Shortly following Tiger Woods’ first PGA Tour event win in more than two years, the newest installment of Tiger Woods PGA Tour was released. The past few years of this franchise has brought with it some of the best innovation in sports gaming. A sentiment that many hope stays true in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 and beyond.
Game mechanics like Focus and True-Aim have kept the games fresh and rewarding in years past. And while not all of them were gems – looking at you caddie – EA Sports keeps all of this in mind and does not rest on its laurels. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 successfully polishes its strengths, focuses on addressing its weaknesses, and provides enough new content to keep players entertained for hours on end.
One of the biggest issues in the Tiger Woods franchise has always been its difficulty level and its failure to properly scale. Prior to Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 with the introduction of True-Aim, the higher difficulties still lacked that challenge many are looking for. While True-Aim was a welcomed addition, the game still lacked a proper difficulty scaling – one in which could only be addressed at its core game mechanic. And thus, Total Swing Control was born.
In years past, the swing mechanic had very few variables that shaped where and how the ball would move. This resulted in a very binary long and short game and is the main reason why Tiger Woods games became a bit mindless after dozens of hours. Total Swing Control completely redefines the way you play every inch of the golf course. The left stick movement now 100% shapes your shot. This not only fixes the difficulty scaling mentioned previously, but it also keeps you engaged and thinking every second. This results in a much more fun and rewarding experience.
The swing meter is gone and in its place is a swing arc. This arc is dynamically defined based on the lie of the ball, your stance, the strike you intend to put on the ball, whether you wish to draw or fade, etc. It is then up to you to match this arc with your left stick. As you pull back the left stick a new arc is drawn. If it is accurate, it will remain white; if not, a red line will be drawn.
Strike and Stance are now something that can be user controlled as well and works hand-in-hand with Total Swing Control. Any change in strike or stance will change the swing arc and is thus something you have to earn when attempting to execute. This fine grain control provides yet another element of strategy that continues to drive the franchise to complete realism.
In previous years, power was earned by spamming the A button if on 360 or the X button if on PS3. The more you pressed it during the backswing, the more power went into the shot. With Total Swing Control, power is now earned based on the swing. The more you hold down the left stick and the faster you bring it forward, the more overswing received and thus more power.
While these mechanic changes work very well and greatly improve gameplay, one negative change is the removal of Focus. While I understand that this power mechanic change has a direct impact on Focus and how it would work, removing it is not the right answer. Focus brought about an element of strategy and aided the issue of people getting 30 under par in a round. With its removal, unfortunately, unrealistic scores in online tournaments and matches at the lower difficulties have returned.
Finally, for those worried, the caddie is finally out of your hair. The caddie system is more under the covers this year and suggestions from the caddie can be received by pressing the Y button on 360 or the Triangle button on PS3. As with last year though, the suggestions the caddie makes are still pretty hit or miss. Either way, it operates as a good guideline for beginners. For those hardcore players, thankfully it can be turned off this year.
One of the most addicting elements of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 is the introduction of a coin system. Coins are rewarded based on your performance in any mode you participate in. Multipliers are given depending on difficulty as well as the performance of the Country Club you are in – something which will be discussed a bit later. You also receive coins for completing various objectives across all Tiger Woods games. The more Tiger Woods games you play to complete these objectives, the more coins you receive.
What you do with these coins is a more controversial topic however. Various packs can be purchased which contain pins. Up to three pins can be chosen prior to any match you play. These pins can alter your performance on a given course, power rating, overall stats, etc. While not necessary to complete any objectives or tournaments in the game, it does provide a slight advantage to those that either play a lot or, unfortunately, those that cough up some real life money. When it comes down to it though, skill will always reign supreme – no pay to win here thankfully.
Coins can also be used to buy 18-hole access to various downloadable content courses. While the 16 holes provided in the retail game are plenty, some may want to try out some of the 16 downloadable content courses. I feel it is a fantastic idea to allow players that don’t wish to pay for courses to be given another option. If you use your coins enough on a course and complete all the course mastery objectives, you receive unlimited playtime on that course.
While at first glance this might feel like a free-to-play structure, there is the same amount of courses as in years past, but now you can be rewarded for playing hours on end. To some this may feel like “typical EA” with their microtransactions and cash grabs but after playing this game for over 40 hours, I have come to realize that this in no way shapes or defines how the game plays. All pins and chance at unlimited access to courses are well within grasp if you put in the time. Be smart with your pins, play at higher difficulties, make your way into a good Country Club and you will soon find yourself making great headway in unlocking free, unlimited access to some of your favorite downloadable content courses.
So now you must be asking yourself, “What are these Country Clubs he is talking about?” Well, you can now join together with up to 24 people and show everyone else what you are made of. Once a Country Club is created, various objectives can be completed to make your way up the ranks. No matter who or what you play in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13, your performance always ties into your Country Club. Also, as mentioned previously, a coin multiplier is rewarded based on your Country Club level. This is an element that Tiger Woods has always been missing – a reason to actually tie yourself to the online world.
In addition to the leveling system you can also participate in various tournaments or matches against each other or other Country Clubs. This greatly operates as a stepping stone into the online world of Tiger Woods. It first can operate as a “semi-online” function and is not intimidating in the least. But as you play more and build a bond with the Country Club you are in, you will soon find yourself jumping into dozens of online matches and tournaments. Online has always been a dwindling element of Tiger Woods but this is undoubtedly the spark the franchise has needed for online modes.
The one mode that many find themselves spending the most time with each year is their created player career. Unfortunately, not much has changed here. You make your way from an amateur to a pro, pick up sponsors along the way, and, of course, spend your experience on various skill attributes.
One of the most notable changes in created player mode however is the fact that the control you have over your attributes is much more basic. In previous years you would spend experience points in subcategories of main skill attributes. This year, you only level up the main attributes. While this isn’t really a big issue, some may prefer that fine grain control that is now gone. Nonetheless, it simplifies things without having a large negative impact on the mode itself. Created player mode continues to be my mode of choice and is still a ton of fun.
The newest and most publicized mode in this years Tiger Woods is Legacy Challenge. From Tiger’s toddler years all the way into the future, various milestones in Tiger’s career were carefully chosen. Each of these milestones act as challenges that you can complete.
With up to ten hours of gameplay in this game mode, the experience ranges anywhere from downright bliss to unnecessarily frustrating. The frustrating element is not only because the game mode begins to become a bit long in the tooth but because the difficulty spikes really get to you. At one point you are doing simple putts and the next you are doing match play against an, at times, too good player. These weird difficulty spikes continue throughout the over 50 challenges. This is one mode that I enjoyed much more when played in smaller gaming sessions.
For those that are interested, yes there are in fact motion controls in this year’s Tiger Woods – be it on the 360 with the Kinect or the PS3 with the Move. The PlayStation Move controls are very similar to last years with a couple more fine tuned improvements in tracking. It is a much more realistic experience than that of the alternative in Kinect.
Unfortunately, the Kinect controls are extremely disappointing. The game menu controls are a bit frustrating at times and once in game, it is a simple swing mechanic. First, you face the Kinect which is a bit disorrienting given the fact that you are used to facing the course sideways when swinging. Controlling things like where you want to hit the ball, changing clubs, and spin are fantastic and work very well with voice commands as well. However, once you swing you will quickly realize just how little tracking the Kinect is doing. Whether you are on the hardest difficulty in the game, swinging is nothing more than making a swinging motion. No matter how bad it is, it will always be spot on. I was expecting much more out of the Kinect and have no intention to turn on the Kinect again for this game.
Overall, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 is a great experience. The gameplay mechanics and modes introduced this year are a great step in the right direction. There is a lot of content in this year’s title but it is really hard to say whether it is worth the upgrade from Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 to 13. If Total Swing Control, the coin system, Country Clubs, or Legacy Challenge is in any way appealing to you, then the answer is undoubtedly yes. If not, you can enjoy the annoying caddie from 12 because I sure don’t miss him.
This review was based on a retail copy of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 for the Xbox 360.