Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 Xbox 360 Review
Unlike most other sports, golf doesn’t really have any other gaming series beyond Tiger Woods. The series has been consistently excellent, earning praise and accolades for its accurate representation of the game; yet, since there’s no other golf series trying to supplant it, you might wonder if the series would ever hit its middle-aged golfing years. Note that I’m not talking about Tiger’s middle years, but someone like Vijay Singh or Ernie Els. You still see them playing, signing autographs, and trying to win, but you can recognize when they’re going through the motions. With this year’s version, developer EA Tiburon has added Kinect functionality and a new swinging system, and the result comes this close to reaching the level of the game’s famous namesake.
That isn’t to say that the presentation of this year’s model is poor. Quite the opposite actually, as this is the best looking Tiger Woods golf yet. New lighting, improved particle effects – hitting out of bunkers is nail-bitingly gorgeous – and sparse commentary from Jim Nantz all amount to an excellent recreation of golf’s atmosphere. All the modes from last year’s game return; however, it’s the presentation beyond the course where the game starts to falter. There are a total of sixteen courses and twenty-two licensed PGA golfers available in the retail version (another seven in game’s collector edition), but there are another sixteen courses (!) available via DLC. There are two ways to get this content; you can buy them directly off the Xbox or PSN marketplaces, or you can spend time within the game’s new coin system that rewards you for nearly everything you complete (eventually mastering a course and permanently unlocking it).
While I appreciate the idea of earning rounds at courses, the system is unnerving. If you don’t have a group of friends who own the game, you won’t be able benefit from the “Country Club,” an online system where you and your friends share and earn coin rewards based on play. The rewards are far too stingy for those who prefer solitude – expect to play roughly ten full rounds to earn one DLC round at an unlockable course. You can earn coins more quickly if you play the game at a higher difficulty, but even then the process requires time and an incredibly accurate golf-game. The option for course mastery is available, so if you play well enough during your earned round, you permanently earn the option of playing the course whenever you’d like.
Still, the amount of DLC is potentially limitless (new characters, courses, clothing, challenges) in a golf title, and I’m increasingly wary of any marketing strategy where players are gently coerced into potentially spending money for completed content. You might think otherwise, but relegating a course from last year’s game (Augusta National Par 3) to DLC is as disappointing a design move as I’ve ever seen in sports games.
But the gameplay is so precise and enjoyable that it acts as Tylenol for the game’s DLC headache. The newly revamped swing system has been labeled Total Swing Control, and I can’t think of a more apt moniker. Eight golfers – including Tiger – have motion-captured their swings, and the results are stunning. The camera – plagued with slow-motion theatrics last year – rarely distracts you from the purity of what you see on screen, though it occasionally fixates itself behind objects after you swing. But it’s a non-issue when you consider the freedom offered in the new swing model. Total Swing Control employs the left analog stick to calculate shot tempo and distance, while the right stick adjusts the club’s placement on the ball. This might sound basic, but trust me – it’s incredibly accurate, fair, and refreshingly realistic.
Driving off the tee is as enjoyable as ever, but the attention given to pitching and putting is just as enjoyable now. You might need an ample amount of time to become acquainted with the putting mechanic, and it’s a blast to use once you get the hang of it. The game’s effort to recreate the tension of a pro golfer trying to sink a tournament-winning putt is valiant, and don’t be surprised if you drop your head in shame at missing the easiest of putts. Just remember that the mechanic is so precise that’s it’s always going to be your fault (just like in real golf). You’ll need to be smart and disciplined to succeed in this year’s version of the game, and avoid all but the absolutely necessary risk shots if you want to etch your name in golfing lore.
Apart from the new gameplay mechanics, you’ll also be privy to various game modes that ensure you’ll spend plenty of time with this game. There’s a new Tiger Legacy mode, which draws upon the various moments of his career (two-year old virtual Tiger just looks… odd) and lets you be the man behind the name. While undeniably interesting, the mode felt under-developed and disconnected. There’s no denying EA Tiburon has nailed the recreation of the moments, but a complete mode that just ushered you through Tiger’s life – as opposed to clicking on each moment from a menu screen – would have transformed the presentation into more of a interactive biography rather than contextually constructed golf highlights. But that’s a minor gripe – it’s still enjoyable, and, paired with your standard create-a-golfer and career modes, the game offers more than enough to keep you coming back again and again.
Though the gameplay additions for this year merit a purchase (yes, even if you own last year’s version), I truly hope the DLC model for this game doesn’t become standard in sports titles. Think about it. What if Wembley Stadium had to be bought via DLC? Wrigley Field? Like the aforementioned venues, I know that some golf courses are considered canonical, but others could have added to the game with minimal effort. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 13. The new swing mechanics and presentation improvements are worth the time you’ll need to invest in the title, and hopefully you’ll find enough people to join a county club with you so that you can manually unlock the extra content rather than pay out of pocket. Rest assured, this Tiger has some time before we start wishing he’d join the Champions Tour.