The threat of stagnation with annual sports titles is something that EA faces with a large chunk of its catalogue. This year's iteration of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 is no exception, delivering another enjoyable digital facsimile of golf, with just enough tweaks and additions to tempt truly committed fans into upgrading. For everyone else, however, it's difficult to justify the upgrade. The adage 'if it ain't broke, then don't fix it' may ring true, but it has a side effect that this series is struggling to overcome.
On the positive side, the latest iteration of the golf simulation is packed to the brim with content, and covers golfing tournaments so comprehensively that it's not hard to recommend. With the Masters and all of the Open tournaments on offer, you're able to create your own personal golfer and guide them through a career just as you would in the real sport. An impressive weather model recreates the conditions of each course as per their real-life counterpart via data provided by The Weather Channel, which can also dynamically change, throwing wind and rain at you that adapts the game and adds a terrific sense of realism. For example, as the fairways get drenched, your ball will bounce and roll less, spraying water as it travels.
In addition to the weather is an exceptional physics system that makes each hit, bounce, and roll of your ball feel perfect. Rough grass fights back, while the sculpted lawn of the putting green provides a puzzle as you use the now customary analogue stick swing mechanic to control your clubs. It all culminates in one of the best simulations of the sport on the market, and the improved PlayStation Move support helps to reinforce the game's sense of immersion. Unfortunately, for series veterans, this won't come as much of a surprise. To the credit of the team at Tiburon, the franchise perfected its simulation of golf many years ago, and, on the surface, there's very little to separate this entry from previous releases.
There are minor tweaks to speak of: the sponsorships mechanic, course mastery, and caddie systems have all been removed, while last year's advanced swing mechanic is still present, allowing you to shape your shots. You can draw and fade the ball with precision based on how you flick the stick, and it's immensely gratifying perfecting your swing for optimum ball positioning. But while the mechanic has a lot of depth to it, it was already present in last year's game.
You'll spend the bulk of your time playing through the career mode, guiding your abovementioned golfer from rookie to pro. The LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) makes its long overdue debut, but the campaign is slightly less enticing this year due to the new Quick Play Tournaments option that allows you to jump straight into the Majors. Elsewhere, the new Legends of the Majors mode is arguably the most compelling single player attraction, allowing you to revisit some of the most famous moments in the sport's history, with golfers and equipment from the 1930s all the way up to the present day. Playing with old equipment while a sepia effect washes over the screen keeps the action feeling fresh, even if the novelty starts to wear off as you approach the modern challenges.
Despite the new single player offerings, though, it's the multiplayer that's gone through the biggest change. While the huge collection of daily and weekly tournaments make a welcome return, many now support simultaneous play, where you'll be able to see other players' shots drawn across the sky or along the ground. If you didn't feel the competitive nature of these tournaments before, you certainly will now, with each shot feeling like a competition in itself. Additionally, the capacity of the Country Clubs – Tiger Woods' equivalent of clans – has been increased from 25 to 100 members, providing a far better pool of competitors for you to play against. Sadly, DLC courses are still frustratingly dangled in front of you, with many tournaments only playable unless you purchase the content.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 offers a comprehensive golfing experience for enthusiast swingers that don't fancy braving the unpredictable weather. However, while there are a number of refinements included as part of the package, it's difficult to justify the asking price if you already own last year's entry. There's no doubt that this is the best instalment in the franchise yet, but the ongoing debate regarding the necessity of annual updates rolls on.