Tiger Woods is arguably the most difficult annual sports franchise for EA to sell each year. I don't mean sell as in copies shifted, (it consistently tops all format charts upon release) but rather in terms of PR. The characters remain largely the same, as does the attire and for the large part so do the courses. There are no rule changes to include, the calendar is pretty set in terms of events and most of the features like career mode that tend to be "newly added" to its sister titles like Madden and Fifa, have already been part of Tiger for years.
The only glaring omission up until last year was a fully licensed Masters tournament and the fabled Augusta National course. Heck, they even changed the name of the game such was the importance, and that was great but, well, we have it now. Its standard. So what rabbit are they going to pull out of the hat for Tiger 13?
This year EA appear to have given up trying to be creative. Its new additions include (yet another) overhaul to the swing meter, Kinect functionality and Tiger Legacy mode. Whilst first two could have been predicted, the latter is the change that is most troublesome.
Tiger Legacy Mode allows you to play as Tiger Woods at each stage of his golfing life from chipping balls in the garden as a 2-year-old (no, really) all the way through his amateur days and finally his record breaking professional career. These can be very challenging tasks and on more than one occasion there seemed to be a randomness to the successful shots. If the aim was to recreate Tiger's painstakingly repetitive training methods then they succeeded. That they had to include this feature despite the fact that Tiger Woods' stock both professionally and personally has hardly been lower lends weight to the notion that EA were either out of options creatively, cut back on resource, or both.
Further evidence of this can be found when playing the courses themselves. There are no noticeable improvements in the graphics, and in fact the frame rate drops were far more noticeable compared to last year. On more than one occasion I witnessed my putt heading towards the hole where it would just vanish rather than drop into the cup. Whilst playing online, I've been watching a playing partner take a shot after finishing up my own shots on the hole, and stared open mouth as he's skipping across the course over water and into the sand. Not the ball, the player.
But ultimately Tiger Woods PGA Golf is a golf sim, so the proof in the pudding has to be the experience on the course itself. And this is where the game continues to excel. The new swing system genuinely puts every aspect of your shot in your hands. In previous incarnations the shoulder buttons would add draw or fade to your shot, but that's all gone. Instead you adjust your stance, and although this can take practice, the rewards that come with the added realism are worth the trade-off.
Putting is incredibly frustrating at first. There seems to be no way to not exceed the recommended power meter on every shot. Having imported a Tiger 12 golfer, my created player began with an 82 putting rating, and still couldn't. In the end I had to adjust each putt to take into account the fact that I was going to inevitably hit the ball with more power than was recommended. This was infuriating at first, but once I'd got used to that it dawned on me that this isn't any different than what happens in real life. Golfers compensate for a natural draw or fade on their drives, and have to adjust their swing accordingly.
For those who part with their EA Online Access code, a new Country Club option awaits. Here you can set up a golf club for you and your friends and collectively contribute to shared goals - Those being improving the stature of your club and earning coins for that club through both online and offline play. For those purchasing the game without a code (or using the promotional copies received for the purposes of reviewing...) there is a 2-day trial to allow you to decide if you are going to take the plunge and spend 800 MS points for full access. It is worth pointing out that if you subscribe to EA's annual Season Pass then there is no trial period. The trade off here is being given early access to the game four days prior to release, which is obviously of no use to you now.
The addition of Kinect functionality was inevitable, and arguably overdue. Kinect Sports has managed to capture a fairly solid golfing experience, so surely EA was able to do the same? Kind of. As with most Kinect features, it's fun at first but soon the lag and inability to capture precise movements result in you wanting to pick your controller back up. Strangely, putting is easier using Kinect as every shot registers as "100%" power the majority of the time.
Two other new changes stand out from the last iteration of the franchise and these come in form of pins (wait) and coins, as in currency not XP. Pins were indeed present in the previous iteration but were for show, a new pin meant a new challenge had been completed and gave the player the opportunity to show off a little. in Tiger Woods 13 pins act as boosts and in the old tradition of shoe horning in as many micro transactions as humanely possible in a game, EA allow you to buy packs. Think FIFA utlimate team packs but with pins, golfers and courses. Pins have a limited use (10 rounds) so if you really need that accuracy boost, for example, you need to buy refill packs or a fresh new pin pack.
This moves us on nicely to currency - no longer is XP the sole ‘currency’ within the game, each round rewards the player with coins. The coins can be used for the aforementioned ultimate team style packs as well as giving the player the ability to purchase a course. Traditionally courses were available day one via DLC, this irked a lot of people so what EA have decided to do here is make it much worse. The player is no longer able to buy a course forever, you must master the course through playing it...”but how do you play it to be able to master and unlock it?” - well, you have to buy it every time you want to play it using the in game coin currency. The pay to play model can get very expensive, very quickly in real life money terms as packs go for over 10,000 coins and the usual round award is about 500 coins.
In a nutshell, EA seem to have introduced a way to play individual courses using the in game currency but unless you play the courses given multiple times (6+ perfect rounds) times you will be forced to use real life MS points to buy more coins, and to think the internet complained when all the courses were day 0 DLC.
It's hard to look past the negatives such as 20 of the 36 courses being restricted right from the get go, and that parting with in-game currency only buys you a single round on that course and not ownership of that course. But if you're able to, and also look past the obvious reduction in production values, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 just about justifies upgrading from Tiger 12 and is a brilliant golf sim that is enjoyable to golf enthusiasts and newbies alike.
Thanks from the TDF team go out to MJ for this review
What do they have for us this year? Toddlers?!?