Another year, another Tiger Woods game. Since 1998, EA has managed to churn out a new Tiger Woods PGA Tour game every single year, and amazingly, they've managed to keep golfing enthusiasts coming back for more every time. Whether it's an updated game engine, or a "brand new" game mode, there's always been just enough to lure us in for another round with the franchise. But there's a fine line between a legitimate "upgrade" and a blatant cash-in, and unfortunately the latest iteration, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13, is quite clearly the latter.
Probably the biggest change this year is the inclusion of Kinect integration, with EA Sports marketing it as the "first controller-free, voice-enabled, and body tracking sports simulation". Sounds impressive, but anyone with a Kinect will have had the displeasure of trying out a Kinect cash-in game at one point or another, and so apprehension in this area is always encouraged. Regardless, I couldn't help but be filled with anticipation and a dash of excitement the first time I loaded up Tiger Woods 13 with my Kinect plugged in, because let's be honest, any sports gamer worth his or her salt wants to feel like they're truly connected to the action, with their real-world actions being translated into feats of sporting greatness on-screen, and a Kinect-enabled golfing game teases just that. Unfortunately, "teases" is about the only thing it gets right.
From the get go there are problems with the Kinect integration in Tiger Woods 13, starting with the menu navigation which is far too sensitive in some places while not being responsive at all in others. Navigating up and down a menu sees players moving their right hand either slightly above or below the 90 degree angle their arm makes when stretched out directly in front of the body, but it's like trying to balance standing up on one of those huge exercise balls - there's a "center of gravity" point above and below the 90 degree line where the menu won't move at all, but adjust slightly and suddenly the menu options are zooming by. This becomes increasingly frustrating the more you use it, and to make matters worse, if you start a game in Kinect mode, it will not allow you to use your controller at all, so you have to navigate using the fiddly Kinect controls.
The overall Kinect gameplay fairs a bit better, but again is hampered by underlying sensitivity and navigational problems. When playing a shot, players must stand parallel to Kinect, allowing the sensor to pick up the full arc of the swing. This does detract away from the realism aspect, but from a technical stand point, you can't really argue with it. Simple gestures such as raising your hand to your head (like a salute), or moving your hands together like you're holding a club, will either zoom into the aim marker, or address the ball, and both work competently without too much of a delay. The same can't be said, however, for other areas of shot setup, such as club selection or moving the aim marker, which again suffer from sensitivity problems, especially the aim marker, which becomes incredibly frustrating as you try and setup precise positioning on long distance putts. There is an option to use voice commands to make selections during the shot setup, which in theory should help alleviate some of the annoyances which creep in when continually doing the same gestures over and over again, but I found that most of the time they weren't picked up at all, making it just as frustrating to use. This is probably contributed to the fact that the Kinect sensor just isn't calibrated to our accents, but this is less of a problem when navigating the Xbox 360 dashboard by voice commands, so it does point to poor implementation, rather than the overall capabilities of Kinect.
Once you've finally given up configured your shot setup it's time to get swinging, or at least, just move your hands slightly, because either way you'll hit the perfect shot. The reason for this is that on Normal or lower difficulty any movement of your hands translate into a great shot, whether it's a Happy Gilmore style swing, baseball swing, or a short putt-like swing, they will all translate into a magnificent 300 yard shot. You can up the difficulty to Hard, but then precision becomes a problem. Doing a half shot normally results in a completely dud shot, while doing a 3/4 shot is nearly always a full swing. The end result is that the much hyped Kinect integration really just makes Tiger Woods 13 an "on-rails shooter", where all the precision that accompanies golf goes out the window, and all you're doing is messing around with the frustrating aim marker every now and then.
A new swing mechanic has been introduced in TW13, but really it's just the same old swing mechanic with a few tweaks here and there. For example, you now control most of your shot setup with the right-stick, such as opening or closing your golfer's stance resulting in a draw or fade, changing the arc of the ball's trajectory, or setting the impact point (Strike Meter) on the ball in order to hit the ball either fat or thin. As much as EA want to sell all of this as "all-new!", these really are the same options we've had before, just perhaps slightly easier to setup thanks to everything being assigned to the right-stick. Something that is new, is the Swing Plane and Swing Tempo, which shows players how the golf club should arc to play the ball correctly, as well as determining how powerful the shot will be, doing away with the button mashing of the past to get that extra boost. This certainly proves helpful when determining where you might be going wrong in your swing, as going astray of the correct arc will result in shots missing their targets. For the most part, the new swing mechanic is mostly a visual change, and for veterans of the franchise there won't be much impact of the way they've been playing the game for the past few years. It is an improvement over previous years, but really can only be considered a slight tweak to an already fantastic underlying swing mechanic.
The only other significant change (if you can call it that), is the new Tiger Woods Legacy mode, in which you're tasked with challenges that highlight important moments in Tiger Wood's career, starting from his first TV appearance as a young toddler, all the way through to present day, and even a potential future where Woods is cleaning up in the records books. If anything, the Legacy Challenge mode is a tutorial wrapped in the Tournament Challenge mode we've seen in previous Tiger Woods games. Unfortunately, the beginning sections are more frustrating than helpful, with early challenges such as chipping a ball into Tiger Wood's mom's handbag in their back garden requiring a good number of restarts due to the difficulty, making progress slow and frustrating. Things improve as you head into the Junior and Amateur years, and start taking on the more stand out events that made Tiger Woods a household name, but the mode lacks any real originality, and feels like the developers just dumped a string a somewhat themed challenges together, making it neither better than the Challenge modes of past, or a very good tutorial mode.
The online modes on offer in the Tiger Woods games have never been anything special, but they've always been competent enough to allow gamers a chance to take their skills online and show off, and this year is no different. Things remain mostly unchanged from last year's edition, with the option to play quick matches in either Ranked or Custom lobbies, as well as take on the best in Live Tournaments. The online mode does get a boost this year, however, with the addition of Country Clubs, which basically allows gamers to team up to earn Status Points and Coins which are used to level up your club and your position in the club, as well as unlocking rounds on DLC courses or purchasing Boost Pin packs, which are basically power ups that you can apply to your golfer during a round of golf.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 is almost a carbon copy of last year's game, with the few new modes, such as the Kinect integration or Legacy mode, being either poorly implemented or unoriginal in design. Don't get me wrong, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 is the most polished and realistic golfing sim out there, and the tweaked swing mechanic is an improvement over the old, but when compared to Tiger Woods 12, it just doesn't do enough to be considered a worthwhile update, meaning there's nearly no reason for veterans of the series to buy this game, while newcomers should either wait until TW13 hits the bargain bin, or just go out and get Tiger Woods 12 at half price - it's pretty much the same game.
- Tweaked swing mechanic is an improvement
- Country Clubs - it's clans for golfers
- Kinect integration is gimmicky and poorly implemented
- Legacy mode adds no real value, and is frustrating in the younger years
- It's really just Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12