Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: October 10, 2006
Golf is one of the few sports that weave tension with relaxation. There’s a comforting simplicity in being out on a spacious par four, admiring the scenery between quiet chip-shots toward the green, patiently plotting the best course to arrive in the cup. Calming as the surroundings can be, unless your name happens to be Tiger, that doesn’t mean they’re any easier to navigate. Bring along whatever high-profile caddy, titanium driver, or lucky shoes you’ve got, if you’re looking to play with the big boys (and girls, now that Annika Sorenstam’s in the game) on the PGA Tour, you’re gonna need all the help you can get.
As Electronic Arts makes its ninth entry in the Tiger Woods series, it brings competent gameplay alongside a deep career mode and a stout serving of online and offline multiplayer.
Even though the developer holds the license exclusively, PGA Tour 07 is by no means a half-hearted release, but one teeming with challenging, satisfying experiences that’s much improved over last year. The game brings quantity in parallel with quality, with 12 classic courses (like Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill), 15 professional opponents (like John Daly and Jim Furyk), and a range of minigames and modes (like T-I-G-E-R, Battle Golf, and Bloodsome) bundled together. Though a few features fade into the bunker, most of them make their way safely to the green, kept on target by an appropriate level of difficulty, good presentation, and a smooth, enjoyable pace that contrasts the tension from tee to tee.
07 is centered on its career mode, through which you’ll tour your created character up the Tiger’s Challenge ladder event and past PGA matches like the US Majors, with some training in between. Tiger’s Challenge is a series of one-on-one matches that task you to work your way through a rank of fictional and professional golfers. Though many of the made-up competitors seem caricatured (the old man and the “surfer” opponents, especially), it adds some personality to who you’re playing against, and helps break up the strictly serious play against golfers like Vijay Singh and Woods. Speaking of personality, there’s a good deal of customization to toy with in Tour 07’s GameFace player creator, which has evolved to become one of the best in the business. Everything from the contour of your brow to the pitch of your voice can be tooled using the analog sticks (another nice touch, as tapping attribute bars can get tedious). You can come pretty close to re-creating your likeness, but there aren’t so many options that the feature becomes overwhelming. Compatibility with the Xbox Live Vision camera would’ve been a bonus, but overall the game grants a rich palette from which to draw in creating your golfer.
Looks aren’t everything, though, and no matter how well-built or sharply dressed you make your linkster, it’ll be awhile before you can contemplate competing in PGA Tour events. Tiger’s Challenge is a great introductory mode for this cause, and you’ll probably plow through nearly all of the 20 matches before hitting the tournament scene. Otherwise, training mode dishes out a variety of mini-games to improve individual skills. Because improving your game is bent on understanding how to tackle different situations through trial and error, you’ll regularly find yourself returning to the practice facility to work on shots. Knowing how far to pull your backswing, which iron to employ in the rough, or how long your flop shot can fly safely makes all the difference when you’re playing for keeps, and the training space provides some real service in this regard.
Power, power boost, driving accuracy, approach, putting, spin, ball striking, recovery, and luck are the attributes you’ll aim to polish, and you’ll need to if you expect to advance in the prestigious competitions you’ll play later in your career. EA did well in balancing the skill system, as your golfer can’t simply spend a few afternoons teeing off on the training course and hope to take on the pros right off the bat. The system itself lengthens the game significantly as skills develop naturally through competition; a “skill limiter” bar separates your current abilities from unrealized potential, which often exceeds your skills in different categories. Success in competition moves the bar forward, with training and equipment providing boosts here and there.
If you tire of your training regimen, there’s a handful of pick up and play modes that offer unique twists to the traditional game. Battle Golf is a great example of this, as two players compete on holes with the winner choosing a club to remove from their opponent’s bag. It’s a real treat to put your pal in a position to hit a mid-range shot sans his three or four iron, and it adds emphasis to the game within the game of each match. Other diversions, like capture the flag, a long drive contest, best ball, four ball, the team-based greensome and bloodsome, along with traditional setups like skins and stroke play are also on board.
Presentation-wise, 07 delivers good atmosphere but comes up a tad short in meshing together a few graphical elements. Player models themselves look appealing, with a few outshining others in terms of accuracy to their real-life likenesses – more emphasis was placed on the facial modeling than the representation of attire, which was a good decision by EA. The courses do well too, and benefit from some convincing shapes and colors that are captured nicely by the camera angles that highlight the play. What doesn’t merge as well on the screen are low-res grass and forest textures when viewed up close, which stand out like rough cloth patched into an otherwise comforting blanket of video.
Rescuing some of this is an excellent bed of audio that develops the tournament ambiance. Crowds of fans line the fairways of each hole, and their murmurs from shot to shot keep you in check. They’ll encourage your opponents, calling them by their name; they’ll wince as a shot deflects off the green and into the rough, and they’ll applaud and cheer if you make a solid approach. The audience is utilized nicely in bringing each course to life, and in some ways outshines the commentary of David Feherty and Gary McCord, which hasn’t made a big leap since last season. Seventeen instrumental, ethereal-sounding tracks also make for a light background that mirrors what you’ll find on the links.
True Aiming is the major newcomer to the gameplay, as you’ll have to make use of a ring-shaped target to aim your shots rather than a single arrow. With only a general idea of where your ball will fall, you’ll be put in a position to strategize and think ahead while managing risk. Even if the feature heightens the difficulty level a tad, it does seem more realistic, as many golfers would rather shoot safely for a general area rather than gambling toward a precise point. Most players will prefer True Aiming, but more importantly, it’s PGA Tour’s stable mechanics that make each shot (however difficult) feel engaging. The combination of the analog-based shot stick and spin control, heads-up display, and great physics form an extremely accessible experience – something that doesn’t profess itself as an outright simulation, but keeps distance from being a simplistic, arcade golf title. In other words: a great middle ground for purists and casual players alike.
If anything, putting is the primary shortcoming of PGA Tour 07, as the system suffers from basing itself in a relative design. Though we could say that real-life putting shares much of the difficulty, the tools employed on the green in PGA Tour are simply too hard to read. A square grid maps the dance floor once you make your way atop it, with red and blue lines indicating height differences along the surface. Small beads of motion flow along the gridlines themselves at different rates, giving you an idea of the extremity of the slope. In theory, this should be enough: an idea of the lay of the land that helps you see where certain areas of the green are sloped higher relative to other spots. Instead, you’ll end up doing a lot of estimating, and asking yourself, “Okay, if the red lines on the green are moving this fast, then I have to compensate this much, right?” The problem with these visual cues is that they don’t have a tangible relationship to the other factors to consider in putting: distance and power, the combination of which also presents a problem on the green.
When putting, an arrow marks the estimated distance your ball will travel at a full swing, and just like other shots, you can adjust your aim using the d-pad. While the game simplifies things by calculating the percentage of a swing necessary to move the ball a particular distance, the mechanic doesn’t translate as well in putting simply because your stroke is naturally shorter. In driving or chipping, your golfer’s lengthy wind-up animation gives you an indication of how far in your swing you’re pulling back, but on the green it’s difficult to tell the difference between a full-on hard putt and something in between. The small amount of distance from the center and the bottom ring of the analog stick don’t make it easy to be precise, either. Rightly so, EA’s made putting a difficult task in PGA Tour 07, but unfortunately, the combination of the controls and the visual cues dealt out on the green add up to many frustrating misses near the hole.
Despite a mostly muddling putting interface, PGA Tour 07 stands out as a great second edition golf game on the Xbox 360. It may not do much to break the mold of past Tiger titles, but what’s there is very refined overall, and will eat up some serious hours for casual and die-hard golfers. Pack in daily tournaments and other modes online, and you’ve got a spectrum of multiplayer golf that supports the fantastic career mode. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 won’t have you taking a mulligan after making purchase.
Score : 8.4/10