hate golf sometimes, despite using a video-game controller.

Or, it’s 1919, and I play as Bobby Jones (one of the most successful amateur golfers in the history of golf) challenging the upstart Bud Cauley (a star in 2012) on holes 16 to 18 in the U.S. Amateur Championship. That’s pretty impressive as seen through a Kinescope.

However, the Legends mode is more appealing for its encyclopedic wealth of informational nuggets (in 1922, Gene Sarazen became the youngest PGA champion at the age of 20) revealed in a timeline presentation as well as in the classic matches.

Now, let me also rattle off some of the multitude of options afforded the latest PGA Tour effort that includes a television-style broadcast presentation and updated commentary from Jim Nantz and David Feherty.

EA Sports offers 20 championship courses, 35 playable professionals and a multitude of configurations to build your own golfer and take him through a rigorous career mode or simply dive into a Quick Tournament.

Life-like weather effects return now coupled with live time of the day action and the extension to play night golf complete with glow-in-the-dark balls.

Up to 100 online members can join a virtual country club where they can play at the links with pals at any time as well as taking part in customized online tournaments.

For the first time, virtual golfers participate in all majors — the U.S. Open, the Masters Tournament, the PGA Championship and the Open Championship — and even the LPGA gets recognized this year (as it should) with its own career mode. That’s right — a complete women’s league integrated within a sports game.

For you amateurs out there, as a virtual golf beginner myself, I found mastering shots with a traditional Xbox 360 controller a fairly simple as well as frustrating endeavor (the old “easy to use, difficult to master” theory), as it should be.

I can use a sniper rifle to pick off a Locust Boomer from hundreds of yards away, handle a rocket launcher to take down a helicopter, but can’t manage to manipulate a virtual piece of metal with the right finesse to hit a ball into a cup. Go figure.

I’ll also mention that the Kinect option is pretty responsive and interactive. The motion- and audio-sensing device easily reacts to me asking for a different club, bending over to carefully scrutinize a ball lie or, taking a big swing in perfect form as my on-screen golfer mimics the motions.

I will admit to having a hard time putting and getting enough force to move the ball long distances with Kinect no matter how hard I swing.

No matter, Tiger WoodsPGA Tour 14 is a pretty slick simulation, even if it is golf, while delivering one heck of an immersive and time-consuming experience for the virtual golfer in the family.

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