After Gabe logged off for the night, Robert - who had grown tired of my brutal golf techniques in previous rounds - entered the fray with Tiger Woods. While tethered to the real world, Tiger Woods is an excellent golfer. His counterpart in the videogame that bears his name is not a golfer but a kind of God, a barely coherent being of pure light that has yoked physics and cannot be beaten, except by another Tiger Woods - some other gleaming bead in that perpetual chain we call the Tigerion.
The team behind the Tiger Woods series adheres to the Navajo Rug school of game design, where each product contains some purposeful imperfection to give next year's iteration some semblance of appeal. This year, graphics have been improved. Simultaneous Stroke Play, where colored lines represent everyone's shots and you can burn through nine holes in as many minutes, is blessedly present. We were able to connect to one another and play through nine entire holes without crashes. That's correct: the game we purchased appears to be present, somewhere on the disc.
Golf is, in reality or in simulation, an experience which is largely defined by its shared misery. People are certainly competing with one another, but their true enemy is the Earth itself, warped by evil men into some villainous shape. Simultaneous Stroke Play works well, as I've suggested - but they gave no thought whatsoever to people who might want to play without it. There are times where you might want to play a more social game that shows off your character, or retains the experience of the actual sport. In the 2009 version of the game, you're given completely useless views of the currently playing character, with inexplicable zoom options and no user interface to speak of. Once a player hits, the camera shifts to a number of completely random, often nauseating, universally unhelpful views that often rarely show the ball in the context of the course so you have no idea how well they did. If you see an opponent putt, it doesn't even render the colored lines that show the lay of the green, so the "there but for the grace of God" element that is so core to the game evaporates.
Entering the office after a night of solo play, Gabriel was aglow - it was deeply unsettling - but the stories he told me about the tightly integrated GamerNet experience did compel. Essentially, on any hole, on any shot, other players can establish challenges that appear dynamically during your own game. Or, if you've done well yourself, pull the trigger and establish a challenge for others. I used to play a Korean golfing MMO called Shot Online that dished up custom challenges while your party was playing, and vying for these added an interesting kind of side-bet element. But for some reason when you play online in Tiger, this entire concept - one that adds so much dynamism to the experience - is completely excised. And great play in an online match doesn't benefit your stats the way normal play would.
I understand that it's not okay to like the second Rainbow Six Vegas, but it uprooted this pernicious bullshit earlier this year when it allowed character progression anywhere - online, offline, adversarial, and cooperative. You're rewarded for playing the game the way you want to. There's no behavior that isn't recognized. All interactions are sanctified, which is to say that they are part of the game proper and not cordoned off into some velveteen nega-zone that renders your time inert. It really is 2008, now. Online play isn't a novelty anymore, and it hasn't been for at least a decade.