Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 (XBOX 360)
Back in the early-90s I lost countless hours of my life playing EA's PGA Tour games. Taking their experience from World Tour Golf, a title very much responsible for the chain of events that created EA Sports, PGA Tour was as close as anyone had come to creating an enjoyable, functional control method for the sport on home computers. With a few mouse clicks anyone could pick up the game and immediately feel like they had a basic grasp of the game mechanic, even down to learning how spin, slice, hook and wind direction could impact their shots.
Regular updates to the series followed with many considering PGA European Tour and PGA Tour 96 to be classics before the emergence of Tiger Woods in 1997 and subsequent game tie in two years later. Since that first Tiger Woods PGA Tour in 1999 EA Sports have without fail released a new game in the franchise, often tying each in with an event such as version 11 two years ago which featured the Ryder Cup.
Now Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 is upon us and as well as featuring The Masters, which takes place next month, the latest entry in the franchise also makes heavy use of Kinect functionality on Xbox 360 (for those who have it). The addition of motion controls doesn't guarantee a good experience though so today we find out if a game which should be well suited to Kinect actually succeeds in improving over the traditional pad gameplay.
Before we talk about the motion controls in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 (There is a separate section further down on that) it is worth covering the basics and standard controls. Upon starting up the game the immediate impression will be one of familiarity for anyone who has played a recent EA sports game. We get a menu style and layout which is very similar to the other sports games they offer and the first item takes us to notifications where we are informed of any important in game events or tips. Following on from that is Game Modes. In game modes we access quick play (1-4 players) and Career as normal with the latter giving us the opportunity to create our own golfer and play through from lowly tournaments to the glitzy pro circuit. As always the various golf styles are available such as skins and match play.
Basic controls using the pad are reasonably intuitive when we fire up a game with the left stick being moved down and pushed up (the smoother and straighter the better) to execute a shot and EA call this Total Swing Control. Movement tracking takes place on the swing plane meter which is a curve that surrounds our golfer with a power level pre-determined by our club choice. Backswing and tempo impact our power level too and the right stick allows us to alter our spin and stance. As we play through the first event though we are talked through the more advanced aspects of the control method with each hole offering a new insight into how we can take fine control of our shots and become a more competent player. This includes the very useful caddy hints which combine with put preview to make us much more accurate on the green and how the position of the ball between our feet impacts the flight. Of course like other recent Tiger Woods games these controls are all wrapped around optional difficulty levels which all have their assist options balanced for each gamer, for example Amateur has us on easy swing difficulty, swing meter on, ball spin on, put preview on and caddie mode at manual with an XP multiplier of 1.05. Tournament difficulty changes that to Swing Expert, meter off, auto spin off, put preview off with a points multiplier of 2.45x.
Back at the main menu the next item, and a new feature, is Tiger Legacy Challenge. In this game mode we get some narration from Tiger Woods, essentially a mini-autobiography of his life as we chart his life from the first appearance on TV in 1978 at age two to winning majors. This game mode is split into age groups and within them various challenges which must be completed to unlock the more recent events in Tigers career.
As we move deeper into the menus we begin to see that this version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour is very much about taking the time to play and unlock a huge amount of extras. With every event we complete, and for making good shots, we are awarded XP with our performance counting towards coins and objectives. Objectives and coins unlock extra content and through the other collectable item, pins which are awarded for mastering courses/holes, we can enhance our golfers skills, for example making our shots more accurate or drives longer. Further adding to the content are Country Clubs which essentially act as a hub for us and our friends to compete against each other. The Country Club aspect also has benefits to the overall game as each club is ranked and the higher we are globally the more coins we can earn from playing against friends, either for individual games or weekly topping the weekly leader board. EA don't stop there with online functionality and also running will be daily and weekly events which allow us to play in live tournaments.
Also worth noting is that for those who just don't have time to get involved in long periods of gaming to achieve coin awards EA offer the ability to buy bundles of coins with Xbox points. Buying rounds costs as little as 500 coins and EA set 6000 at 160 Microsoft Points with discounts on larger bundles... essentially going down the micro transaction route which is popular with many online games.
Finally for standard play we have skills challenge and achievements. Achievements are very much standard for Xbox games and tracked on Live. Skills Challenge tracks our progress using Cross Play in case we have multiple EA games with rewards offered for completing tasks such as getting to 100 birdies or 50 greens in regulation. Oh, and did we mention Tour 13 allows us to play as Premier League footballers such as Wayne Rooney and Petr Cech?
Since the release of Kinect gamers have been waiting for a proper golf experience on the 360 and with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 we get the first serious attempt at moving away from the pad and onto the floor. We can control most of the menus with our hands/arms such as swiping right to select items but it is the core gameplay that most interests us. When we step in front of the sensor we have quite a lot of control at our disposal. Through motion controls we face the sensor rather than side on and stand with our hands clasped, like holding a club, to begin our shot. We then make a golf swing motion and the on-screen character does too, the sensor tracking our movement, around 1000 data points in real time, to recreate OUR swing in game. We can view further down the course by raising our hand to our eyes, like shielding them from the sun and when needing information on the contours of the green or our position on the course we crouch down. Aiming is performed by pushing our hand towards the sensor and then dragging the target around and additional functionality is via voice controls. For example in standard gameplay we would hit Y to get a caddy hint, with Kinect we simply ask our caddy to give us two options. Need help on the green its "Put Preview" and so on.
Graphics and Audio
EA Sports have been steadily enhancing the graphics quality of the Tiger Woods games with each version and this game is no different. There is a high level of polish to the wide range of courses and the weather changes each as our round progresses. Camera angles have been chosen to recreate the action we see on TV and in many cases the middle distance shots look very impressive. There is also plenty of detail close in but things don't look as "real", just impressive. Player models are also good with 22 familiar pro's in the game and we can even import our own face if we wish to assign it to our custom golfer. If anything the crowds are still a little generic which takes away from the realism but overall we can easily identify each course and more often than not individual aspects of those courses. Finally on the graphics front we also noted the good level of variation in the contours of each course which look as realistic as any golf simulation we have seen.
For the audio we get some generic menu music before we head into the game and from there a basic but commentary and hints voiceover to accompany the sounds of nature which play throughout. Crowd noises are also there to add to the atmosphere and do their job well.
Starting with the basic, traditional gameplay using a controller Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 we have an impressive golf game. The new control method takes minutes to get to grips with, aided by a nice tutorial as we play the first event, and once we have mastered the basics it offers a huge amount of control over our shots.
The game is also huge with a massive amount of content to play though on our own or with others. The number of courses and events makes career mode a significant undertaking, especially for those who want to unlock everything and country clubs add to the competitive spirit with our friends which enhance the gameplay. Regular online events also maximise the replay value and while all of the modes available can seem quite daunting there is nothing to stop players just dipping in and out of quick matches in single player mode when time permits.
The ability to buy coins and therefore unlocks may also benefit casual players but we do still feel that for a game with this retail value asking players to pay more if they don't have a lot of free time isn't the most consumer focused idea.
In terms of graphics and audio the latest Tiger Woods game scores well. The graphics are often impressive and courses/golfers rendered well. Camera angles are used to maximum effect and really the only negative aspect visually is rather bland spectators. On the whole the audio is functional if not spectacular but EA have missed one major aspect. Voice control on Kinect allows us to ask our caddy for advice, it would have been great to have them respond in words also, rather than on-screen information.
Speaking of Kinect (excuse the pun!) the motion controls which have been added to this version of the game are on the whole a success. The swing mechanic works well, provided we don't wear baggy clothes and raising our hands to our eyes to zoom, crouching to view the lay of the land also feel natural for a golf game. That said the menu items can be a bit fiddly and we recommend having a controller nearby for them. Additionally the fine aim mechanic will need further work for the next revision, it does the job but takes time and can often be prone to oversensitive or undersensitive movements. Thankfully we do have a reset shot command to get us back to a more normal position.
The most impressive golf game on any format in some time. A huge amount of content for players to work through, online and offline and a control method, pad based, which offers a huge amount of control over our shots. The aim mechanic in Kinect mode needs work to make it simpler and quicker to use but overall the motion and voice functionality enhances the game.