Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 has a tricky task ahead of it, as does any yearly EA Sports game. It must remain true to the previous iterations or risk alienating its audience but it also needs to innovate or risk losing relevance. Simply, if it’s too similar then people won’t buy it and if it changes too much then people won’t like it. EA are adept at this kind of constant incremental update though and Tiger’s latest outing probably does just enough to stand out from last year’s.
The most notable change is in the controls. The swing meter is now powered by the left stick, in a way that translates the direction, speed and consistency of your movement into an impressively complex golf swing. Getting any one of these factors wrong in your left stick movement results in a shot that curves the wrong way, over- or under-hits and generally leaves your ball careening into the rough — or the crowd.[drop]Each shot’s success is shown in the on-screen swing meter, which gives power and pace feedback, and in a small analogue gauge in the bottom left of the screen which shows how straight your swing was. This constant and fairly in-depth feedback on each shot allows you to quickly pinpoint your tendencies and correct them. You also have the ability to open or close your stance, so if you’re prone to hooking your shots, there are multiple ways to adjust or compensate. The stance and height gauge on the bottom right of the screen also gives the ability to hook or slice around hazards as well as adjust for wind or chip out of bunkers. There’s so much depth to the control and it is all staggeringly precise.
Kinect and Move make their presence felt too, should you wish to play with a little more range of motion. Both control mechanisms allow for some interesting interactivity but ultimately fail to provide the sense that your actions are being translated accurately enough. Either the accuracy is not there – particularly frustrating when putting – or the motion controls are too precise and unforgiving. Providing perfect input without any real-world feedback is almost impossible and that’s what makes the motion controls nothing more than an interesting diversion. Tiger 13 is still best played with a traditional controller.
The other major addition this year is the inclusion of the Tiger Legacy Challenge mode. This is a kind of mini-career challenge mode but also acts as a great introduction to the game, for those that perhaps aren’t as familiar with it as the die-hard fans. You follow Tiger’s pivotal golfing moments, from chipping shots into a paddling pool through to Masters wins. It has massive potential but fails to adequately live up to what it could have been thanks to lacklustre presentation, something which is unexpected in a big EA Sports game. The Legacy Challenge mode lacks a bit of purpose in places, making it quite tedious and the snippets of video used as introductions are awkward and poorly executed. Sometimes the objectives aren’t clear enough and as a result, the whole mode feels like something of a missed opportunity.
The huge career mode is still present, of course, and it’s as deep and involving as ever. You can create a custom golfer and take them from minor tournaments right up through the ranks to major events. Along the way, you’ll unlock plentiful equipment and earn pins which offer certain boosts to your abilities when equipped on your golf bag. It’s a kind of perks system that takes its cues from the RPG crowd and it’s a neat idea, well implemented.[drop2]You’ll also earn coins for completing certain challenges on each of the 16 starting courses. These challenges usually focus on a particular aspect of the game, rather than simply winning a round, so you’ll be trying to meet specific requirements like hitting multiple eagles on one round. The coins are important if you want to unlock the significant amount of greyed-out courses on the selection screen. You can either grind through the game, meeting challenges and collecting coins to pay for rounds on closed courses or you can connect to the store and pay real money for them.
With challenges needing to be met on the 20 unlockable courses before they permanently open, you’ll likely need enough coins to pay for several rounds before you can meet the criteria. This results in a huge portion of the game which is much more likely to be accessed by those willing to put down more money. It feels cheap and exploitative, given that the retail price of the game is still as high as ever.
If you’re committed to the coins system, there are few better ways of earning them than with the new Country Club system in the online side of the game. Essentially a kind of clan system, this allows groups of friends to join together and earn extra coins with private online tournaments and plenty of regular competitions as well as quick play modes. The online modes will increase the speed at which you earn coins too, so it’s very useful for opening up those closed courses.
- Looks and sounds as good as ever.
- New control system actually makes the game more intuitive and precise.
- Plenty of game modes and courses.
- Pins are a smart way to add ability boosts and tactics to the game.
- Motion controls are an interesting diversion to show off.
- Legacy Mode feels a little bit rushed.
- Locked courses weighted to coerce further payments.
- Motion controls are not useful for playing the game.
EA has plenty of experience at iterating on its huge sports games and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 is indicative of that experience. It seems to add just enough to make it worthwhile for owners of last year’s game, while still feeling very familiar. The Pins, Country Clubs and Legacy mode are all welcome additions, although they offer differing levels of appeal. Even with the masses of temptingly fenced-off content, and the obvious attempts to leverage more money out of you, the best courses are probably those that you have access to from the start so, if you don’t mind staring at greyed out course selections, you can probably just ignore them.