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An experience worthy of the Green Jacket

While they’re not my forte, I certainly enjoy sports games once in a while. Plotting out plays in Madden, fielding a team in MLB: The Show, and taking to the links in Tiger Woods PGA gives me a sense of “outdoorsiness” that I don’t generally experience in my hermetic lifestyle. But, when a game with an annual release shows little to no improvement from the previous year’s installment, I’m tempted to disconnect from the lifeline that is my game console and actually step outside. The horrors!

Fortunately, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 doesn’t suffer from any of this problem. This year, the developers have taken the core game and have expanded it in every direction, leaving us with the most fully realized golf game in memory. This starts with the new Total Swing control. Taking the stick-based analog controls to the next level, the game now measures the tempo and speed influencing your shots. Fast and smooth is the name of the game; if you control your swing stick the same way Charles Barkley swings a real club, your ball won’t fly nearly as far or as straight—just like in real life, right, Sir Charles? A fast, rhythmic swing results in a clean, powerful shot down the fairway, while a slower (still rhythmic) swing dials down the power and adds a bit of finesse.

It took a few practice holes to get used to the new controls—not to mention the new swooping online indicator—but once I did, I found it much easier to drop shots exactly where I wanted them. That’s not to say my thumb didn’t occasionally go wonky and hook my ball into the rough, but that’s the way the game goes.

To further control your shot, it’s now possible to adjust your stance and fine-tune where and how you strike the ball. This adds to the number of adjustments you must make before addressing the ball, but it makes drawing and fading the ball a much more accurate prospect. Every detail mimics what professional golfers consider every time they address the ball and piles on an additional layer of realism to the game.

Amateur duffers needn’t worry, though. The exemplary caddy system still provides a one button solution to those time-consuming course evaluations. If set to automatic, the caddy will choose your club, recommend a stance and even aim you in the right direction. All you have to do is hit the ball. It’s possible to fine tune the caddy’s recommendations (you’re the pro after all), switch to the manual caddy setting, where less is done for you, or turn the caddy off altogether. The two later choices boosts your experience multiplier, giving you a bonus for doing your own evaluation and setting up your own shots.

Experience is still earned for nearly everything you do, and leveling up your golfer is crucial to success in the career mode. Therefore, it’s important to those who played previous versions of Tiger to import their stats. You will not be prompted to do so, but the ginormous XP boost makes it worth digging through the menus and figuring it out.

Along with experience, players now earn “Coins” for completing the game’s challenges, though, you must be connected to the EA servers to earn Coins). This in-game currency can be used to purchase Boost Pins (see below) and rounds on downloadable courses. Yes, believe it or not, you no longer have to pay real money to purchase DLC courses. You can buy single, multiple, or unlimited rounds at a course with Coins, or you can win unlimited rounds by achieving a Gold mastery level on the course.

It’s fantastic to see EA offering a way to unlock the game’s additional courses (16 DLC to complement the 16 that come with the game) without having to spend another $50, even though this option will take time and patience. Gamers no longer have to stress about deciding to spend more money on course packs or choosing to skip a stop on the tournament, a long standing personal gripe. There’s even a course that cannot be purchased, and is only unlocked once you have unlocked the other 15 courses.

Of course, EA wouldn’t be EA if you couldn’t purchase the additional content. If you have the cash—or a good credit card—you can buy all the Coins you want, as well as courses and sponsorship levels. Not as sporting, but certainly an option for those who don’t have the time to unlock everything for free.

You can also spend your hard earned Coins on Boost Pin Packs (some collectible Boost Pins can also be earned). Players can equip up to three Boost Pins at a time, increasing things like accuracy and putting ability. These pins can be leveled, and although each pin has limited uses, they can be recharged with a Refill Pin. The game also offers Golfer Pins—one for each of the pro golfers in the game, and one for every player created golfer. These pins can only be used with the golfer it represents. The Boost Pin system isn’t just a fun collectible (like the pins from Tiger 12), but it also gives players a chance to add another level of strategy to their game.

From a social standpoint, Tiger 13 offers a new Online Country Club that allows players to join together for tournaments and the chance to win Coins faster. Playing for a Country Club earns status at the Club and allows players to compete while representing that Club. EA’s planning on full Web integration and the ability to create Custom Country Club Tournaments for the first time. While I didn’t have the chance to fully explore the Country Club features, what I’ve seen so far truly impresses.

Xbox 360 users might be interested in the new Kinect features. Tiger Woods 13 offers voice navigation, as well as full controller-free gameplay. I tried these features, and while I found the voice navigation amusing, I didn’t care for the Kinect-enabled gameplay. This isn’t because there was anything wrong with it per se—it’s just not my cup of beer. I couldn’t get used to swinging my empty arms while making shots, and after 18 holes, I was ready to sit down and take an extended break. It slowed down my game quite a bit, which wasn’t conducive to getting everything I needed done for the review. After a single round, I went back to the good old controller. If you’re looking for something new to do with your Kinect, then give it a shot, but I can’t see myself using it again.

My biggest issue with the game is the menu system, which has taken a distinct step back—“clunky” is the only term that comes to mind. When embarking on a career, the game should search and detect that you’ve played earlier versions of Tiger, and when you start your first match, it should tell you that you have some free pins. Instead, you have to choose to “buy” pins and notice that there are free pins waiting for you.

At the end of the day, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 is a blast to play. It’s got an unbelievable number of new features, and they’re all executed well. Those looking for a virtual golf game would be hard-pressed to find anything better.

SUMMARY: The developers have seriously enhanced Tiger Woods PGA Tour, refining the gameplay, enhancing social features, and even affecting the way the game’s extras are unlocked. They’ve delivered a complete package that offers golf fans the most refined, deepest—and, most importantly, fun—golf experience in years. Whether you’re a casual golf fan or a hardcore PGA wannabe, you’ll find plenty to love in this year’s offering. Now, we just need a few more hours in the day to get out to the course…

  • THE GOOD: The new Total Swing controls allow you to fine-tune your shots like never before.
  • THE BAD: The redesigned menus are clunky and far less intuitive than before.
  • THE UGLY: The ability to make deformed-looking golfers—at last, Tiger can compete with Quasimodo.

SCORE: 9.0

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 is available on Xbox 360 and PS3. Primary version reviewed was on Xbox 360.


About Marc Camron

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Marc somehow survived E3. The crowds were big, the games were loud and somehow he managed to get a sunburn on the top of his big, bald melon. Yet, despite all of this, he had a blast, seeing people he only sees once a year, playing all of the new games, and staying up way past his bedtime. Next year he might even have a beer. Find him on Twitter @RkyMtnGmr