Last year I said some rather unkind things about Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters. For those not interested in clicking the link, I argued that EA Sports had sacrificed so much of what made Tiger Woods great as a golf simulation in order to include a single (albeit important) tournament. I closed the review by saying that most people should probably just wait for Tiger Woods 13 to roll around because, hopefully, EA had been forced to focus heavily on The Masters for one year and then could simply include it as a course in the future.
Well, I am reminded of a line from The Butter Battle Book – “We didn’t do. And we didn’t quite die.” The Masters are still something of a focus in this year’s version of career mode, but it’s not as all-fired important as it was last year. And, the game works far better for it. The Masters is an important tournament, it is one of the four majors, but it isn’t the be all and end all that last year’s iteration of Tiger Woods made it out to be.
Enough tooting my own horn, what works this year? Well, so much. The animations are certainly improved, the courses look absolutely gorgeous, and it is just a whole lot of fun to get out there on the course and get swinging.
You probably want to know about the career mode, though, yes? Well, as with other editions of the game, you start off as an amateur and work your way up. Depending on how you perform, you can earn exemptions early on or even skip steps in your progression. It is a well-thought out and considered portion of the game and, as stated above, with the toned-down presence of The Masters, the feel is far better as well.
There are also power boosts provided in the form of pins this year that you can thrown onto your bag. They do things like improve accuracy, power, recovery, increase XP earned, etc. Many pins have a limited number of uses but can be refreshed by spending coins earned by playing while connected to the servers (rounds at DLC courses can also be purchased in this fashion).
A Tiger Legacy mode is available and lets you attempt to relive Tiger Woods’ career to this point. And, rather than forcing players to buy with real money some of the DLC courses (16 courses are included on disc with 16 DLC ones, and six more on-disc if you by the Master’s Collection Edition of the game) , you can earn them by playing in absolutely brilliant fashion over and over again on the courses. Earn gold level mastery of a downloadable course and it’s yours to play with no more coins needed. That is an interesting change, and naturally coins are purchasable, it will take some time to see if it’s truly possible to earn gold level mastery of a DLC course by playing it with coins earned in game.
What doesn’t work this year? Unfortunately, there is one big problem with the title. EA Tiburon has opted to change the default method for swinging the club. Presumably this is done to provide a more realistic experience for those using the Move or Kinect (this year’s game is in fact Kinect compatible), but they don’t change it for those using a controller and that’s where the problem lies (assuming that the Kinect and Move systems are up to one’s desires).
You see, they’ve created this thing called Total Swing Control which, purportedly, gives you a whole bunch of new things to which you can pay attention. Unfortunately, a large portion of this is a white circle which goes around your golfer which depicts the path in which the club will travel on the back- and fore-swing (the swing plane, if you will). Using a controller, one swings by pulling the left analog stick back and then forwards – straight back and straight forwards (the speed with which one does is important, but that’s neither here nor there). Of course, the line that goes around your golfer isn’t straight up and down, depending on the swing type, club selection, stance, etc., etc., etc., the plane of the swing changes… but remember now, what you do on the controller doesn’t change.
Consequently, you repeatedly find yourself in a situation where the club is moving backwards at a 45 degree angle to the ground (or 60 degrees or 70 degrees) at the exact same moment that you’re moving the control stick completely perpendicular to the ground. Being that the club moves in real time with the stick but on a totally different plane, the entire thing is completely disorienting. It is natural to try to match what is happening real-time on the screen with what you’re doing on the controller, but if you manage to do that perfectly, you’ve hit a horrible shot.
That swing line also tells you how hard you need to hit the ball (how far back you need to pull the stick before pushing it forward). Unfortunately, depending on the color of the sky when you’re golfing, that trajectory line may perfectly blend in, leaving you assuming that it wants 100% power and assuming exactly where in your backswing that is.
There are other good things about the new swing mechanic, from being able to adjust your stance to hit the ball high or low and as a draw or fade, as well as choosing where on the ball you want to strike it (so that you can get lower if you’re in the sand or rough). But that may not be enough to make up for the issues.
The caddy from last year is back too, but he seems to be no better now at guessing what you actually ought to be doing than he was last year. Our best advice is to not bother asking him for where you ought to lineup your putt – you’ll be maddeningly close without sinking it on a fairly regular basis.
Additionally, when you opt to putt from the fringe around the green, the game refuses to switch to the proper putting display, offering you instead the putter with the same regular swing display. This makes it far too difficult to put from the fringe than it has been in the past. On the upside, that’ll probably force you to improve your chip shot.
One of the other complaints I’ve always had about the title yet again crops up this year – an absolute refusal on the part of the developer to follow the rules of golf when it comes to hitting the ball out of bounds or into the water. You are not allowed to choose to drop or rehit; you are not allowed to choose where along the appropriate drop line you want to play. It is impossible that EA can’t make this happen, they simply have chosen to regard this incredibly important rule of golf (seriously, what novice player hasn’t had to regularly use that rule?) as irrelevant.
Online play this year allows players to join private “country clubs” and compete against one another in challenges and tournaments. It is a neat way of organizing things, but it also feels as though it will require a lot of dedication on a part of an entire group to truly make the most of it.
One last truly odd thing before we end this review. As we think many people do, we like to jump right in and play, something that causes no small amount of trouble without a manual, but we do it anyway. After creating our golfer we started off on our journey to making the PGA Tour. Prior to playing tournaments one gets the opportunity to play against a computer golfer head-to-head and do a sponsor challenge. Naturally, we opted to do this and had to learn all about the swing on the course. Then, when we finally figured it out and managed to win the sponsor challenge and our game of battle golf, we started the first tournament only to then have our play-by-play announcers tell us exactly how to use the heads-up display and swing the club. It slowed the pace of play and was infuriating as we had already spent tons of time figuring it out on our own – why one isn’t treated to the in-game tutorial the first time one hits the course (no matter why one is hitting the course) is unclear and certainly a mistake.
For all its issues though, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 still feels like a big improvement over last year’s disappointing outing. There is still room to make it even better, there are still things we want to see in the game that don’t exist, but the incremental changes here over last year’s edition’s truly distressing career mode are enough for this duffer to recommend it.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360.