"Hello, friends, and welcome to Augusta. The Masters: a tradition unlike any other."
We hear these words from Jim Nantz easily a hundred times every February and March promoting golf's biggest stars on the sport's biggest stage. But now, the famed commentator can be promoting you, as video gamers have an opportunity in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters to play the legendary course, complete with Amen Corner, on your way to the green jacket.
While Woods' name is in the title, make no mistake — the star of this game is Augusta National Golf Club. I've played every version of the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series since 2008, and, to be perfectly honest, I probably wasted the money in upgrading annually. Until now.
This year's edition is easily the best in the series, primarily because it's the first time since 1986 that Augusta has been featured as a playable course in a golf game.
There have been very few changes to the gameplay since the series' 2011 version, which revamped the experience system. The system, which sees you play multiple rounds to build experience and your stats, still lacks, though. I wish the game designers wouldn't let you max out every stat; instead, I wish you would be forced to make choices with your stats.
The most notable additions to the game are the Masters, a new caddy system and Nantz's commentary. The entire game is themed around the Masters, as all other courses and events are just there to get you to Augusta.
The single-player story mode is much improved. Your golfer starts in amateur play and then has to qualify and play in tournaments with the hopes of getting the coveted invitation to the Masters.
The game also features "Masters Moments," which let you take control of specific golfers and try to re-create or improve historic shots from past tournaments. There are similar "Tiger Moments," in which you replay one of his four Masters' wins. The only downside to these is that they all take place at Augusta, but it isn't really much of a negative.
The new caddy system at first seems more of an annoyance than an improvement. The caddy does get better the more you use him on a certain course, though, and helps you improve your game by a few strokes. And that's exactly how a caddy should perform.
The presence of Nantz was a great addition. Is there really anyone else more synonymous with golf commentary? The voiceovers do get a little repetitious, but show me a game where they don't? Nantz just gives you the feeling that CBS is actually following your every shot in anticipation of your epic win or your impending implosion.
While the game isn't perfect, it's the best golf game on the market. The Wii version, which I played, is really good for a night or rainy weekend when you and three of your friends can't actually go golfing. The Wii version comes with nine more courses than the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions. While those come with less initially, there are more courses available for download.
If you're a gamer and golfer, buy this just to get Augusta National. If the reports of what EA paid to feature the club are true, it might never be playable again.