EA’s annual sport machine just keeps on giving. Following on from last year’s excellent PGA Tour Masters title Tiger has managed to get his name back onto the box and brought some great new features that keeps EA’s golfing series feeling fresh despite it now being comfortably into its 3rd decade.
Tiger Woods 13 (I’ve long since given up trying to work out sport game numbering techniques) manages to maintain the visual and audio qualities that we’ve come to expect from recent EA games, showing off some beautifully rendered courses and golfers. Sounds are what you’d expect; commentators discuss the action during competitions, while quieter rounds let you enjoy the sounds of the weather and wildlife around you, especially if you’re sat in the middle of a surround sound system. It’s instantly relaxing and turns TW13 into something that gives much more realism than a basic hit-ball-into-little-hole game. That said, gold has never been a frantic high speed sport, so what else is on offer to bring non-obsessives into the fold?
This year we’ve got Tiger Legacy Mode, giving you the chance to take part in key moments in Tiger’s life from the early age of 2. Acting as a series of challenges, it’s a nice way to find out a bit more about the history of one of the most famous golfers of all time (and not just because of those text messages…). Some seem a bit tacked on, as if the developers felt it wasn’t substantial enough, but it’s a nice diversion from the usual stuff. Elsewhere you can now set up your own clubhouse and invite your friends into it, with your progress being tracked on a club level. This is another demonstration of how EA are trying to make their sports titles more community based, and it’s a nice addition to get friends playing together more.
Another great addition has found its way across from, of all places, SSX. That’s right, it’s snow golf. Ok, not snow golf. Stupid idea, you’d keep losing the ball. Instead we get SSX’s online tournaments, giving players a certain time period to play a round of golf and post their scores to win a share of the prize money. To get near the top you’ve got to be very good at the game (my first tournament had me placed 299th out of 301 despite finishing 2 under par – the winners were posting 24 under par scores) but it’s still nice to see how you stack up against other entrants, and your position is updated on the fly after each hole so you can see if you’re making progress or lagging behind the field.
But what of the gameplay itself? Well EA have dropped in Total Swing Control, a system which gives you full control over the swing of your club in a way that hasn’t been possible in the past. You can set up your stance, where you’ll hit the ball, how far forward or back the ball is in the swing; performing the swing itself allows you to alter the speed and range of the swing, giving you full control over how hard you hit it and the rhythm of the two phases of your shot. It’s a great system that makes a big difference to how you approach the courses – catch a gust of wind mid-swing and you can adjust instantly without having to mess it all up. Very impressive indeed. A bitch to get the hang of admittedly, but once it clicks it’s great.
It’s impossible however to ignore the DLC argument that has been raging about the locked content in Tiger Woods 13. Selecting a course to play on will inevitably remind you how many courses aren’t available from day 1. Rounds on these courses can be unlocked with the in-game currency, which in turn can be paid for with in-life currency on the PSN or XBL stores. Playing these courses also gives you a chance to meet a series of objectives, and meeting every objective unlocks unlimited play on that course. In theory this means that you can unlock every course by playing the game a lot and earning the in-game cash, and that’s certainly something to entice you into playing the game a lot due to pretty much everything earning coinage. But as with FIFA’s Ultimate Team mode most people will find it much easier and quicker to buy the courses, and EA are all too aware of that. It’s quite offish really, and a blatant cash cow for EA but it’s worth remembering you don’t have to pay a penny for them. If you’re willing to put in the effort you’ll reap the rewards, but it’ll take a fair while to do that for all of the courses.
And so we reach the part of the review that we reach with pretty much every sport game that gets released nowadays: whether or not it’s worth buying if you own a previous version. Since last year there have been some key changes, certainly enough to keep things feeling fresh, but you’ll only be looking at this seriously if you’re a big golfing fan and need to experience the changes. If you missed last year though the story’s a bit different, and there have been enough improvements in the past couple of versions to make this a worthwhile upgrade.
But then there are those of who who have played the demo and found the new swing system a pain in the arse, deleting it moments later. Well here’s the deal… if you’re interested in the idea of Tiger Woods 13, go and play it again. Take some time with the shot system, try moving the stick at different speeds, use different timings and see if it clicks. It took me a while, but suddenly I went from struggling to meet par to completing rounds 7 or 8 under – and it was sudden, like the flick of a switch. From then on it was all about improving, and reaching that cut-off point totally transforms the game. The game isn’t for everyone, you can’t pretend it is, but dismissing it after 5 minutes doesn’t do the changes any justice.
Overall the new features aren’t massive, but they’re valuable when considering a final verdict. The locked courses are a bit wrong, and although you can play to unlock them it’ll take longer than most people can stomach. On top of that the legacy mode doesn’t feel as carefully produced as it might’ve been, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is still the best Tiger Woods game that EA have ever produced. There’s more to do, more to learn and more accuracy to be had, and despite the issues that taint the game this is a great title that golf fans will wet themselves over. Everyone else who’s even slightly intrigued should try the demo, and you never know, you might just like it.
Reviewed on PS3