Since "South Park" already made the joke, we can go ahead and skip any gags about there being an "infidelity" or "terrible press conference" modes on the latest entry into the most successful video game franchise of all time. Just know that Tiger is back, and all he's doing is playing golf.
EA Sports takes a lot of heat for not moving their sports franchises forward enough from year to year, and that argument could be made for the "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" games. They don't evolve very much from year to year, mostly because the game of golf shifts much slower than football or basketball (also, the game pretty much figured out what it was a few iterations ago, and EA is smart enough to not mess with a good thing). But "PGA Tour 11" does throw the focus on team-based competitions like the Ryder Cup (ironically, the one event that Woods hasn't dominated during his golf career). Is that new wrinkle enough to justify the new title's existence?
Ryder Or Die
There's a reason why EA is trumpeting the new team play: It sort of rules. You can now indulge in team play tournaments, the most notable of which is the Ryder Cup, which pits nationalistic teams against each other in group play. While the scores are still dependent on individual performances, this new wrinkle introduces a bit more strategy into the game. Single player games force you to depend an awful lot on the game's AI (which is actually pretty good and reliable), but it's at its most fun when online with up to 23 other people.
"Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11" introduces the concept of "Focus," which is really just a magic meter that depletes whenever you give yourself an advantage, like a little extra power on a drive or an extra accuracy boost on a long putt. It's golf's equivalent of a "Turbo" button, and even though it makes no realistic sense, it absolutely works. You can regain focus by taking unassisted shots, which will force you to rely on your raw skills and save your extra juice for difficult shots in crunch time.
Excellent New Courses
For the true hardcores, "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11" introduces five new courses to the franchise, including Celtic Manor (the super-difficult and posh course in Wales) and TPC Scottsdale (an Arizona course that has legendary bunkers and tremendous mountain views). The look and feel of these new courses is absolutely perfect, and the little details (like the types of crowds that show up to TPC Scottsdale) are spot-on.
Standing in the Way of Control
Call me a luddite, but I miss the old three-button-press controls for shots. While the sticks do theoretically offer more variations and control, it's still too easy to completely slice the heck out of your shot with just a minor thumb twitch. This isn't necessarily the game's fault, but it continues to be bothersome.
Going the Distance
The single-player career mode in "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" has always moved at a glacial pace, as it always seems like it takes far too long to develop your skills and make it into actual PGA tournaments. (Ironically, your development is directly inverse to Woods' actual career development.) This time around, the career mode has become way more untethered, so rather than develop the skills the game forces you to improve, you can use the points you gather any way you like (so you can jack your short game abilities all the way up before you even attempt to address your power). While that may be good news to some, it actually makes your road to the PGA tour longer, as you will inevitably end up being more of an unbalanced player than you would have been with the handcuffs on. The bottom line is that you still have to wait too long to go pro, which can be sort of frustrating.
There's a new sense of wind physics in the game, which means that breezes sometimes kick up while you're in mid-swing or while your ball is already soaring. It is beautifully rendered and executed, but sometimes feels a little cheap. It's built in there for players who had mastered the "Tiger Woods" style of play and were able to essentially cheat, but for novices just breaking in, it'll seem unnecessary. Then again, are there any casual gamers indulging in "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11"?
Though "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11" seems built for hardcores, it actually feels vaguely more accessible than the 2010 iteration. The big draw is the team competition, which admittedly makes the games really long but is tremendously fun and rewarding. Add the focus meter, fresh new courses and the always-excellent mini games (long drive remains a great way to kill time) and you've got a top-shelf golf package. Sure, the controls aren't ideal (unless of course you have a Wii; I played on PS3) and the career mode can be a little weird to navigate, but most everything about "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11" works way, way better than Woods' marriage. (And to think we almost got all the way through this without that.)