As an avid golfer, I have enjoyed the Tiger Woods PGA Tour
series as it has grown into the premier golfing franchise that it is today. After finally including Augusta National
into last year's game, I thought that just about everything had been done to truly give this game new additions from year to year. Truthfully, I would have been okay with that. However, EA Tiburon
outdid themselves by going back to the drawing board to give fans of the franchise a title that isn't just made over a little, but to give us the opportunity to re-live the life of Tiger Woods himself.
The gameplay in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 did not just get a face lift or a touch up. The very mechanics of the game itself have been changed to not only give a more accurate feel of swinging a club, but to ramp up the difficulty as well. Your shot is now determined by your swing, the speed of the swing, and how accurate you are. To break it down with the actual heads up display on the game, the meter you are used to is gone. You will no longer be aiming for 100% swings. You are now aiming to have a perfect backswing followed by a perfect speed. Your shot will then be dictated by combining those two factors. You can, of course, use these to your advantage with certain risks. For example, if you take an overswing and push the stick forward quickly for a fast swing, you can add plenty of distance onto a normal shot. This works quite well off the tee box, though your accuracy will obviously go down if you aren't great with how you move your thumb forward. However, your timing must be better when you get around the green. Fast swings will cost you as pitch shots that you intend to lay up and allow to roll towards the hole will fly over it from time to time. The real punishment, however, will come on the green itself. Early on, I found it incredibly difficult to keep a smooth tempo with my putting stroke, especially on shorter putts. Faster putting motions will cause you to hit a putt through a break and set you up with a long follow up to either save par or to add to your frustration. It does take some work getting used to this new mechanic, so welcome back to "Amateur" mode for a little while.
While the swing mechanics have changed, not many other aspects of the in-game system have changed. You will still have your vast array of shots to select from as well as full customization of your own player's golf bag and what clubs to carry. The number of courses that have been included is quite impressive, though I'm still somewhat disappointed that most are available only through DLC or through earning coins as you play the game and unlock challenges. New additions to this year's title include the likes of Royal Birkdale, Crooked Stick, Royal Country Down, and The Els Club, just to name a few. In total, you will find 36 courses to select from, making this the deepest game in the Tiger Woods collection to date.
Of course, the meat of the game comes with the extra modes of play. The newest addition to the title is simply known as Tiger Legacy mode. If you thought career mode was the best thing to play in any sports game, I can promise you that you are in for a treat. You will take on the role of Tiger himself, starting in his early years of playing, and I'm not talking about days at Stanford when he played for the Cardinal. You are going to start out as Tiger Woods, Age 2, on the Mike Douglas Show where it all truly began with a simply demonstration of hitting a ball into a net and making an eight foot putt. The early challenges in Tiger Legacy mode are to get you more familiar with the game's new shot system, ramping up the difficulty as you progress not only in skill, but in Tiger's age. You will play in his backyard, take some time on the 18th green as his home course, and toil with a practice green. Along the way, Tiger shares some reflection moments as he talks about how he learned to not only play, but love the game of golf.
The Career mode is just as deep as it has been in recent memory. Last year, of course, the excitement and anticipation of having Augusta National added to the mix overshadowed some of the other elements of the game. Now that we’ve had a year to get over the shock of finally enjoying The Masters as it was intended, the focus shifts back to the overall experience of playing throughout your own player’s career. Photo Game Face makes its return, though I feel that it is starting to go downhill. With the progression of player models over the years, it seems as though Photo Game Face has been struggling a bit to keep up. While I appreciate that EA and Tiburon have managed to give us what we wanted in putting ourselves in the game, I have to wonder if Photo Game Face is broken beyond repair. Three years ago, it was near perfect rendering. Two years ago, it went through some changes but was still very solid. Last year, there was a fairly noticeable change, primarily with how the in-game models reacted in adverse ways. I’m sure no one will forget the incredibly cheesy and somewhat creepy smiles that everyone’s player would have upon making a great shot. This year, it seems as though Photo Game Face wants to believe that everyone stuck their face into an open flame to see what kind of scars it would leave. I was hoping that it was just a bad picture the first time around, but after seven different attempts with a different picture each time, I found that my character model had the same issue every time, mainly with these scars or weathering markings around the eyes and on the nose. Perhaps this is just an issue with an early re-build of Photo Game Face on the EA website, and if it is, I will gladly eat my crow and say that I was wrong [editors note: we reached out to EA on this issue to see if it was a known bug and as of the time this went live we had yet to hear back from them]
Moving past the issues with Photo Game Face, everything else about Career mode is impressive at the very least. As it was with last year’s game, it isn’t just about scoring low. It’s about impressive sponsors and earning their backings to unlock the attire that you truly want to have your golfer be decked out with. Challenges along the way will help improve your score as well as unlock more coins that can be used for downloadable courses. Of course, importing your character from Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 is included, gaining you valuable XP as you move towards being a top ranked golfer. Unfortunately, as was the deal with last year, you only got the XP and not the character model or clothing of your choice from last year’s game.
Perhaps that should be included to help take care of the possible issue with Photo Game Face. Once you have your player created and ready to go, you will run into the first new addition to Career mode. You can choose to start your Amateur career in one of three tours: U.S. Amateur, U.K. Amateur, or World Amateur. Of course, the major choice here is the courses you will see along the journey to becoming a professional. If you prefer more of the open style of the links, you might want to go the U.K. route. The choice is yours, and progression to professional is based solely on how you perform in tournaments, the sponsors that you rack up, and so forth. Building your skills to achieve these goals has also gone through a change. Instead of having several factors to determine your driving ability, iron game, and putting, it is simplified into six categories: Power, Accuracy, Workability, Spin, Recovery, and Putting. This should make things a bit simpler for those looking to max out their golfer.
The online mode doesn’t seem to have undergone much of a change, though with the servers locked down until the launch is actually here, there was little to test out. There was one large change that most are buzzing about, however, and that is the inclusion of Country Clubs. Think of this as a grouping or team that is online. In short, you and your friends create your own group online to track your scores to compete against others. This will help you earn coins faster that are used towards DLC courses as well as attempting to earn daily and weekly prizes. Each round that you complete will earn you status points that level up your group’s Country Club. The formula is simple: The higher the level of the Country Club, the more coins you earn. Earning the title of Club Champion will net you a nice coin bonus, so all you have to do is create the club and do battle against your friends in order to earn these bonuses.
While we have covered all of the game modes that you will find in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13, the best has been saved for last. Truthfully, I was very skeptical over the inclusion of Kinect functionality with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13, given that I had attempted to play the game last year with the PlayStation Move and found it to be very frustrating. Still, the improvements had been made and I was ready to give it a go. I can tell you with all honesty that the changes have not only met my expectations, but they have exceeded them. The ease of use with the Kinect to attempt to see your golf swing is incredible. The controls will take you a little to learn, but the voice commands are very simple. “Aim Shot” and “Change Club” are all you have to say to do those things, or you can use your hand to go through the menu before bringing your hands together to execute your shot. It must be mentioned that I found short game shots to be much easier and smoother to achieve with the Kinect over the controller itself. Driving, long and mid iron shots, there wasn’t too much of a difference, though it is very gratifying to be swinging your arms in front of friends and sinking a huge shot in comparison to just using the controller. I always viewed the Kinect as a secondary accessory that had limited connectivity with most of my favorite games, but this is truly the first game I have come across that makes me think that the Kinect has a very bright future for the 360. If there is one negative that bears mentioning with the Kinect, though, it’s that the aiming of your shots and voice commands can be very picky. Background noise can keep you from getting through your shot selection quickly, while the aiming of shots can be tedious at best, especially when trying to drag a shot upwards. Outside of those issues, however, the Kinect offers a fantastic addition in how you play the game.