Last year, the Tiger Woods game series reached the pinnacle with the inclusion of The Masters. Considered to be one of the more prestigious events in the sport, its presence was such a milestone that it was the most touted aspect in the game's ads and in the title. With that goal reached, the series enters a "now what?" phase, where it seems like nothing more could be added to make it appealing to series veterans. The folks at Tiburon must have thought the same thing, as they've incorporated a number of changes and new features, both big and small, in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13. Whether those are enough for series regulars to pick up this iteration remains to be seen.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 still has a variety of modes like its predecessors, and they feel (mostly) unchanged. Single-player enthusiasts can play the standard Stroke mode for low scores in any course. Multiplayer fans can enjoy everything from Skins games to team play to Battle modes, where winners get to handicap their opponent by removing clubs from their bag. Just about every mode from the previous entries makes it here intact. The only exception are the minigames, like T-I-G-E-R or Frisbee golf, so those looking for quick five-minute golf sessions instead of longer 20-minute ones are out of luck.
Career mode, known here as Road to the Masters, has received a few tweaks. Your created fe/male golfer can now pick which amateur division s/he wants to start in (UK, US or World), and winning the first tournament automatically grants an invitation to the amateur division of The Masters. Other than this, the mode remains largely the same, where your progress through the years helps build up your stats, and fulfilling tasks helps you get sponsorships for cash, clothes and new equipment.
One of the big modes in this year's offering is the Tiger Legacy mode, where you get to gloss over Tiger's golfing history from toddler status all the way to a scenario where he realizes his dream of breaking Jack Nicklaus' winning championship record. Bookended by image montages with Tiger describing his history and love for the sport, you try to accomplish various tasks that are highlights of those stages of his life, from hitting golf balls into a handbag in the backyard to finishing his first amateur tournament in The Masters. It's less of a career mode and more of a challenge mode that goes over some of the best moments in his life and skips over the worst. While it is somewhat interesting to golf fans, only big Tiger fans will find enjoyment here.
All of the modes are tied together by a currency system that, like the Forza Motorsport series, has its earning ability vary depending on your difficulty level and options. Even though there isn't a storefront for your pro characters, the coins come in handy for two things. The first are for the purchase of pin packs, which give you everything from stat boosts for specific golfers, general stat boosts for any golfer, and boosts for specific courses. Each of the boosts is temporary, and so are the pins, though you have the ability to buy refill packs that boost your pin count.
The second item you can purchase with coins is the ability to rent downloadable courses. Designed as an answer to the criticisms levied against the game last year for its amount of day-one DLC, the developers have put in a system similar to a Facebook game, where you can spend your virtual coins on a round in any of these courses to complete a number of tasks. Completing both the silver- and gold-level goals gives you the ability to essentially own the course for free, though the option is there for less patient people to buy the courses outright with real money.
This method of trying to please both DLC lovers and traditional gamers wouldn't feel so bad if it weren't for a few things. The first is that the game constantly reminds you of the DLC. For any mode you choose, both the 16 courses on disc and the 11 DLC courses are mixed together in the list and not separated, so you can't easily discern what you own and what you don't. The situation gets worse when you're in Road to the Masters, where you're constantly shown courses you don't have as options. Both ways mock you until you cave in and get the DLC courses. Should you try to grind your way to the courses instead, you'll notice that the rental fee is rather high for one round of golf, let alone the maximum of three that you can get. On top of that, the goals you have to accomplish require more than three rounds of golf. Even if you can score eagles in every course on the highest difficulty with no assists all of the time, you'll find the grind to be time-consuming — and not in a good way.
Online play carries the same modes as before, and the performance is the same. There's rarely any lag in the game, and just about every mode is well populated with opponents. Unless you're very proficient with the title, however, you'll find yourself getting killed online against seasoned pros.
New to this year's online section is the concept of the Country Club, which serves as a haven for those who aren't prepared to face such ruthless competition. Similar to guilds, you can form country clubs that are either public or are invite-only. The clubs can have a maximum size of 25 members, and you can not only arrange for matches and tournaments exclusive to those club members, but you can also arrange for challenges between clubs. All of those matches affect the overall ranking of the club, and more serious players can boost their club ranking by linking their account to those in Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online for the PC and EA Sports PGA Tour Golf Challenge for Facebook, so that those actions can count for the club in this title. For those who don't play online much, the clubs still provide some value. Actions done by club members both online and offline contribute to a pool of coins that are doled out to club members each week, giving them a better chance of earning just enough to rent that downloadable course one more time.
The game's controls have changed a bit this year, and it'll feel both new and familiar to players. The analog stick is still put to heavy use for swings and putts, but instead of a meter to fill up and follow, you're given an on-screen arc. Even though your goal is to pull back and push forward in a straight line, the arc mimics the golfer's preferred path, and any deviations in your own straight path show up as red marks. This year's version also puts more emphasis on tempo and less on strength. With no strength meter, the game measures the rate at which you pull back the stick and how hard you push forward as guides to determine if you're shooting correctly for the situation. In addition to this, you have the option to change your stance on the field and position where you want to strike the ball, effectively changing your shot in several different ways. There's real depth on shooting and putting, enough to make series veterans want to brush up on their play before taking on the rest of the game.
In addition to the new control scheme, the Xbox 360 version finally gets into motion-controlled gaming with the Kinect, and the results are spotty but not in the places you expect. In particular, the menus are one area where the Kinect simply doesn't work due to the menu layout and commands. Menu sections are navigated with the right hand hovering over a direction while submenus are navigated with up and down motions. That part is fine until you want to select an option, which is also done by a downward motion of the right hand. The Kinect always get these mixed up to the point where you'll struggle to make any selections as the menu darts back and forth. You're better off simply using the controller and selecting the Kinect later. Even then, having a Kinect plugged in means that the game will always prompt you to use it if it detects no controller action for a short period of time. It wouldn't be an issue, but the prompt is large and covers descriptions as well as part of the virtual instruction book. It's a mystery why this wasn't addressed before being shipped.
Things improve greatly when you're actually on the course with the peripheral. Taking a page from Kinect Sports: Season Two, you can use voice commands to get through options like changing your stance or adjusting your aim and ball strike location. Gesture control is also available, so you can place your hand over your eyes to zoom in on a possible landing location, kneel down to check the lay of the land, or reach out and grab clubs or drag the landing cursor to a more desirable location. Unlike Kinect Sports, you'll face the sensor instead of turning to your side, but the swinging action is the same, and your strength when pulling back or going forward is read accurately. The intuitive nature of the swing makes it much easier for new players to grasp compared to the analog stick controls, and it wouldn't be surprising if those players simply stick with this instead of going for the normal controller, especially since overswing is corrected here. It isn't perfect, though, as the sensor sometimes doesn't visually recognize the full height of the backswing, making you wonder if it lost you or if it knows you're trying to do a full-power swing instead of a half-strength one. Also, there are a few times when the transition between preparing for the approach and the actual approach rapidly activates and deactivates, causing a jittery effect before things calm down.
Interestingly, the new control methods spotlight one thing players won't find here: a practice mode. The only way to practice the controls is to go out to one of the courses and mess around with everything in a real game, where records are recorded. That omission only seems to apply to those who purchase the regular game, as special edition owners can access the practice facilities at Augusta.
The audio portion of the presentation is mostly fine. The calm instrumental score that plays in the menus is relaxing, and the effects during gameplay provide a perfect substitute for the score during these normally silent periods. The crowds sound more reactive this time around, and even though there's still a reserved silence, you'll hear their reaction volume change depending on the quality of your shot. Jim Nantz and David Feherty make a return to the commentary booth, and their delivery is still fine because their quips don't refer to specific golfers, making them more interchangeable for pro and user-created golfers. While it would be nice to hear some new material from them outside of the tutorials, their comments are good for this iteration.
Graphically, the game is still a looker but is starting to show its age in places. All of the golfers come forth with excellent details. The animations play out correctly when you're using a regular controller, though it gets choppy when you're using the Kinect since your golfer's halfway position on the upswing suddenly appears higher than normal on the downswing. As expected, the crowd isn't as detailed as the golfers, but they look fine and animate well, even if you see a few of them play the same animations within close proximity of each other. The courses look great, but some of the textures used for the fairway and green look aged now as they aren't as detailed as expected.
In the end, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 is still a force in video game golf. The mechanics are solid, and the changes to the swing system give the game a little more depth, even if it means that veterans have to spend some time to re-learn the system. Though the game is starting to show its age, both the graphics and sound are still great while the inclusion of Kinect functionality is good as long as you stay away from the menus. The modes are fine, though the Tiger Legacy mode isn't going to mean much for those who aren't fans, and there's nothing else that warranted as much attention for series regulars as The Masters did last year. The coin system, while providing a viable alternative for those who don't want to pay for DLC, is still daunting to use due to the low payout and high cost of items. New golf fans will love the title, but veterans may want to wait a year for the next iteration to see if there's more substantial content.
More articles about Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13