Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13|
Much like new car models I find it amusing that Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 is already here and 2012 is still in its first quarter. Last year the game launched at the end of March, the two years year before in June, and in 2008 and 2009 Tiger Woods shipped in August. Obviously, the new March release date was meant to coincide and complement the hype of the real Masters Tournament in April, and yes, once again, The Masters is back in this latest yearly installment of PGA Tour 13 along with several new gameplay features and enhancements that make this the best edition to date.
So let’s get started with the most obvious addition; Kinect support. Ever since the Tiger Woods franchise made its first appearance on the Wii, and later on the PS Move, everyone seemed to go crazy for motion-control golfing when in fact, it is truly the most inaccurate and inappropriate way to play these games. Sure it may “feel” real to mimic the motions you’d make at your local golf course, but the first time you need to tap in a 6” putt and end up crushing the ball back into the fairway you’ll realize that nothing is capable of capturing the finesse required for the more subtle elements of this sport.
The Kinect is no different, and while it does lend itself to a more casual party-style atmosphere of gameplay, there is no way I would ever use this feature to play any part of the real game. Little kids will enjoy this mode as much as they did when they played it on the Wii or PS3, only now parents don’t have to worry about a game controller getting tossed around the room or into their expensive HDTV. I will admit, there is a goofy charm to issuing voice commands to my caddie, squatting to analyze the lie of your ball, or shielding your eyes (like you’re saluting) to zoom down the fairway, but having to stand parallel to my TV rather than facing it takes away greatly from the illusion of playing golf. You also have no real reliable control over the force and accuracy of your swing or impact, which is probably why every shot is immediately followed by the player pointing their fist at the screen to magically steer the ball with some post-landing spin - this must be how Darth Vader plays golf. And once you’re on the green, good luck putting. Trying to adjust your aim to compensate for breaks and elevation changes by pointing your fist at the screen to move the flag pole is an exercise in frustration, as is trying to make a 6-inch putt rather than a 6-foot putt. So, for as much as EA would have you think Kinect is the new way to play PGA Tour 13 on the Xbox 360, it’s merely a kid-friendly casual alternative or a new drunken party game when nobody wants to dance.
For as much as Kinect destroys the sense of realistic golf controls the new Total Swing Control mechanic makes PGA Tour 13 one of the most realistic and challenging sequels in the franchise to date. Every subtle nuance is now mapped with millimeter accuracy to your left analog stick from the speed and accuracy of your backswing to that momentary pause just before you crush the ball with a powerful follow-through. If you waver from the center line you can be sure that error will be reflected in the resulting shot. This is especially evident in putting, where just the slightest wiggle can push or pull the ball off its ideal line. I’ve missed 10-inch putts due to a last-minute twitch of the stick when pushing forward.
Previous installments of PGA Tour simply allowed you to position the target stick to compensate for wind and terrain which would then update your swing arc or shot meter. Everything is much more natural now. You still have the same swing arc and there is a tick mark to note the 100% impact point, but now it’s up to you if you want to over swing or under swing or force the draw and fade. You also have to control the timing of your backswing and speed of your follow-through to achieve the desired results. The new Stance system allows you to position your feet around the ball prior to each shot to increase or decrease the trajectory - great for getting out from under a low tree or going over one. Never before have real-world golf mechanics been so perfectly matched to a game controller. It’s still a game but it’s a lot less gamey, so plan to spend several hours mastering the new controls.
For FPS fans familiar with the concept of clans, PGA Tour 13 introduces Country Clubs, a new community feature that allows you to setup your own private or public golf clubs or join somebody else’s. Sorry – you don’t get to design your own course – this is merely a bonding feature that lets you compete with a core group of gamers within your own club as well as challenge other clubs to online tournaments for daily and weekly prizes. It’s also a great way to earn Coins more quickly.
Coins fuel the new in-game economy and is probably the most innovative (and potentially hated) feature in the new PGA Tour 13. We’ve seen this same thing on mobile games for quite some time now where you can slowly earn in-game currency to purchase unlocks, or you can simply purchase Coin Bundles with real money, or in this case, Microsoft points. Coins allow you to purchase (or rent) everything from new golfers and boost pins to playable rounds on downloadable courses. I think this is a brilliant scheme to encourage continuous gameplay, both online and off, so you can access new content without spending any real money, assuming you have the time and patience to earn the coins.
Personally, here is what happened to me. I created my character and started my Career, playing a few tournaments and eventually winning The Masters as an amateur. I then chose to follow the PGA Tour path rather than the Nationwide Tour only to find my next game was at TPC Antonio, a DLC course I had not yet purchased. My alternatives now were to play that tournament switching out to a course I did own or purchase a Round of golf for 6,000 coins. At this point in my career (after about eight hours of play) I only had 7,280 coins. I could purchase a round of golf, but the default tournament is four rounds, effectively upping my entry fee to 18,000 coins or another 12 hours of golf in some other non-career mode. The other, more realistic alternative is to simply purchase Unlimited Rounds, essentially buying the course just like any other DLC course from past games. You can purchase courses individually for 400 MS points or as part of a discounted 5, 6, or 11 course bundle. I just said “screw it” and ponied up the 3200 MS points for all 11 courses – the best value, but there are 8 courses out there I still don’t own and will likely come back to haunt me in future tournaments.
Before you go condemning EA for trying to rip-off loyal PGA Tour fans, remember, the coin system is purely optional. You don’t have to rent rounds on a course if you are willing to spend the MS points, just like you’ve probably done with every previous installment. You’re still going to be earning coins no matter what you do and these will at least give you the ability to sample a course before you actually buy it. My advice is to just buy the courses up front and save your coins for the other content you’ll eventually want to buy.
Coins can also be used to purchase Pins that come in two types; Boost Pins and Course Pins. There is a Pin for every hole on every course in PGA Tour 13 and if you collect all 18 Hole Pins your unlock a Course Pin that will increase your earned Status Points as well as enhance the effects of any equipped Boost Pins. You can equip up to three Boost Pins prior to each round of golf. These will grant you various improvements like +15% on all golfer status, or additional putt previews or a 5x multiplier on earned XP that round. There are dozens of pins to choose from and more can be purchased in the store using your Coins. Pins can be leveled up to Silver and Gold and each time you use them their counter depletes until it reaches zero and then you have to refill it. Similarly, Course Pins can also be leveled up and when you achieve a Gold Course Pin on a DLC course you will unlock unlimited play on that course without having to pay for it.
PGA Tour 13 gets more personal when it comes to our cover athlete, as players get a chance to experience standout moments of Tiger’s life and career from his first TV appearance at the age of two all the way through his junior and amateur careers up to present day and even the future. Tiger reflects on his past in short insightful movies prior to each stage of the challenge. This clever mode also serves as your in-game tutorial for the new controls and swing mechanic by setting up various situations ranging from driving, chipping, and putting in Tiger’s own backyard childhood training ground (with inflatable pool water hazard and sandbox sand trap) to sneaking onto the course to play a few holes with dad and even reliving some of Tiger’s most famous tournament events, all on your quest to beat Jack Nicklaus’ championship record.
Last year’s game was pretty much visual perfection and PGA Tour 13 achieves that same level of polish from the lush manicured courses to the wonderful fluid animations of the golfers and the infinite combinations of gear and clothing you can purchase and equip. I would have liked a better camera for putting, especially a view that follows the ball on longer putts, and I miss the ability to save instant replays. At least replays will loops indefinitely until I stop them, so I have a chance to record them on my phone.
Jim Nantz provides commentary that is just as solid as it’s always been with all your favorite lines returning (“the ball rolled right up to the hole like a kid on Halloween and took the candy”) from past games along with a new litany of quotes and quips, some for color and some actually useful, and none of which have repeated more than two or three time in over 20 hours of play. The rest of the audio package is most environmental noises like birds, wind, and the whack of the ball. You don’t realize how much you miss the cheers of the crowd until you are playing a Sponsor match without one. And I really enjoyed the music in the menus – very noble, almost majestic in tone.
Of all the sports games I review, Tiger Woods PGA Tour is the only one I really stick with until the next one arrives – in fact I actually had to remove my PGA Tour 12 install from my 360 hard drive to install this game. Most games never last more than 90 days on my drive and with all of the new and exciting features Tiger Woods PG Tour 13 has to offer, this is going to stay on my system until next March.
I ended last year’s review by saying, “I don’t know how this game can possibly get any better, but I look forward to seeing EA try to best this almost-flawless installment, and what is arguably the best version of PGA Tour in the history of the franchise.”. Well, somehow they did manage to best their previous efforts, so I will let that statement and challenge conclude this year’s review as I return to the links for another year of great virtual golf.