The challenge for sports games is always to bring something new to the table every year. The rules of the sport don’t change drastically over time, so developers really need to dig to create something that advances the game and isn’t just a yearly roster update. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 takes an already solid foundation and adds some great new swing mechanics, along with new online features. The game has some technical issues, but it’s still the leader in the clubhouse.
Like previous games in the series, Tiger Woods 13 allows you to create your own golfer and embark on a quest to become #1 in the world. You can customize every aspect of your created golfer, even mapping your face onto theirs using the EA Game Face feature. If you just want to jump in and play some golf, you can pick one of the 22 real life golfers and tackle the one of the 16 standard courses alone, or with friends playing locally or online. As you play, you will collect pins, which when equipped at the start of a round, grant attribute boosts or other bonuses. Multiplayer games can be stroke play or several other scoring variants, like Skins, Stableford or Bingo Bango Bongo. New this year is the ability to create Country Clubs, where you can join up with friends to compete against each other and other clubs, and gain membership benefits. Also new is Legacy Mode, which allows you to play as Tiger through 10 different time periods of his life, from his famous appearance on The Mike Douglas Show to achieving his goal of passing Jack Nicklaus’ record for Major Championship victories.
A golf game is only as good as its swing mechanic, and Tiger Woods 13 allows you to tee off using either the standard controller or the Kinect. When using the controller, you swing as in previous years, by moving the left stick back and then forward to simulate a golf swing. This year, however, you have a new Swing Meter in the bottom left corner of the screen. In addition to showing you the angle of your back and front swing, it measures whether you are over or under swinging, and the tempo of your swing. The meter for the shot you have selected is displayed in an arc over your player that the club will follow as you swing, with a mark where your backswing should stop. Cut your backswing short or swing slowly and you will come up short of your target. Pull back too far or swing through too fast and you’ll gain extra power, but risk losing some control.
In addition to the Swing Meter, the Strike Meter in the bottom right corner allows you to choose where you make contact with the ball, affecting your spin, power and flight path. If that isn’t enough, you can change your footing to apply draw or fade to a shot, or move the ball forward or backward in your stance to create flop or punch shots. All of these come together to give you an incredible amount of control over your shot, allowing you to hit the ball in almost any way you can imagine. If you’re not sure what to do in a particular situation, you can ask your caddy to suggest a shot for you. No matter what you choose, though, everything comes down to execution, as even the best planned shot will go astray if your swing or tempo is bad. When you play your first career tournament round the game walks you through how the aiming and swinging works. That’s nice, but if you start with a different activity then you don’t get the tutorial, which can cause some frustration as you try to figure things out yourself.
Once you’re on the green, you’ll line up your putt using the familiar grid of moving dots. Once again, you can ask your caddy for advice, which will give you an area of the green to aim for. On lower difficulty settings you can even see a preview of where your planned putt will go, assuming you swing perfectly. As with the other clubs, your backswing and tempo are key – underswing and you’ll leave your putt short, come through too fast and you may run past the outer edge of the hole. I really like the swing mechanics in the game, and it’s the closest I’ve ever felt to taking a golf shot with a controller. It’s so good that when I pushed a putt too hard or pulled it left I knew it before I saw it just because it didn’t “feel” right when I did it. My only real complaint with the swinging is that the meter on putts is small, so when drawing the club back you hit your target backswing very quickly. This makes it very easy to overswing on a putt. When hurrying to cut off my backswing at the right time I would often swing forward too fast, which basically produced the same result as overswinging.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 is the first game in the series to support the Kinect, allowing you to hit the virtual links with your real-life golf swing. All of the in-game options are voice enabled; you can choose the change club option on the menu, or simply say “Change Club”, followed by the club you want to switch to. The Kinect controls work pretty well for setting a shot up, but you lack the ability to move the camera around like you can with the controller, which leads to some instances where it’s hard to judge the distance between your shot target and the hole. Aiming with the Kinect also takes a little patience, as fine-tuning with the motion controls can be difficult. Actually playing the game with Kinect ranges from very easy to very hard. To swing, you just bring your hands in front of you like you’re holding a club, and swing. On the lowest difficulty any swing you take is perfect, so lining your shots up is the only challenge (I shot -21 in the only round I played like that). On the hardest difficulty your actual swing is translated into the game. It seems like it’s pretty accurate, because my play on this difficulty was just as bad as it is in real life.
Graphically, the game looks very nice. Little flourishes like your pants flapping on a breezy green or the clouds moving across the sky blend nicely with the sort of course detail you would expect from a Tiger Woods game. It’s not perfect, though. There are occasional framerate stutters, especially when teeing off. I would have liked to have seen more contrast, as well – sometimes I lost track of the ball once my drive hit the fairway, and more than once when lining up an approach shot I had to rotate the camera around to find the flag. The sun poking through the white clouds is pretty, but is makes it almost impossible to see your swing meter above your head when teeing off. The sound of your driver hitting the ball is crisp, and the crowds cheering and organic noises sounds appropriate as well. Like the graphics, though, the sound isn’t without some flaws. The announcers will occasionally disappear for long enough that is startles you when one of them says something again, and occasionally speak over each other or at double speed.
In addition to the 16 courses in the game, there are another 16 DLC courses available. You earn coins in the game, and use those coins to purchase rounds on the DLC courses. If you complete all of the objectives for a course, you unlock unlimited rounds, giving you access to it at any time. If you’re not interested in that kind of time investment, you can also pay to unlock the courses. It’s nice to have the option to either earn or buy the DLC, but I wish it were implemented a little better. It’s a bummer having to skip events on the tour schedule because they’re played on a course you don’t have rounds for, and when playing online, my first three matchmaking sessions tried to put me on courses I couldn’t use. Likewise, when browsing online tournaments, you’ll have to remember which courses you have access to, and I wish there were a way to filter. Aside from that, the online worked fine for me. Playing online requires an EA Origin account, which you can set up from within the game if you don’t have one already. You can play in live tournaments, with friends or members of your country club or random matchmaking. The three-person match I played was pretty choppy, but never in a way that affected my ability to play. I didn’t notice anything like that during my other matches though, so it may have been caused by one of our Internet connections in that match.
The most impressive thing about Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 is how customizable it is. In addition to the basic difficulty levels, almost everything, including the Swing Meter, Strike Meter and putt preview can all be turned on and off individually. You can make the game as hard or easy as you want, gaining extra experience points for playing with more challenging settings. When you’re playing with multiple people, each one can have their own settings, giving you the opportunity to handicap if you and a friend have different skill levels. You can tweak a lot of the presentation aspects as well, and choose things like having the club distance estimator show carry distance or roll distance. There are some technical flaws and minor annoyances, but the strength of the game shines through them. It’s not an ace, but it’s on the green and very close to the hole.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.