It's often been said you need to learn to walk before you can run. We remember being scolded as children for trying to do too much to fast, and in much the same way, if you're a golfing novice, who's barely good enough to hit the ball around a crazy golf course, perhaps it would be an idea to go up against people of a similar ability, rather than the world's golfing elite.
Unfortunately, it seems Tiger Woods 2011 should have paid more attention to the old proverb when it was in development, as the beginning of the game seems to have been created to be somewhat of a trial by fire. After going through the initial tutorial, and creating your golfer (you can even scan a photo of your face in, for maximum disturbance), you'll be presented with a levelling up screen, where you can apply your new found experience (you gain XP for simply playing the tutorial) to upgrade your golfer. The problem is, you then start your career on Level 0, with stats that are so low you can barely hit the ball in a straight line.
Seemingly blissfully unaware of your comparative uselessness, the game then lets you take on the entire PGA Tour, as you progress through the game's career mode, immediately starting off by going against the biggest and best golfers in the world today - with your created golfer possessing the natural sporting talent of a brick.
Of course, while it is a bit of a trial by fire, the levelling system is in no way a bad thing. Starting off at level 0, as you play courses, and make better shots, you'll gradually start to level your character up. Your XP can be spent on improving your abilities, or buying better equipment for your character, which adds a real sense of progression as you play, and means that even if you're completely messing up on the course, at least you'll still be levelling up your character.
But the decision to start you off against the world elite of golf just serves to lead to a number of humiliating defeats, as you gradually struggle to learn the ropes for yourself, against opponents who are to forgiving as Apple are to penniless. As an example, we came dead last on the first course we played, with a final score of more than 30 over par. Its the golfing equivalent of trying to smash through a plank of wood with your bare hands - you're never going to manage it initially, and all you'll end up with is a shattered ego and some rather sore digits. However, as always, practice, and levelling your character up, makes perfect.
There is an in game tutorial mode on offer, which, while it does an OK job of explaining some middle-to-advanced topics, is absolutely rubbish when it comes to explaining the basics - things like, how to decide how much power you put behind your shot, or how to work out where the ball's going to land. And while it's fairly simple once you've taken a few strokes to work out that the big targeting circle isn't where your ball's going to land, but is instead where it should stop, it would be nice for beginners to have their hand held a little bit more, rather than having to try and decipher the initially confusing world of golf on their own.
Fortunately, the actual golf in the game is fairly straight forward - although the default analogue stick mode can be a bit hit and miss. Requiring you to basically use your controller as a miniature golf club, you pull the analogue stick back to swing your club back, and push it forwards to drive it down the course. And while that's fine for long, driving shots, it's can be slightly more awkward than it really should be if you want to whack the ball with anything less than 95% power. Luckily, by clicking the right analogue stick, you can access a much simpler "three click" mode, where you press A once to set a meter off, then press it again when it reaches the power you want to put behind the shot, and again when it gets to the bottom. Mistime your presses, and you'll fire a duff shot - but it still allows for more accuracy than the stick method.
However, when it comes to the important part - the putting - Tiger Woods begins to trip up again. If you tap the left bumper, you can pull up what's called a "putt preview", where the game draws a line to show you where the ball would go if you hit it using the recommended power. The only problem is... well... it doesn't work. Far too often, you'll be shown the shot preview, only to find the line coming nowhere near the hole - despite you being only a few feet away from it. So the game's "recommended shot" is effectively you missing. The same is often true in reverse - you'll often be shown a perfect shot in the putt preview, and hit the ball, using the exact amount of power the game recommends, only for your ball to stop short, or scoot wide of the hole. So while your ball falls short, and your in game golfer starts gesturing angrily towards the ball, you find yourself sitting there doing the same thing in your living room - because you're effectively failing for doing what the game told you to.
Usually, it's because the putt preview hasn't taken into account an uphill gradient, which requires more power, or the weather conditions (rain seems to slow your ball down), but why doesn't the putt preview take these into accounts? Especially in the beginner mode, which is obviously aimed at novices.
Once you've started to get your head around the game's intricacies though, you'll quickly find that there's actually a pretty fun game of golf lying under here. While there's a whole host of ways to make the game harder for the golfing masochists, on the easiest difficulty level, whilst it's not exactly easy to pick up and play, if you stick with it, and persevere, you'll find yourself slowly getting used to the game's foibles - and levelling up your golfer, even when your failing, gives you real sense of progression and achievement, and a real reason to carry on.
One of the most impressive (and also the most controversial) aspects of Tiger Woods 2011 is the game's online mode. Letting you not only take on golfers from around the world in standard tournaments, the game also includes what are known as GamerNet challenges, which are scenarios created and uploaded by players, which are designed to test your skill. Whether they're challenging you to finish a hole in one under par, or simply land the ball within a target circle that seems an impossible distance away, the GamerNet challenges are a great idea - but it's just a shame how the game's online mode's been implemented.
This is the first game to utilise EA's new anti-pre-owned policy, requiring you to type in a one-use only code (printed on the back of manual) to unlock the game's multiplayer mode. If you buy second hand, you'll have to pay the 800 Microsoft Points to gain access to the multiplayer functionality. However, while that's all well and good, the way it's been promoted is far too intrusive. Every time you boot up the game, until you've activated your free 7 day trial (that each user gets), or unlocked the full mode, it'll prompt you to unlock it in order to be able to play online. It's annoying, intrusive, and completely un-needed - if you've said no once, you don't need to say it every time you boot up the game. If you do buy pre-owned, and are tempted to buy the online mode, you should also beware that EA routinely switch off the servers for "old" games - so if you don't play online regularly, or you're buying the game a few years down the line, you may have to think whether it's worth your £6.80 for what could be a few months of play.
If you're looking for a golf game you can just pick up and play, Tiger Woods 2011 (at least on the 360) isn't it. If you've got the persistence to stick with it, and enjoy games with a strong focus on levelling your character, then Tiger Woods 2011 could be right up your street - and landing what was once an impossible putt, thanks to your character's increased stats is a pretty rewarding feeling.
But that's possibly the most frustrating thing. Whilst golfing's elite are bound to love this, there's a decent, enjoyable golfing game that everyone could love, scratching at the surface. With a tweak to the difficulty level, and a few more assists, or even just a few more explanations for novice players, this could have at least made the green. Sadly, by focusing all the effort on making people play, or pay for the online mode, rather than making the game easier to get into, it just ends up in the rough.