After sweating out on the greens and fairways of golf courses the world over, my review of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 is finally up at Ye Olde GameShark. Not one to waste perfectly good content, I thought I’d talk a little about the review itself and the review process. Hopefully it doesn’t come off as too inside baseball-y, or in this case, inside golf-y.
I’ve made no bones about the fact that I am not a sports game guy. Not only am I not a sports game guy, but I work for one of the best sports game reviewers around, and work alongside one of the other best sports game reviewers around. This makes the concept of me tackling a “serious” sports game all the more ludicrous. As a result, you get my review, which, as Bill told me last night, right after saying his initial impression was to send it back, is a sports game review done by someone who doesn’t give a lick about sports game reviews.
Reviewing a sports game is an incredibly daunting task. Not only are there a ton of moving points, more so than ever before as game makers add more and more options so they can populate bullet points with marketing speak. (As an aside, the reviewer’s guide that came with Tiger Woods pointed out that the game now has 3D grass. Seriously. 3D grass.) So there’s a lot to cover when you’re reviewing a sports game, just in terms of features, but the other problem is that sports games model activities that you can see, in real life, for reference, at any time. I have no idea how a Collector would act if I invaded their mothership in the hopes of halting a Reaper invasion. As long as the enemies are not complete morons, I have to assume BioWare did a good job with the AI. Not so with a sports game. If something feels hinky in a baseball game, there are decades of information you can consult to confirm said hinkiness. Same goes for any sport. So it’s not just a matter of making sure that a particular mechanic works, but you also have to know if the mechanic is implemented realistically in the greater context of the game.
I can assure you, this never happens with a Pokemon review.
Now, I am familiar with golf and luckily, the sport being how it is, I don’t have to worry about knowing if a franchise progressed accurately or if the AI controlled DB does whatever it is DB’s do. So as sports games go, if I were to attack this review in the same exhausting fashion that Bill does, this game would be a good one to start with.
Problem was, I didn’t want to do that.
That’s not entirely true. More truthfully, I didn’t know that I didn’t want to do that. I certainly played the game as if I were going to approach the review that way. I’d check historical tour scores for whatever tournament I was on. I consulted the official PGA rule book for certain situations. I researched things. With science. All in the intention of doing a full on Sports Game Review, right up until I started writing it.
There are times when getting a review done is like pulling teeth. Other times, like with this one, once you start, it’s all a blur of misspelled words and misplaced commas until the piece is done. I got all of the way to the last paragraph before I realized that what I wrote was not a Sports Game Review, but was instead, a story of my experience with the game. It wasn’t what I had planned on writing, but I really, really liked it and I didn’t want to see it go.
I consider myself a pretty workmanlike reviewer. I think that if you read my reviews, you’ll be entertained and at the end of it, you’ll know if I think the game is a good use of your time and money. Like Consumer Reports, but with more jokes. I don’t think it’s a bad way to review games, but it is a safe way. Sometimes I want to be a little more creative, as with this review, but when those thoughts come up, you have to not only be able to pull off whatever it is you’re trying to do, but still serve the purpose of the review. So when I reread what I had wrote, I almost ditched it because I wasn’t sure I had served the purpose of the review.
There was no mention of the number of courses, or how it’s kind of annoying to have an event on the PGA Tour that requires you to buy a course. No mention of the loading times, or the fantastic new save system that no longer forces you to resume the event in progress once you start up the game. I didn’t tell you about the golfers on the tour, or the different difficulty levels. I didn’t mention the online play or the daily golf challenges available while playing tour events. There’s a lot I didn’t cover and you could argue that I should have, but what I wanted to do, more than anything else, was describe how I felt while I was playing this game. Honestly, all of that stuff that I just mentioned didn’t add or take away from the experience I had one whit, which is why I didn’t add them. That and I wasn’t sure how to take something like a save system and incorporate it into a review that was written as if I were actually golfing and not playing a golf game.
I think it’s important to change your approach to reviews like this, and I should do it more often as it makes you a better writer. It doesn’t always work, but even when it doesn’t the attempt is usually worth it. I’m lucky that Bill is willing to roll with these kind of things as I can see other editors wanting something more straightforward and I wouldn’t blame them, once I got past the crushing disappointment. For me though, this was a game that I saw myself enjoying more and more as I played it and doing the usual point to point review felt like I was doing it a disservice. It may not be easy for Metacritic to grab a tagline from the review, but hopefully the review conveys to the reader what a great experience I had while playing the game.
From what I hear, that’s kind of the point.