Despite the ups and downs in both his personal and professional life, Tiger Woods can at least rest easy knowing that the video game bearing his moniker has been pretty consistent. Last year's version was a highlight since the stuffed shirts at Augusta finally allowed us to play along at home. With all the focus being on the Master's and presentation, one could overlook the lack of change in the gameplay. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 attempts to make up for lost time by remaking the analog swing mechanic. In so doing, they may have overdone it. Make no mistake, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 is designed for golfers in mind, not casual fans.
I'm a bogey golfer (at best), but I know enough about golf to know when to use a closed stance versus an open one, and where to try and hit on the ball to achieve different spins. My problem on the course lies in execution. Golfers everywhere are nodding right now. We all know it's hard enough to hit the ball straight, let alone shape shots.
This is where Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 nails the execution. I like the new swing mechanic. I've never felt more in control! I always felt like analog swinging was fairly limited, but this year's version gives you far more control over the nuances of the game. The idea is that you can adjust pretty much everything: from the stance, to the position of the ball between your feet, to the path the club will follow on the swing, all resulting in shaping the shots correctly for certain situations.
Here's the big question regarding said new swing: does it actually change the way you will play Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13? Well, my initial answer is no, not really. Hitting straight shots is pretty much the same. The difference is that you now have the option to hit creative shots. Pulling it off correctly requires a real knowledge of golf. The path of the club face from address through impact and then on to the follow through needs to be taken into account. You have to know how to actually set up for a draw or a fade, not to mention how you address the ball with your stance. You'll need to keep in mind tempo, the angles, the length of the back swing... everything. The only thing I don't understand is why there is no practice green or driving range to get used to the new swing mechanics.
You can still impart spin on the ball after the fact on lower difficulty levels. Personally, I think this amounts to cheating, as you are essentially guiding the ball while it's in the air. Of course, whether or not you take advantage of this is completely up to you, and on harder difficulty levels it's turned off all together. Along similar lines, using the "Ask Caddie" function is a great way to see if you are, in fact, setting up your shots correctly. If you think that makes the game too easy, you can turn him off as well.
The putting controls are, sadly, difficult to master, and ultimately not very realistic. The problem comes down to rhythm. You have a very limited margin for error on the putting meter before you stray into over-hitting territory. As a result, I felt like I was slowly pulling back on the stick to get it just right, then pushing forward to complete the motion. I think this could have been avoided if the putting meter was larger, because that's just not how you putt in real life. Make good use of your caddie's advice on the green as he will at least give you an idea of where you need to go to get close. You do have one opportunity to preview the path of the putt if you were to hit it exactly right. Again, this seems like cheating, but it does make things less frustrating.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 is designed for use with Kinect. I have to say, using the sensor is an interesting experience. The first thing to realize is that it's not faithfully recreating your entire swing, warts and all. Of course, it's only tracking you from one angle (one that is perpendicular as you face the camera), but I found it impressively accurate following my motion along that plane. It judges the length of your backswing and manages to keep up even if you accelerate through the shot quickly. The voice commands work well: you can "Ask Caddie" or "Aim Shot" and the game knows just what you want to do. All in all, it works surprisingly well.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind. It can be difficult to aim your shots at specific areas; moving the reticule around doesn't work particularly well. But the bigger issue is that it's only tracking your swing path through one plane. It's taking into account your backswing, follow through, and rotation of the hips and shoulders, but it's not actually following your swing path from behind. This is, naturally, where most amateur golfers struggle. Keeping your swing on the correct path so that you don't stray too far to the inside (resulting in hooks) or outside in (slicing the crap out of the ball) is the real trick to consistent shots. It's also naturally assuming you're making perfect contact with the ball every time, which many golfers know is easier said than done.
I played a couple of rounds with the Kinect sensor on and, much to the amusement of my cat and fiance, I actually had a good time with it. It's not real golf by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a reasonable, workable facsimile. Let me put it this way, I shot nine under par on Crooked Stick, which is a course I've actually seen... and no, I couldn't do that in real life. To really get it to work properly you'd need two Kinects working in unison to track your swing path in three dimensions. As it is, it's good for a laugh and it gets you off the couch.
You can tackle any of the many courses in 'Play Now' or take advantage of several other modes. 'Tiger Legacy' mode takes you through the key moments of his golfing career. It's clever, especially for those of us who have watched him for a while. It kind of serves as a tutorial. Reliving cute little Tiger hitting into a net on the Mike Douglas show was fun. However, it's basically a challenge mode, and recreating some of those iconic moments are difficult... like, really difficult. After all, Tiger is Tiger for a reason.
The career mode is pretty much cut and pasted from last year's version. You work your way up through the Amateur Tour, building experience, improving your stats, and getting ready for the big time. Earning your Tour card is once again rewarding, and earning the right to play at Augusta will fill you with pride. Having said that, I don't like how they changed the menus for playing dress up and picking your clubs. They are not nearly as streamlined as they used to be.
The biggest change off the course is the inclusion of 'coins.' You earn these tokens in every game mode, and essentially serve as in-game currency. The first thing you can purchase is 'pins,' which come in a couple of different styles. Some pins earn temporary stat boosts for the round, or lend you some bonuses to specific areas. Others will allow you to preview your shots, and still others allow you to purchase rounds on locked or downloadable courses. Once you've used a pin, it's gone, you'll need to earn more coins to buy some more... or you can just pony up more dough and spend real money buying more coins.
If only you could hear my exasperated sigh! Here's what I find insufferable... to play a lot of the courses you need to unlock them with coins. Look, I don't have a problem with using an in-game currency system to buy boost packs which are essentially cheats, but not allowing me to play a course until I've earned enough coins to buy a single round on it just feels... wrong. You can buy a practice round on a course by spending coins, and then permanently unlock them by completing the 'Mastery Challenges' on each one, but to build up that many 'practice' rounds would take ages! And it's not so subtlety suggested that you can naturally buy more coins using Microsoft/PSN points to simply buy said courses or stat bonuses! Really, I never would have guessed that was your intent! I understand why EA Sports has done this, but that's not to say I don't feel manipulated. After all, everything I'm missing out on is clearly right there in front of me! My advice is to play the career mode as you normally would, then spend your coins after you've accumulated a fair amount.
There are moments where Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 really gets it right, and those moments are suitably impressive. The first time I holed out from a bunker I was pumping my fist just like the first time I ever did that in real life! It was pretty awesome! It's nice when a game manages to illicit real emotion, even if it just the simple pride of hitting the sweet spot or sinking a big breaking putt. The new swing mechanics work well, and I loved the freedom to experiment with different shots. I was also pleasantly surprised by the Kinect functionality. It won't replace hitting the links with some buddies in the sunshine, but it's definitely a viable alternative on rainy days.
Sadly, for everything Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 does right, the experience is ultimately marred by EA's use of coins to determine so much of the experience. It feels wrong... and I wouldn't have such a problem with it if it didn't cost so much to unlock the extra courses, and that so many of the extra courses are unavailable to you at the beginning. To access it all either involves a major time commitment or shelling out more of my hard-earned money for what I honestly feel like I've already paid for. It's difficult not to feel extorted.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 provided by Electronic Arts.