I love golf. I’m not especially good at playing it, but I love watching it. I presume I’m not alone in this, and that I’m not the only person that sees the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series as something that (in some small part) allows me to do in a virtual world something I never could in reality.
Therefore, I consider myself part of the perfect audience for the series. Bear that in mind as far as this review goes.
Despite loving golf and enjoying Tiger Woods (the game, perverts!), I’ve not played a game in this series for a few years; I think the 2009 edition was the last one I played properly. By ‘properly’ I mean gathered sustenance, locked myself away for the weekend and played along with The Masters on television, only taking a shot when the golfer I was playing as took a shot.
Beautiful times. Sport/game geekingly beautiful times.
The indulgent lock-ins begin to lose their appeal when the series refused to change. All annual sports game franchises suffer from a lack of yearly progression to an extent, but Madden aside (perhaps), Tiger Woods seemed to suffer worst of all. Four games later and it’s time to give it another whack of the driver, spurred on by how highly everyone regarded last year’s game.
I hope I’m not too late to the revival party.
Whether you’re the real Tiger Woods, or playing as the virtual Tiger Woods, the most important thing about your game of golf is the swing. Nail it, and you’re going to find greens in regulation and set yourself up with simple putts. Fail it, and you’re looking at a tough ol’ slog of a round as you visit bunker, rough and water.
Tiger Woods 13 has completely changed the swing mechanism in a bid to provide more freedom to execute the kinds of shots you want. In typically boring fashion, EA are calling it Total Swing Control. Prior to striking the ball you can edit your stance to affect the shot’s height, fade and draw potential which is great for dogleg fairways and/or avoiding those trees straddling the rough.
Along with your stance you can also alter the strike zone on the ball; a lower strike will send the ball high and is perfect for carving shots out of bunkers or deep rough. Conversely, hitting high on the ball will keep it low.
Once you’ve got your shot lined up, it’s time for the swing. An arced white line around your player indicates the perfect swing based on your stance, chosen impact point and desired shot location. Quite brilliantly, the game gives you an exact visual representation of how you’re swing on the analogue stick translates into the game via a red line that appears in real-time next to the static white ‘perfect’ line.
If you don’t swing perfectly the red line will be off to one side or the other, if you don’t hit through the ball hard enough the line will be short and your ball will not travel as far (unless you get lucky with a downhill roll/bounce).
It’s a brilliant mechanic, the best swing system I’ve ever seen from a golf game. The beauty is that it provides you with a great deal of information without holding your hand. Despite all of the visual aids telling you exactly what you should do based on what you want to achieve, the execution is still on entirely on your own shoulders. Just like in real golf, players often know exactly what they need to do, that’s the easy bit. Executing it is the hard bit, the bit that separates the good, the bad and the great.
The freedom in how to play your shots allows much greater freedom and creativity, allowing you to attempt low punts through trees, put enormous lift on the ball from the edge of green and bend it like Beckham.
What’s more, Total Swing Control alters the way your golfer actually swings. Arms, hips and legs position themselves differently depending on how you perform your swing, giving you another (and more natural) form of visual feedback. If you know enough about your golf and swing technique, the graphics are good enough for you to see how good your swing is without even looking at the various HUD elements.
If Total Swing Control improves your understanding of what’s possible, the new Tiger Legacy Challenge aims to improve your knowledge of the 14-time major winner. From toddler Tiger to future Tiger, seven chapters take you through the man’s golfing life at different ‘eras’. The personal input from Tiger Woods in the form of audio clips is a nice touch, but the mode is somewhat flat as far as the objectives are concerned.
Many of the challenges involve accurately hitting approach shots or putts, the strict distances required often making them extremely frustrating to complete. If the idea here was to provide a small taste of the dedication Tiger Woods gave to his golf then Legacy Challenge is a success, if the idea was to provide an entertaining game mode it’s a mixed affair.
Road to the PGA Tour is the traditional career mode setup in which you create a golfer and set out to achieve glory. It’s a decent enough endeavour in which you start as an amateur, become a pro, enter the PGA Tour, compete in major tournaments and repeat. As ever, though, Tiger Woods is at its best when you’re simply playing holes, competing against friends or playing only with the pros.
Through Road to the PGA Tour you earn Coins which act as the game’s currency. Here’s the dodgy bit: half of the courses displayed in the game’s menus are available only as DLC and are greyed out until you’ve bought them. Even career mode includes DLC courses by default, although if you don’t have access to them you can change them to one you can play.
16 DLC courses are available to purchase either through Coins or real money. Don’t hold your breath on the Coin option, however. A single round on a DLC course will set you back 6,000 Coins. It’ll take you anywhere from 10 to 12 18-hole rounds to earn that many.
Plus, given the uncompromising nature of Total Swing Control, it’ll take you more than a single round to master the course. This makes your single round on the DLC course an exercise in frustration as you struggle to get to grips with it as quickly as possible so as not to completely waste your hard earned Coins.
Still, as far as the core gameplay goes, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 is the best golf game I’ve ever played. It’s pleasing to see that EA Tiburon are dedicated to making the kind of sweeping changes to the way the game works in order to improve it. If you join an online Country Club with your friends (think Fifa 12’s EA Sports Football Club) things are improved further as you take on rival Clubs through in-depth leaderboards.
If it wasn’t for the DLC system, I would have consider adding another point to the score below. It’s unfortunate that EA had to incorporate such a pathetic additional-content system, and it’s even more pathetic how they constantly shove any DLC you haven’t bought in your face to try.
EA Tiburon, you’ve done very well. EA’s monetisation process, you’ve done much less well.